Ex-health care worker has prescription for healthy living

by Len Lear
Posted 9/23/20

Lifelong Germantown resident Christa Barfield, who just opened a store at 6730 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy called “Grow, Sip, Repeat: Viva Leaf Tea & Plants,” has a life story that …

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Ex-health care worker has prescription for healthy living

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Lifelong Germantown resident Christa Barfield, who just opened a store at 6730 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy called “Grow, Sip, Repeat: Viva Leaf Tea & Plants,” has a life story that reads like a script from a Julia Roberts movie. A graduate of St. Joseph's University with a degree in health care administration, the effervescent 32-year-old mother of two got a job after college managing the billing for a huge medical practice in center city with 23 doctors and more than 200 patients per day on average. “It was very stressful,” said Christa. “It was affecting my own mental health. I had low energy for anything outside of work.'”

As a result, Christa quit her job in 2018 after 10 years there, although she had no other job lined up and had not even looked for other employment. To celebrate her liberation, Christa got on a plane by herself and flew to Martinique, an island in the eastern Caribbean that is a territory of France. She had no plans except to relax, swim, eat freshly grown food and seafood, forget about her former job and celebrate her 30th birthday.

“I first stayed in an AirBNB that was owned by a Thai chef,” she said, “who made the meals. Also, in the morning he would take fresh herbs from his garden and make tea blends. I loved it. I was fascinated by the whole experience.”

The second AirBNB Christa stayed in was owned by a family of three Black farmers who were deeply involved in Community-supported agriculture (CSA), a system that connects farmers directly to consumers without middlemen like supermarkets. Usually the consumers subscribe to the CSA and pay a certain amount of money periodically in return for which they receive a box of produce and/or other farm products weekly or bi-weekly. “The family was very nice,” said Christa, “and they let me travel with them to their farm and CSA pick-up. It was the first time I saw up close a CSA in action.”

Inspired beyond belief by the lifestyle she was participating in — eating fresh food right from the earth — Christa knew that when she got back to Philly, she would be growing food, even though “I had never grown anything before. I’m totally self-taught. I went to a local bookstore and found some books with information about herbal medicine. I also learned a lot from the internet. A friend purchased a small greenhouse for me, and I put it in my backyard at my house in Germantown.”

Christa began growing herbs for tea and eventually leased 2,500 square feet of land from the Schuylkill Environmental Center, which has hundreds of acres of communal space in upper Roxborough. She began planting herbs and spices like ginger, cardamom and turmeric and fruits and vegetables like melons, lettuce, beets, plums, apples, pumpkins, etc. 

At the beginning Christa was growing food for 10 families, but word-of-mouth quickly spread. Today she has two companies, Viva Tea Leaf and FarmerJawn Community Greenhouses. She has 50 subscribers who have “rotating memberships,” but she also has 300 families on a waiting list to join. Farmer Jawn recently had a produce pop-up at Attic Brewing in Germantown, and Christa has collaborated with LA Prepped, a local firm that offers catering and private chef services.

In addition to the space in upper Roxborough, Christa now leases thousands of feet of greenhouse space and a storefront at 770 Jenkintown Rd. in Elkins Park, where she runs a very successful farmers' market on Fridays and Saturdays that is open to the public. Consumers can purchase a “mystery box” of fresh fruits and veggies for $25. Christa's summer CSA is sold out. Her fall SCA sign-up begins at the end of September.

Christa has two children, Micah, 17, and Crystal, 12, who both help out in the farmers' market. Christa also has a farm manager and five part-time employees who were formerly volunteers. Christa also opened her new store, “Grow, Sip, Repeat: Viva Leaf Tea & Plants,” in Mt. Airy on Sept. 11. It sells house plants, tea and wellness products, among other things.

For more information, visit Vivaleaftea.com or email info@farmerjawnphilly.com. You can reach Len Lear at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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