Hi Robin, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved with natural products? I suppose I got involved as a child without knowing it. I grew up in a very large family that didn't have money in rural Minnesota. My parents were raised on a farm that sustained them, so they knew how to live off the land, my mother in particular. We had a large garden plot nearby on my Aunt and Uncle's large farm. As children we spent most summers planting, weeding, harvesting, and helping my mother can the harvest (our reward was an afternoon trip to one of the many local pristine lakes to swim). I remember picking wild berries (strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, which I sold to my dentist for spending money). Our milk came from a local farmer and it was raw. We loved the thick cream that settled on top of the jars. I suspect we also got our eggs from a local farmer but I can't remember which one. My youth was spent exploring the woods of northern Minnesota and mostly learning on my own what plants surrounded me.
It was not until I was well into my 30s, living in England as a professional, that I was reintroduced to the magic of plants through the use of lavender essential oil. The short version is that I was so enthralled with this plant that I ended up starting my own company in the U.S. upon my return in 1995 and sold essential oils imported from someone in England that I knew. I did that for about 18 years and in 2014 left the company. I learned a lot about all sorts of "smelly" plants through my journey at the company as I taught customers about the benefits of using essential oils.
When I was introduced to WishGarden in 2015, it opened my eyes to the amazing world of WHOLE HERBS, not just components of them (like essential oils). Since then, I have continued my journey in amazement about the magic of the plants that I walk through each and every day where I live along the ancient gorges of the Mississippi River in central Minnesota (Minneapolis). It will be a life-long journey for me as I continue to reacquaint myself with their powerful healing properties. Even though I used some of them as a child, I never knew why they worked or all the uses they had. So I suppose you could say I am returning to my roots and awakening my senses to what surrounds me.
Congratulations on recently being named WishGarden's Broker of the Year. How did you get into the Broker business, and what does the job entail? As mentioned earlier, I started my own company in 1995 selling essential oils. That meant building up a network of reps through the U.S. and training them, working with stores and their staff, etc. So I was entrenched in the natural products industry as it was just emerging. When I started my company, there was still a newness to essential oils which has changed dramatically. I now get to do what I love to do: educate customers and store staff on the amazing benefits of whole herbs through my representation of WishGarden, but without all the added tasks of everything else that comes with owning a company. I cover mostly Minnesota so I get much more time to focus on my stores and customers than when I had to travel throughout the U.S.
Can you tell us a little about your background in aromatherapy? I was introduced to the uses of lavender essential oil while I lived and worked professionally in England from 1988 to 1995. The shrub grows like crazy there and I fell in love with its essence. That peaked my interest and from there, I felt catapulted to bring my excitement about essential oils to the U.S. market when I moved back here in 1995. That was when I started my company selling essential oils into the natural products arena.
Which channels (including social) do you find most effective for "spreading the news"? Well, I must admit, I don't heartily take to much social media as I prefer face-to-face contact. My best method of spreading the news has been face to face through trainings with staff and doing demos using Kombucha as a delivery for WishGarden tinctures. I get a tremendous response from customers who have never heard of liquid extracts but once they try them, are quite impressed. I get pretty excited about teaching and all my stores will attest to my enthusiasm -- I just can't contain my amazement at the wonders of the WishGarden remedies.
We are witnessing a real growth in the natural products sector. What do you attribute that to? I suppose there are many factors. Certainly chains such as Whole Foods have had an impact on creating the "wave" and through their use of vendor reps/brokers, their staff, and customers have been educated in the ways that natural foods and supplements work and are generally safer than the mass market versions. I think this has had a huge ripple effect as I have seen my co-ops here grow and thrive. Additionally, many mainstream stores now have a "natural wellness" section. So the various avenues of public education and awareness have definitely reached the masses who are now stepping into this world of natural remedies. Dr. Oz and similar types of mainstream programs have also had a big impact, I believe.
What is the natural products environment like in rural Minnesota? Very vibrant. Our co-ops are doing exceptionally well (in spite of new chains entering the market). There are several mass market chains that now have wellness sections, including in the rural areas.
What is your favorite herb and why? I don't really have a favorite single herb. I continue to love "smelly plants" and in the winter, I have about 40 (yes, 40) different orchids that I coax to send their fragrant blooms out so I can have their fragrance in my home. I typically grow a small herb plot in my tiny urban yard which always has kale, arugula, lavender, rosemary, thyme, lemon verbena, and sweet peas. I have tons of perennial fragrant plants and bushes in my yard and in the spring, I am almost "drunk" from the essences of peonies, lilacs, etc. that are profuse My entire front yard has thyme as ground cover. As you can imagine, the bees and insects are abundant in my little yard.
I am a green tea drinker and am starting to explore the various herbal teas as I have been taking an on-line herbal course that was recommended to me by Erin Smith at WishGarden. So far one of my favorites has been marshmallow root because of its gentleness and smooth taste. But I am still experimenting on that front.