Sousa Dynasty Herbs in Red Bluff
By Melissa Mendonca
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Eric Leslie
MICHELLE SOUSA laughs at how appropriate the winning name for her family business turned out to be. Drawn from a hat, everyone in the room agreed it was a perfect name. Sousa Dynasty Nursery was born in their Red Bluff family room with children and grandchildren present, each family branch having thrown a name in the hat for a chance to christen their new endeavor.
“It happened to be my son Matt’s family that chose the name, and it fit perfectly,” she says. “We still cook together and sit at a family dinner table. We’ve been married 33 years so it’s a solid family. It’s a true dynasty.” The Sousas are a blend of four biological and three adopted children and seven grandchildren.
Further adding to the dynastic feel, the nursery also specializes in old herbs, with healing properties that have been known for hundreds of years and are being used again in a resurgence of interest in herbalism. “Years ago, you had to get sick to believe in herbs,” she says. “And I did get sick with H. pylori.” When Western medicines didn’t work, she began looking into traditional herbal remedies and found mastic gum. “I went back to the doctor and I was cured,” she says. “I believe we need modern medicine and I believe we also need to know what Mother Nature has given us.”
Now, she says, “Medical and culinary herbs are what we’re known for.” A chef from San Francisco visits for French tarragon. Another customer traveled for the dragonhead. “She showed up here in tears because it helps her multiple sclerosis,” she says. “I’d never met her before but she gave me a hug.”
Sousa Dynasty Nursery opened in February 2013 as a new venture for Michelle, who’d spent a career as an advocate for high-level special needs children, and her husband Tony, a contractor. “I’d always been experimenting with herbs and teas,” she says. The family loved to garden but found it harder and harder to find quality, reasonably priced plants in Tehama County and its local environs.
She says there were three “whys” to their decision to open the nursery: “I enjoy gardening with herbs and vegetables. There was nowhere to find unique herbs, and there was nowhere to find reasonable vegetables.” The Sousas set out to propagate their own stock. “Everything we do here, we start in our greenhouses,” she says. “We don’t order them.” The nursery has 10,000 square feet of plants, which are watered on a solar system.
They also grow everything in soil to assure that they can transplant more readily when taken to their new homes. “We will not sell you things that won’t grow in this harsh weather,” she adds. “When they’re ready for our area we start bringing them out.”
Still, she says, it’s amazing what can be adapted to the North State. She’s fond of showing off peanut plants. “We can really grow them here,” she exclaims. “And then there’s the knowledge that they don’t just come out of a Planters jar,” she laughs.
That sort of knowledge is important to Sousa, who is serious about keeping the family traditions of gardening and herbalism alive. “We’re bringing back the old-fashioned way of gardening,” she says. “You garden as a family. It’s teaching us that this is what Mother Earth has given us. And it shouldn’t be expensive.”
Indeed, an important value of Sousa Dynasty Herbs is that vegetables are sold in dollar pots, even organic and heirloom plants. “Having a garden shouldn’t be expensive,” she says. The sheer variety available, however, may mean that customers walk out with more than a few dollars’ worth of plants. They stock 32 varieties of tomatoes, at least 10 varieties of eggplants, 15 varieties of zucchinis and three types of sugar cane. Then there are things like okra and rhubarb, which were once hard to find. “We sold out of the rhubarb – 600 plants,” she says.
“We’re known for heirlooms,” she adds. “We try to stay away from the hybrids but due to customer request we do keep about 5 percent hybrids.”
That commitment to customer need is another business value. “It’s a community business,” says Sousa. “It’s from the two-year-old eating at a strawberry plant to the 96-year-old that heard about us and had to come in to get sugar cane.” If you’re a seasoned gardener, they’re happy to hear your triumphs. If you’re struggling, they’ll help you get started for success. “It’s all family service,” she says with pride. •
Sousa Dynasty Nursery • 20592 Stewart Road, Red Bluff (530) 528-1001 • Find them on Facebook