An appreciation for nature, herbs in particular, led to a lifelong passion and career for Rachel Liester, owner of Red Road Herbs Retreat & Learning Center LLC, near Stanton, Nebraska. She teaches classes, offers tours, and sells fresh and dried herbs, as well as handmade herbal products.
Rachel started Red Road Herbs nearly 20 years ago, and it’s now a family-run business. Three generations – Rachel, her daughter, and granddaughter – take care of plant growing and harvesting, merchandise production, and marketing. Rachel’s husband and son help with events, building projects, and maintenance of the property.
“The way I got interested in herbs was through Native American culture,” Rachel said. “I wanted to pay honor to that background and learn as much as I could about it.”
Throughout the years, not only has her knowledge of herbs expanded, so has her business thanks in part to the Center for Rural Affairs. What started off as a few gardens at her home and teaching a few small classes has grown into a full-time passion.
With the tremendous growth Red Road Herbs has seen during the last few decades, Rachel says she wouldn’t have gotten to where she is now without help.
“I’ve taken out a few loans through the Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP),” she said. “They have been the knight in shining armor that came to my rescue.”
REAP has provided Rachel with one-on-one counseling and microloans to purchase a computer, get technical assistance on website development, develop marketing materials, and make a few small fixes to outbuildings at Red Road Herbs.
After being very pleased with the help she received, she again reached out to the Center when she and her husband faced their most challenging business venture to date – buying the acreage their business and home sat on.
“We wanted to buy our land, our home and business, but we found out our landlord wouldn’t accept the assessor's quote. He wanted $15,000 more,” Rachel said. “It was $15,000 we didn’t know how to come up with. That’s when I thought I’d reach out to Gene.”
Gene Rahn, senior loan specialist, had previously assisted Rachel with business coaching and providing technical assistance. This time, Rachel hoped to get a $20,000 loan through REAP to help with repairs and ongoing business expenses.
“Gene was so helpful and kind,” she said. “I called him up and told him the situation. He said they could probably help.”
Though she’s formally educated as a social worker, Rachel has held an interest in plants since she could remember, and used her time outside of work to educate herself on their different medicinal and herbal uses. One of the first plants she explored for that purpose was a raspberry bush.
“At first, I just ate the berries,” she said. “But the more I learned, the more I discovered what I could do with the plant. Now, I use the leaves, too, by harvesting them for medicinal uses.”
Rachel uses Red Road Herbs to showcase the uses of naturally growing plants. People can use herbs for health purposes, emergencies, and preventative care, as well as eat them. She also offers herbal education, nature experiences, handmade products, herb garden consultations, and more.
“I saw that there was a need for this business. A growing need, not only in Nebraska, but worldwide,” Rachel said. ”My joy and hope is to continue sharing with more and more people. Seeing people learn about the land and the plants that grow in their own yards is why I do this.”
Rachel has high hopes for the future of Red Road Herbs, such as clearing more areas on the property for gardens, and hosting more nature-based activities.
“I’m open to anything that brings people together by learning from one another; being part of a teaching community,” she said. “My daughter and granddaughter are interested in this, too, so hopefully we’ll be able to share this knowledge with others for generations to come.”
Rachel became a master naturalist five years ago, and is currently enrolled in the University of Alaska’s ethnobotany certification program.
At a Glance
Feature photos: Rachel Liester owns Red Road Herbs Retreat & Learning Center, near Stanton, Nebraska. She is pictured with her granddaughter Caydence who helps with the plants, merchandise production, and marketing. | Photos by Kylie Kai