BuiltOregon

Category - Sustainability

Returning to Oregon roots

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.

Finding a new way through recycling

Alando Simpson takes one look at my shoes and decides to keep the tour short.

“I don’t want you to step on any nails,” he says.

His boots sink into increasingly softening ground as we circle the small house at the center of two acres in Northeast Portland’s Parkrose neighborhood. The house—or, more precisely, its basement—is home to City of Roses Disposal & Recycling, a waste hauler-turned-recycling-facility founded by Alando’s father, Al.

Alando stands next to one of the pieces of heavy equipment lined up against the wall of the house.

“The grinder,” he says, reaching into a small pile of spare parts and filling his hand with a softball-sized metal tooth that will soon be chewing wooden building debris into 3-4 inch chips prime for paper mills. At one point in its rumbling, diesel-fueled life, somebody scrawled “The Beast” in black marker on the side of the grinder’s front panel—a name Alando says fits a machine that can slice and dice its way through 40 cubic yards of wood per day during construction season.

“That’s a lot of good wood,” Alando says, as places his hands back in the pockets of his brightly colored Columbia jacket.

City of Roses truckThe Beast sits quiet today, but the rest of City of Roses’ recycling facility is abuzz. A half-dozen men dressed head-to-steel-toe in reflective gear pick away at a pile of drywall pulled from a site near Lloyd Center. Under a barn-sized structure flanked by piles of different colored plastics, films, metals, wires, and cardboard, the men sort debris while negotiating the movements of ever-beeping heavy machinery. To their left and right, expanding collages of industrial, commercial, and residential waste is being salvaged and stockpiled by City of Roses and its growing recycling division, CORE.

It’s a cold January morning. Our breath hangs in the air, as does a patch of fog at the other side of the lot.

“If we can’t find value, it’s going to be a cost,” Alando says. “So we try to recycle as much as we possibly can.”

Turns out, “waste not” is more than a good business practice for the Simpsons, it’s a way of life.

A consuming hobby

We walk past the vehicle scale that’s a staple of most recycling facilities and Alando stops next to a truck parked at the front of the house. It’s a lot like the rig Al drove to drop off his oldest son at Northwest Portland’s Lincoln High, he says, a bit beat up with rusty scars that stood out amid BMWs and Lexuses, but just as functional.

City of Roses dumpsterTo call Al “frugal” is an understatement, Alando says, describing his dad as notorious for rarely ever spending money—and almost never buying anything brand new.

“Unless its underwear or socks, he’s always going to buy used,” said Alando.

Enjoy the fruits of his labor? Al rarely had a moment, especially after he started City of Roses in 1996—while working full time as a truck driver for the City of Portland’s maintenance bureau.

“It was supposed to be a hobby,” Al said. “I used to go drinking beers with the buddies every night. That shit got old, y’know? I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ I had to figure out something else to do. I knew I could drive a truck, and I needed something I could do after work and on the weekends.

“Garbage—they’re open seven days a week.”

A recurring work ethic

Al was born and raised in the Humboldt neighborhood of North Portland. His father, Oscar, worked on the railroad.

“He worked all of the time,” said Al.

Besides his weekday gig, Oscar took a second job managing the apartment complex where the family lived. He collected rent, mopped floors, and kept the toilets running on weekends and after hours.

“I remember he used to ask me to help him mop the floors and I always wanted to go play basketball or football on the weekends,” Al remembers. “Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. It makes me feel bad now, that I didn’t.”

“The times he’d say,” Al pauses, switching to the lower octave even older men reserve for imitating their fathers, ‘Go on, boy.’”

Oscar died in 1976 when Al was 20. But his work ethic lived on in Al.

Al realized that, while Oscar worked hard—and he, himself, worked hard—it had always been for someone else. A fact he continued to consider as City of Roses grew in the early 2000s, and he began feeling spread too thin. Family members urged Al to retire from the city and focus on his own business.

He said he couldn’t. Not yet, anyway.

“His standard line was that he wouldn’t retire from the city unless we had our own facility,” says Alando, 31, who joined the family business in 2004 and graduated from Portland State University in 2007. Once on the inside, Alando quickly saw why his father—and a hauler like City of Roses—would want its own recycling center to process the goods: Picking up and carrying waste from homes and businesses to recycling centers and landfills was only so profitable, particularly with waste fees, overhead, repairs, and taxes inching up as the business grew.

The idea of a facility had legs, but it was just an idea. Al and Alando weren’t sure where to start.

The light bulb moment

Al started with a single truck. One that had been sitting in front of his house for three months before he landed his first job.

Climbing into the truckHe poured all his free time into City of Roses, which grew steadily. Eventually, the phone was ringing too much. Al wasn’t exactly enjoying his “hobby” anymore. Family and friends helped for stretches here and there, but the seven-day workweeks mounted, and those closest to Al grew increasingly worried he’d work himself to death.

Taking over the family business can be a tough sell as it is, but when that business is trash? Alando wasn’t exactly feeling it, especially in his early 20s.

“My life was too easy,” he said. “I was doing a lot of fun stuff because a friend of mine was in the NBA, and my life was too easy. My dad was working his butt off.”

That didn’t sit well with Alando.

“I was like, ‘There’s no way I can hang out in this environment,” he said. “To essentially rely on the revenue of friends to determine success—that doesn’t make a man in my eyes.’”

Alando started at City of Roses working admin roles, where he often dealt with contractors. Their most consistent complaint centered on low recycling rates for their projects, particularly if they were striving to achieve LEED certification. Alando felt their pain, but as a hauler taking debris from site to dump, there was little City of Roses could do.

“That’s when the bulb went off,” Alando said.

City of Roses would open the facility Al always talked about, but it would specialize in helping contractors attain higher, more accurate recycling rates than the competition—often multi-billion-dollar, multinational waste companies who aren’t about to overhaul their proven operations model.

“Recycling is not why they’re in business,” Alando says. “The margins on landfilling are higher because there’s no labor. They’re going to recycle what they can, because it’s the status quo thing to do, but in reality they’re just trying to move stuff as fast as they can.”

One person’s trash…

Alando soaked up everything he could about LEED and wrote a business model targeted toward a niche, but growing market of contractors seeking higher recovery rates and the certification that went along with it.

The banks passed, but after receiving assistance from the Portland Development Commission and State of Oregon, traversing Metro and DEQ regulations, and paying system development charges, City of Roses had what it needed to break ground on its own facility in 2011. They spent a financially shaky 2012 under construction (“There were times we didn’t pay ourselves,” Alando says) and were officially permitted to “tip” (AKA dump) waste on April 1, 2013.

Quickly securing an 18-month job at Intel enabled City of Roses to build cash flow and acquire equipment (used, of course) like trailers, fifth wheels, tractors, boxes, excavators, and forklifts. And less than five months after the facility opened, Al retired from the city. But he’s by no means stopped working.

“I’ll come out here on a Sunday, and he’ll be here doing something,” Alando says. “He can’t stop. It’s almost a gift and a curse.”

“It’s gift because you see the work ethic, and you understand what it takes. But the curse is when you’re trying to implement different procedures and processes and tasks.”

Alando smiles.

“The numbers get skewed because he does things outside of what’s supposed to be recorded data,” Alando says. “I’m just trying to get him to understand that he’s going to be more of an asset to the company if he provides wisdom, instead of his actual hands-on work.”

I ask Alando how Al takes that constructive criticism.

“He’s not hearing it,” Alando laughs. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’”

Building up by tearing down

Al and Alando’s desks sit within a few yards of each other in the basement office, a space whose wood floor carries the basketball lines from the gym it was salvaged from. Al’s desk looks too organized to be heavily used—its neat stacks of papers and business cards a sure sign the older Simpson does most of his work out on in the field.

“Shit, I work harder now than I did when I worked for the city,” Al laughs, toothpick out the left side of his mouth, a bright-yellow construction vest across his chest. “That was a gravy job. This is work.”

Alando and AlOne look at Alando’s cavernous office area shows the workaholic tendencies didn’t fall far from the family tree. In addition to being vice president of City of Roses and CORE, the father of two chairs the Oregon Sports Authority, helps run the FAST (Fitness And Sustenance Training) camp, sits on the state transportation board, and is treasurer for the National Association of Minority Contractors.

What’s more, Alando CrossFits on weekday mornings at 5:30 and plays hoops on Saturdays.

His calendar mirrors the walls of his workspace, which is covered with posters, notes, and maps of Portland. A large, hand-written list tacked above his desk stands out.

It reads: “THINGS WE NEED FOR GROWTH”

Beneath, there are practical purchases (“more drop boxes” and “newer equipment”) and larger projects (“new wood process” and “obtain a franchise”). But when it comes right down to it, the area Alando thinks will best build up City of Roses is, ironically, tearing things down.

“We’re looking at deconstruction and demolition,” Alando says, noting the highly regulated and often politically franchised waste industry can present more barriers than growth opportunities, especially when his competition is multinational corporations. “I don’t really have the ability to take their market share. So for me, it’s ‘how do I create new markets or concepts within the industry?’”

With a deconstruction division, City of Roses would add taking apart buildings (while carefully maintaining anything that has value to it) to its hauling and recycling repertoire. They’d pick a structure clean of salvageable 2×4, 4×6, or 2×6 pieces of wood and either resell them or grind them into material for fabricated and engineered wood (which Alando says can be more sustainable than concrete and steel and more flexible than traditional wood during earthquakes).

“A lot of demolition companies will haul their own debris, but none of them have their own recycling facilities—so at the end of the day, they’ll at some point pay for waste,” Alando says.

“We can recycle whatever waste we have. Salvage, reuse, recycle, discard—especially in a sustainably conscious region like Oregon, it gives us a lot of upside for providing alternative value. There’s a different cultural sentiment here. To me, Oregon is just one word that’s an extension of the term ‘organic.’ It’s the original root way of how people should be.”

For more information, visit http://www.cityofrosesdisposal.com/.