Q & A :
Welcome to the Personality Spotlight, Penny! Please tell us about yourself and how your interest for natural beauty and health care began.
Sharon, thank you for this opportunity. I have to talk "we" rather than me, as our work is a partnership effort. My husband, George Frazier and I work as a strong team. We are both honored to be included in your spotlight. Everyone you feature is part of that ground swell movement toward a healthier earth and a more natural way of being human.
Down to earth describes our personalities and our interest in natural health and beauty. George and I are a complete dichotomy. We are personally very low maintenance people. We love dirt - good clean earth and on a daily basis, we would certainly be the odd couple of natural health and beauty as we are often crawling around in the woods, covered in dirt. We work with the wild organic harvests. The natural products industry helps our business demonstrate values for bio-diversity, native plant systems and wild landscapes.
Like many city raised children, George and I found ourselves as adults longing for forests, streams, and a different way of living. We both had strong families with parents working to shape the American Dream. They had a sincere desire to see us pointed in professional directions - to earn a decent living. George was a securities runner in Los Angles while I was a research litigation paralegal in Las Vegas. It was our love for the out of doors and nature that brought us together.
My family legacy is something I am very proud of. Dad was the oldest of ten children and worked very hard to provide for his family from the age of 13. He always emphasized education, honesty and commitment to ideas bigger than oneself. Dad taught me to feel a sense of accomplishment in contributing to the well being of others.
George and I each had fathers who took us outdoors and into wild worlds. I think taking children to wild places is critical to helping them find a place in their hearts for wild things. George and I each appreciate our fathers for taking us camping and into wild worlds far away from the cities we lived in. We are both very grateful to come from strong, united, thinking families.
We were in our early 30's when we met. I was totally disillusioned with the legal world. He was a step ahead, having left Los Angeles and securities running to commercially fish in Alaska. I was completely ready to let go of the panty hose, brief case life. We ran off together to live in a log cabin in Homer, Alaska and to make television.
While living in Alaska, we were trained in broadcasting, had our own radio show, and purchased local air time on a cable station to produce our own television programming. As part of our contract, we had to cover city politics. We broadcasted all of the public meetings, City Council, economic development, zoning etc. We had a chance to learn a great deal about economics and the political process.
We observed that the City was fueling development to create jobs and tax revenues - despite steady public opposition against industrial development. We watched the political processes and realized the best way to protect the environment was to create an alternative economics model. In one meeting more than 10% of the town turned out to oppose oil drilling and the Department of Natural Resource people were very blunt in saying, "This will happen. You can only tell us how to do it better - because we are going to do it."
I sat down and just cried - just furious. It was my 'Scarlet O'Hara' moment. While she vowed never to be hungry again, I vowed to spend the rest of my life protecting as much as I could, every way that I could. Basically, I learned that we could not depend on political processes to protect our environment.
We thought the best way to create conservation was to find economic solutions that made wilderness worth more than development. We developed a conservation strategy: 'Create a demand for wild products as a means of creating economic incentive for wilderness.' That is how it all began and why we created our company 'Goods From The Woods.'
Please tell us about your company and what products you are currently selling.
Goods From The Woods offers a wild variety of wild products. We started our work with wild American pine nuts 1994. In 2002 we began working with Ozark Wild Plant Products. We are certified for 78 species of organic wild crops - native plants which are known for their food and medicine values. We make floral waters, essential oils, Wild American Teas and wild foods selling via the internet web site, www.wildcrops.com and www.pinenut.com.
Our Wild Plum Flower hydrosol is one of our premier products. In the spring we hand harvest the flowers from the budding plum trees and distill them very slowly to extract the phyto-chemicals and flower essence. Monarda fistulosa essential oil is another of our finely crafted products. Of course, I work with in-shell roasted wild Pine nuts and this year we offered a certified wild organic gift tea set. We harvested wild Persimmons for Whole Foods in St. Louis, and I will be working on a harvest of wild Grapes. After the first freeze we will have certified wild organic Sun Chokes. We work with a wide variety of wild plants.
In Spring 2008, we are gearing up for production of certified organic Witch hazel. That is very exciting to us for a number of reasons. It is a long term project and we are working with a large private forest certifying 100 acres for Witch hazel production. We will also be offering certified organic Echinacea pallida hydrosol in July of 2008. Our Wild Plum Flower hydrosol comes in mid April followed by Yarrow, Elder and wild Mints. We have purchased an additional 20 acres of forest with spring, which we will have placed into production for 2008. I am hoping to expand our Elder flower hydrosol production.
I am very proud of our line of certified wild organic teas. We hand harvest and slow dry our herbs. Many botanical companies buy the raw ingredients from wild crafters then pasteurize the herbs. It is virtually impossible to find raw materials that have been handled properly and exclusively for the purpose of preserving the integrity of the plants phyto-chemicals. This is the area where our company truly distinguishes itself. We produce a very limited run of Ozark wild products which are all harvested by hand and carefully crafted
Not only do you sell products, your company has a very unique mission in helping your fellow land owners, farmers and the natural environment. Please tell us more about that.
Much of forested land in the Ozarks has becomes cleared for the purpose of raising cattle. With large livestock, a person can hold down a job off the farm, making enough money to keep their land. Many rural families would love to keep their lands wild and earn a living from them. We model a different agriculture paradigm with wild harvests. This helps protect bigger tracts of biodiversity, watersheds and community resources for sustainable use of botanical resources utilizing the USDA wild crop organic certification.
Our idea is to work with lots of species of Ozark wild plants in a way other small landowners can replicate. Here in the Ozarks we have worked with other farmers from the beginning. We were fortunate to be funded through a Sustainable Agricultural Research Grant in 2002. It was a three year project with other local producers to grow native plants. In fact, the funding paid for part of our first distillation unit, and it all resulted in our organic wild certification.
That grant helped create a foundation for local wild harvest cooperation. We found cross training and sharing knowledge was a very important aspect of working with native plant harvests. That project resulted in some strong friendships and a good foundation for further work. It also helped establish seed resources for restoration.
It took a few years of working with harvest and distillation to develop a product line. In 2007, the distillation business really started to grow. We began actively recruiting folks to get their land certified 'organic wild crops' at the beginning of the year. In addition to a large private forest, we have other properties being certified 'organic wild crops'.
We are trying to show people ways to keep their land in its natural state, while earning a sustainable wage. What we observed was that once folks began to learn about their native systems, they took better care of them. Sometimes it is as simple as driving the bush hog around the butterfly milkweed, because now it means more.
What advice would you give to others that want to help protect their own indigenous species of plants?
For anyone invested in protecting our bio-diversity, there is but one solution. Use your native plants. While there are important spiritual elements in harvesting and working with native plants, I wont go into that. Because as a person uses the plants, those spiritual elements become self apparent. Acquiring the knowledge of the native plants is best done hands on.
The wild world is rich with fascinating information about what plants grow where, how and why. Once a person enters this world they thirst for knowledge about what those plants do for each other and how best to harvest and use them. It is not enough to just grow native plants as landscape. The more that a person uses the plants the more valuable they become. People are afraid to harvest and use the native plants and it is truly a key to protecting our environment. If a person plants 5 native flowers, make sure that 4 of them are plants that can be used. It connects the natural world back into our manmade world in a way nothing else can, the hands on way.
One of the natural steps in using wild plants is to acquire generational knowledge held by elders in the area. Many people have yet to realize the importance of the on-the-ground knowledge... knowledge of wild plants and living systems. A good friend of ours was asking us questions about plants in his homeland of Russia. We were puzzled that he would ask us and suggested that he go talk to elders in his region. He responded that people had been removed from the land 70 years ago when collectives were formed. There were no elders left who knew about the wild plants. We cannot let that happen here. If everyone can take one or two native species to care for and foster, our planet will be a much safer place. Also the generational knowledge would be kept alive and we would all be richer for it.
There are all kinds of myths about wild harvests that must be dispelled. The more people who will plant, tend and use the native plants the more value those plants and systems will have to our cultural as a whole. Most of our country's wild harvesters have done the work for generations in the same place, tending their harvest ground carefully. Wild harvesters are an important part of the natural systems and 99 times out of 100 have a great deal more knowledge about the plants communities, the weather cycles, the wild life than any PhD scientists. It is the destruction of habitat that threatens our planet not the wild harvesters.
Generally, I don't see a lot of value to political processes. Participating in public lands planning processes is the exception to my general rule. For example, if your family harvests wild berries or mushrooms recreationally, it is important to let the Forest Service know that is an important land use. Remember, in policy development we are competing against timber sales that destroys huge tracts of land. It wont be long before our forests are under attack as fuel resources for ethanol. It is about competing for natural resources and everyone who can step forward to say " I harvest this or that and these land are important for that use" may help protect that land from industrialized uses.
What are your future goals for your company?
Our goals are more environmental and educational than financial. We strive to protect more land, to develop a network of USDA certified organic wild practitioners and further the economic viability of keeping land wild. Our big business goal would be to make hydrosols from the Spring waters on our farm.
What lessons have you learned that have helped you to succeed in your business?
Our two biggest lessons, always do a business plan, and never be cocky about the market place. Success is in the elbow grease and there is no way around it.
What advice would you give for finding good hydrosols, and how would you suggest using them?
My first advise would be to learn how to make them at home on a small scale for your personal use. Distillation equipment runs a full gambit of expense. I have seen tea kettles made into distillation units. The best way to have good hydrosols is to do it hands on yourself. Grow it, harvest it, distill it and use it. It is truly a satisfying, nurturing experience for body and soul.
If that is not possible, my advice would be to check the Aromatic Plant Project for links (http://aromaticplantproject.com). If you are a manufacturer, seek out organic farmers interested in value-added processing. My guess is that you will find many with the ability and interest in this work. Most of our organic cosmetic ingredients are being imported. We need producers in the United States and many organic producers have wild lands that they do not use. Most certified producers I know grow their market goods on about 2 acres, yet own 70 - 150 acres of land. Ask your suppliers to find producers in the United States.
Some items like Blue Tansy are difficult to produce in the United States. In this case, know the distributor. Have they visited the production area? Is it fair trade produced? What sustainability practices are in place? Ask these questions.
We also use an old and familiar test on any product we buy for personal use. Most people know the test from visiting a chiropractor. You hold your arm straight out from your body as another tries to push it down. Your strength is tested. Then you hold the trial product in the other hand close to your heart and once again hold out your arm for strength testing. If you are weaker, the product is not good for you. We do this all the time at the health food store with amazing results. This test works.
One of my favorite uses for Wild Plum hydrosol is romantic... enough said. Another, is for Yarrow hydrosol for our pets' skin conditions. We have a lot of ticks and chiggers in our forest and we use hydrosols generously when going into the woods. We make a Blue Chamomile hydrosol for our personal use, which I use in popsicles when someone in the house is ill. With Monarda fistulosa hydrosol, we have found that it works wonders on pet odors and stains in carpets. The Elderflower hydrosol is pure magic on dry skin .
Please give us some insight into your Pine Nut business. When and how are they harvested, and what form do you sell yours in?
The Pine nuts are my first love and the first big step we took after the Alaskan epiphany. I spent two years researching and reading scientific literature about Pinyon trees then set about the business of selling wild Pine nuts as a means of changing policy. At that time, they grew wild on 68 million acres of public lands and were well documented to be 148 - 500 times a more profitable land use than grazing. The United States was importing 8 million pounds of pine nuts each year, while mowing down our own Pinyon forests to create grazing range.
I became an expert in the global arena of Pine nuts. Its an odd thing, save the Pinyon forest - eat an American pine nut. It is a pretty complex issue. This year we had no wild American Pine nuts and I had to work with importers to offer in-shell roasted Pine nuts. A person can learn everything they ever wanted to know about Pine nuts on my site, www.pinenut.com.
Our relationship with public agencies has improved greatly over the last 13 years. I was recently hired as a consultant on a Pinyon project. The project shares information about methods for managing public lands for Pine nut production. Agency people are individually very supportive of our Pine nut work. The sad story is that we are down to 38 million acres of Pinyon trees from 68 million acres over the course of 13 years.
What do you do for recreation? (hobbies, etc..)
I clean the house for recreation. Sad, but true - I really love a pretty environment in and out of my home and with so little time, cleaning must be enjoyable. We also attend our son's sporting events and do our best to be active in our community. We have such a busy life that things normally supposed to be drudgery have to be raised to the level of pleasurable hobbies - like recreational laundry.
Do you have any funny or interesting stories that you'd like to share with us?
A lot of people became familiar with our family and our work via the Fox Networks show 'Trading Spouses'. We are often asked what that was like. Just imagine if someone gave you a television crew and said, "no rules - do what you want". George and I just went bananas - we have a really odd ball sense of humor. We played Trading Spouses for weeks (in the privacy of our own home - of course!). It was a really great experience, and the show has aired all over the world. It was certainly an outstanding opportunity.
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