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Returning to Oregon roots

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As you step into Wild Carrot Herbals, you are met with the smell of lavender being crushed in the basement, the gentle whir of machines in the manufacturing room, the steady sound of product being slipped into cardboard shipping sleeves, the colorful sites of the retail space, and the soft welcoming voice of Jody Berry. The combination of stimuli instantly helps ease the tensions of the day away.

Berry has been creating Wild Carrot Herbals since the year 2000. Started out as a passion project years ago, just outside of Olympia, Washington, the effort has matured over the years into what is now a thriving herbal manufacturing and retail business in Enterprise, Oregon. It is here that she and her family opened the Wild Carrot Herbals retail shop almost two years ago.

“Our goal is to create honest, nutrient-rich, joyful products that are reasonably priced for the entire family. Our products are brought to you by people,” said Berry. “We are family owned and operated in this beautiful and wild place in northeast Oregon, where we manufacture everything ourselves. Our products are all made in very small batches – measured, mixed, hand poured and labeled the old fashioned way: with love, care and cleanliness.”

In addition to the care she puts into each and every product she creates, Berry also insists on using glass bottles instead of plastic, and the shipping peanuts she uses are made from sorghum, are GMO and gluten free and completely dissolve in water. Even the packing tape, adorned with the Wild Carrot and Baby Carrot logos, is printed Kraft paper, not plastic, and is completely recyclable.

A deeper connection

Like all entrepreneurs, Berry’s story is just as much about her past as it is about her future. Berry grew up in Gladstone, a fifth generation Oregonian. As a young adult she attended Evergreen State College, where she lived alone and off the grid in the woods just outside of Olympia. While most of her friends were living on campus or in the city, Berry was living a life of solitude and simplicity. For five years she lived without running water, electricity, or a phone. During this time she built a yurt and a sauna. Life was simple and she soon realized how strong of a connection she had with the earth and the plants that grew from it.

Eventually life dictated some changes and she entered the corporate world as a copier salesperson where she soon learned a thing or two about herself.

“I won every incentive trip to Hawaii they offered. It was hard, but I was very competitive.” She spent seven years selling copiers. “It taught me how to sell, and I learned how to print a label,” she said smiling, surrounded by products with a variety of labels she created for them.

Berry and her husband Michael had met at Evergreen while studying organic farming, and married nine years later. Both had been organic and biodynamic farmers and have incorporated these practices into the Wild Carrot products they now produce in rural northeast Oregon.

Back to the farm

“When I told my parents I wanted to be a farmer again they were not surprised. They told me that that is all I have ever wanted to be,” said Berry. “I didn’t even realize how true that was. I had never given it up because it just wouldn’t let me go.”

She and Michael settled in Rickreall, Oregon where they built a 30’ x 96’ greenhouse. Michael grew organic salad greens while Berry concentrated on creating salves and lotions in her newly constructed 700 sq. ft. yurt.

“We had 60 chickens, 22 turkeys, three dogs and five employees and we eventually outgrew the space,” said Berry. “We realized we didn’t have to stay in Rickreall. Rickreall had been good to us, but we could go anywhere. We knew we wanted to stay in Oregon, so we began looking. We looked at Paisley, Lakeview and Williams. I had been a river guide on the Grande Ronde River 30 years ago, so we decided to check out northeast Oregon and that is when we found this space. It is just perfect for us.”

Finding a home

It really does look as if the space, known as the Enterpriser and built in 1924, was made especially for Wild Carrot Herbals.

Wild CarrotThe manufacturing room is tidy and clean, with plenty of space to move around in while working with infused oils, mixing salves, or filling lotion bottles. Shelves in the shipping room are stacked with boxes of fresh product primed and ready to be sent to any one of the 300 health food stores in the northwest and California that now carry Wild Carrot Herbals, as well as their baby line of products known as Baby Carrot. The retail space is warm and inviting, a great showcase to display the 100 different products they now create.

“This is the first time we have tried retail,” said Berry. “The retail store is way more than we ever thought it could be. We have learned that this community is so supportive. There are so many people in northeast Oregon that make things. It is a very creative community.”

Seemingly at one with the plants, Berry appreciates all they have to offer and has spent countless hours learning about their every nuance. The earth where they grow, the rain that waters them, the sunlight that encourages growth and vitality, and the coolness of a moonlit night are all a part of each stem, flower and leaf. As she crushes lavender in the palm of her hand, she no doubt gives thanks for all that went into the creation of the rich scent that drifts about her.

Wild Carrot Herbals has 100 different products made for women, children, pregnant moms, and men, along with 50 different infused oils, a variety of salves, lotions, body butters, lip balms, facial toners, cleansers and creams. Each and every recipe is created by Jody Berry herself.

As Wild Carrot Herbals grows in popularity, Berry says they are cautious with their growth. Last summer they began working with a distributor in Hong Kong which supplies 110 stores.

“This has great potential,” said Berry. “We already ship all over the world and our e-commerce website has been awesome. It is a good way to communicate with our customers. We are looking at managed, steady growth. We don’t intend to be a national company and really evaluate each new store that we take on. Our focus is quality, not quantity. It appears that the retail store will continue to blossom and we will put more energy into that adventure. We hope to hire a few key people to assist us in the day to day. Maybe then we will have a first family vacation in over eight years!” With six employees already, Berry said she likes to keep a positive work environment. “We pay our employees well, treat them well and we try to be flexible with their work schedules.”

The complexity of simplicity

With so many different avenues to keep track of between production, shipping, e-commerce, customer service, retail management and life in general, something had to go, at least for now.

Hand cream“We thought once we moved to Enterprise that we would continue farming, but we are really enjoying the simplicity,” she said. “We couldn’t afford farmland here, and we were also overwhelmed by doing all aspects of the product production. We still grow plants, like calendula, but on a smaller scale. We didn’t expect all the folks that came forward that wanted to grow for us. They mostly live down the valley a bit more where it is a bit warmer and easier to grow things. It is pretty ideal really – we still get to have the relationship with the plants and know where they come from and know the farming and harvesting practices. We also get to share in the abundance.”

“We are highly influenced by our bioregion and have gotten to know the plants that are native here, while enjoying the beauty of this place,” said Berry. “There are nettles in our Peace cream, and St. John’s Wort in our hand lotion, yarrow in our chest rub, and rose petals in our eye cream. They make for a great excuse to get outside and keep the balance. Some of our Oregon products are the Pacific Northwest cedar, rose & arnica massage oil, Oregon lavender lotion, Oregon mint lip balm, wild rose eye cream, Douglas fir lip balm, and rose body butter, to name a few. We use images from Oregon like the John Day and Wallowa mountains on our labels too. I hesitated slightly when formulating products with Oregon in the name, thinking that they would not be marketable in Washington or California, but over the years I have been told by our customers that Oregon has a reputation of being different, of being a place of wild beauty and wild spaces. People are inherently drawn to that.”

Growing challenges

Some of the biggest challenges Wild Carrot Herbals faces is keeping up with production, but luckily for Berry, her husband thrives on that kind of challenge.

“Michael is our systems guy. He helped build a brew pub in Pennsylvania and he has worked on Earth Ships in Arizona.” said Berry. “He has taken us to a whole new level because of the production machinery he has found. We now make product five days a week. We make hundreds of gallons of botanically infused oils, where we source organic ingredients whenever possible.”

Berry’s future looks promising to say the least.

“There is that expression,” said Berry, ‘do what you love, love what you do’. I think success is dependent on passion and I am quite passionate about making non-toxic skin care and working with herbs. I am also passionate about people and fostering my relationships with them. From one customer who walks through our door, to a buyer for a chain of 10 stores, I am always grateful. After all this time, I still love my job. I love the plants, making a difference, the connection I have to the people that I really love. We aren’t just making something, we are making a difference, and I am forever in awe of the plants.”

For more information, visit http://www.wildcarrotherbals.com/, follow Wild Carrot Herbals on Twitter, or like Wild Carrot Herbals on Facebook.