Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

Green Business

Economic action to promote just and sustainable purchasing

Green Business Member Profiles 2005

Claire’s Pure and Natural Products

In the late 1990s, Irene Claire James realized that she was subjecting her body to an onslaught of chemicals and synthetics—not in her stomach, but on her skin. “I was a believing and hopeful female, thinking that skin care products were preserving my skin and keeping me more youthful the more I applied,” James recalls. But over time her skin grew more sensitive under the constant application of mainstream skin care products.

Soon, James learned that cosmetic products are dangerously under-regulated (cosmetic ingredients are not reviewed by the FDA before being sold to the public), and that they contain potentially irritating or toxic petrochemicals like propylene glycol, a synthetic form of glycerin that has been linked to allergic reactions. “As much as 80 percent of what you put on your skin gets absorbed into your body,” she says, “so what you apply on your skin should be as pure and natural as what you put in your mouth.” James started by making a simple beeswax cream in her Oregon home studio, and she soon graduated to making homemade lotions and soaps with organically grown lavender, chamomile, roses, and calendula from her own yard. She shared these items with her circle of friends and soon developed a local following.

With the urging of her friends and a strong local interest in the products, James retired from her position as office manager and public educator at the local fire department in 2002 and opened Claire’s Pure and Natural Products. Using home-grown organic plants and certified organic materials from other suppliers, James makes more than 20 organic body care products, including facial serum, massage lotion, hand-stirred soap, natural bug repellent, and more.

She is building a new facility, surrounded by three-and-a-half acres of flowers, fruit trees, honey bees, and gardens, which is designed to meet the highest green standards and which will be certified as an organic processing facility. And there will be even more to show than happy, healthy skin for her efforts—three percent of profits from Claire’s Pure and Natural Products are donated to environmental and organic advocacy groups.

—Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist

 

Honey Garden Apiaries

Humans have harvested honey, our oldest sweetener, for thousands of years. As recently as 100 years ago, honey was still typically sold as a raw and unheated product, which tended to crystallize within a month of its harvest. Although gentle warming easily returns crystallized honey to a liquid state, modern honey production methods strive to keep most super-market honey in its liquid form for as long as one year by introducing heating and filtration steps that also strip most of the nutritional value from the finished product. Honey Garden Apiaries, a direct-to-consumer producer of raw honey in Hinesburg, Vermont, still harvests its products the old-fashioned way. Its final product retains traces of pollen, beeswax and “propolis” (a resinous substance made from leaves and tree bark) within the honey, all of which add healthful minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and amino acids.

“There’s a greater appreciation these days of raw honey, propolis, pollen, and all of the herbs and medicinal plants that we work with, which is very encouraging,” says Todd Hardie, owner of Honey Garden Apiaries.

Beyond its raw honey production, Hardie’s company also sells a line of therapeutic health and beauty products. A propolis-based spray treats sore throats, the goldenrod honey facial mask nourishes the skin, and Honey Garden Apiaries' honey wild cherry syrup is useful as a respiratory relaxant, anti-inflammatory agent, and cough suppressant.

In addition, Honey Garden Apiaries is working on a number of long-term projects to make the bee-keeping operation even more sustainable. Hardie says his company recently began repopulating the countryside near his honey gardens with organically grown native elderberry plants (on which the bees can feast) to keep the honey as organic as possible.

Future plans include development of an onsite biodiesel (fuel made from vegetable oil) production facility to cut emissions on Honey Garden Apiaries' diesel vehicles, saving fossil fuels and clearing the air.

—Andrew Korfhage

 

Journey’s End Farm Camp

How do you teach the next generation about the importance of peace and sustainability? According to Journey’s End Farm Camp in Newfoundland, PA, a few summer weeks of communal living, farm chores, and fun and games can encourage children to adopt the qualities necessary for advancing a peaceful and ecologically healthy world.“Camp is a place to have fun, and it’s also a place for working, learning, and growing,” explains co-director Chris Martin.

In addition to traditional camp activities such as swimming, campfires, and arts and crafts, the Quaker-influenced Journey’s End features unique experiences. Daily farm chores such as caring for animals, weeding the garden, or picking berries help teach lessons of responsibility and cooperation to the 7- to 12-year-old campers, who come from different parts of the country and a variety of backgrounds. Interactions with animals and frequent nature hikes foster respect for the environment, while group activities such as discussion circles and nonviolent games build a peaceful community spirit.“The kids love it,” reports Martin. “We get lots of returning campers, and most of our publicity is through word of mouth.”

During the two- or three-week sessions, Martin enjoys watching groups of 30–36 campers relax into an atmosphere that’s free of much of the peer pressure many children find at school. “The 12-year-olds might start off acting like they’re too old for things like mud hikes, but then the enthusiasm of the counselors and other campers infects them. The definition of ‘cool’ changeswhile they’re at camp.”

—Liz Borkowski

 

Peace Craft

In 1989, a small group of volunteers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, decided to take action to alleviate some of the poverty in developing nations around the world. Taking aid and inspiration from Ten Thousand Villages and the Mennonite Central Committee, these hard-working activists formed Peacecraft.

Peacecraft, which is staffed almost entirely by volunteers, sells handmade crafts and clothing from around the world, providing a fair market for people in developing countries who often have no other source of income. Soon after the store was born, it came under the care of Dr. Angelo Tomedi, a family practitioner in Albuquerque. Having done extensive work with problems of child malnutrition in Central America, Dr. Tomedi believed in the power of fair trade to transform peoples’ lives, and he used that dedication to help Peacecraft make it to its 15-year anniversary.

Peacecraft works with over 30 suppliers from 14 different countries, such as Ecuador, Ghana, and Thailand, and it sells unique gifts like handmade dolls from Mexico and soapstone domino sets made in Kenya. Some of these suppliers find Peacecraft through the Internet, some are discovered by Peace Corps members who then help them find markets for their goods, and some are sought out by the Peacecraft team on trips abroad.

While they are from all over the world and produce a wide range of crafts and clothes, all of these suppliers do have something in common: they are all community-owned and -run cooperatives, and they all adhere to fair trade criteria. (All Peacecraft suppliers must must be members of the Fair Trade Federation, the International Federation of Alternative Trade, or the European Fair Trade Association, or they must be approved independently by the Peacecraft Evaluation Committee.)

In addition to earning a livable income from the crafts sold through Peacecraft, members of craft cooperatives often grow stronger together and cooperate to solve serious problems within their communities.

“We have witnessed communities that have been completely turned around through the practice of fair trade,” says Sara Pax, the vice chair of Peacecraft. The cooperatives sustained by a living wage, says Sara, “are able to support schools, hospitals, and educational programs in their communities.”

—Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist

 

Sundance Solar Products

Ed Bender is living the Green American Dream—he turned his passion for tinkering into a thriving business that helps keep toxic batteries out of our dumpsters. Around 1990, Ed discovered the wonders of solar power and started devoting most of his time to fiddling with small solar-powered devices. He played with solar devices, took them apart, repaired them, and even came up with some of his own designs.

In 1995, he turned this skill into a business when he founded Sundance Solar Products,Inc. Sundance Solar provides rechargeable batteries, solar-powered battery chargers, small solar panels, educational kits, and many other products to customers who want a high-quality, environmentally conscious product that helps save energy andkeep the planet healthy. Ed and his small team of employees connect customers with products made by other companies, while also building battery chargers and custom-made solar devices for interested customers.

“Basically,” says Ed, “folks let me know their needs, and I find a solar solution for them. “In addition to selling solar-powered alternatives to our daily necessities (like battery chargers and alarm clocks), SundanceSolar also provides solar-powered gadgets that can serve as an exciting introduction to solar power for both children and adults—products like solar-powered race cars and solar-powered sun tea makers (the jar has a solar-powered motor that stirs the tea, making it brew faster).

While helping consumers harness solar energy, Sundance Solar is also contributing to the scientific and economic development communities: Sundance Solar recently provided solar-powered laptop systems to a team of National Science Foundation scientists on the Antarctic Peninsula, and Hewlett-Packard has teamed up with Sundance Solar to bring solar-powered cameras and printers to rural India, wheretechnology is being used in small communities to explore possibilities for business and social development. While Ed Bender isn’t losing focus on the domestic uses for solar power, his recent experiences have helped him realize the myriad ways solar power could be used in developing countries. “A small amount of energy can make a big difference,” Ed says. “There are a lot needs, such as residential or school lighting that could be met with small solar-powered devices.”

—Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist