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October 11, 2022 Home + Design » Home Tours
Published October 11, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Farm Craft VT bills itself as a “seed-to-soap herb farm,” which might raise the question: What do seeds have to do with soap?
The Shelburne farm’s three-acre field of bright-faced sunflowers, visible in late summer from Route 116, provides a clue.
As with many everyday items we take for granted, few people realize what goes into soap. At its most basic, explained Farm Craft co-owner Becca Lindenmeyr, bar soap consists of oils combined with water and sodium hydroxide. (No trace of the latter, commonly called lye, remains after it catalyzes fats into soap.) Additional ingredients might include fragrances and dyes, which are often synthetic in commercially manufactured soaps.
Lindenmeyr and her husband, Tim, founded Farm Craft in 2020 to make soap and other naturally scented and tinted body care and household cleaning products from scratch — with as many ingredients grown on their farm as possible. These include plants that add fragrance, color and functionality, as well as freshly pressed sunflower oil, the main ingredient in Farm Craft soaps and lotions.
The Lindenmeyrs picked sunflower oil for its high level of protective and restorative linoleic acid, the most abundant fatty acid already present in skin, and because they could grow sunflowers, native plants that support pollinators.
A sweet little self-serve farm shop overlooks their sunflower field. Bunches of farm-grown herbs, such as lavender and lemon verbena, hang from rafters above shelves stacked with an aromatic rainbow of products crafted on-site in a workshop beside the Lindenmeyrs’ net-zero home.
Farm Craft’s lemon-honey-oat bar soap is rippled with bands of cream, honey gold and blush pink and speckled with oats. Purple and green swirl together in lavender-scented dish soap blocks. A vivid peak-foliage mountainscape depicted in soap deserves to be framed, not reduced to suds.
But the Lindenmeyrs want people to use their soaps, not display them. They believe in form and function. “Everyday goods should be beautiful and practical,” Becca said.
The couple has invested a lot of time and effort to ensure their products perform and also meet broader goals. In addition to protecting skin without artificial ingredients, Farm Craft soaps, lotions and balms leverage the natural health properties of plants and avoid packaging as much as possible.
Noelle MacKay of Shelburne buys everything from laundry soap to shampoo bars from Farm Craft. “Becca is also great for advice,” MacKay wrote by email. When MacKay mentioned her sensitive skin, she said, Becca suggested she try the laundry soap. “I’ve been impressed by how it has cleaned my clothes and also eliminated extra chemicals,” MacKay said.
Calen King’s Hinesburg family of four has converted entirely to Farm Craft personal care products, from soaps to creams to shower steamers, which dissolve to release scents such as eucalyptus with thyme and pine. King emailed that she appreciates the quality, lack of packaging and local provenance.
“Sometimes after a long or stressful day,” she confided, “I will stop by to pick up a soap on my way home just because the smell inside the shop is intoxicating and makes everything melt away.”
Earlier this year, the Lindenmeyrs could have used a little stress relief themselves. They had planted enough sunflowers to yield about 60 gallons of oil, the quantity needed for Farm Craft’s projected annual 6,000 bars of soap plus lotions. But the local bird population beat them to the harvest. After what the Lindenmeyrs ruefully dubbed “the great goldfinch feast,” they scrambled to gather what remained and will make up the shortfall with organic sunflower oil from Ukraine.
Despite the frustration of losing most of this important homegrown ingredient, the couple is sanguine. “We’ve always been stubbornly optimistic,” Becca, 52, said. “And entrepreneurial,” her husband, 50, added.
The couple met in Taos, N.M., when they were in their early twenties. Tim had grown up in Elmore and Becca in Newcastle, Maine, both in families of artists and makers on back-to-the-land homesteads. “We grew up in our own craft schools,” Becca said.
Tim was working in construction, making pizza and skiing. Becca had applied her environmental science degree to a job in hazardous and nuclear waste remediation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and, later, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She also spent time working in garden centers and garden design. “I would vacillate between scary environmental science and gardening,” Becca said.
In 1995, the couple started Bluebird Herb Farm in Taos, where they raised culinary herbs, flowers and vegetables. They have worked together almost nonstop since. When the Lindenmeyrs came back to Tim’s home state in 2000, they settled in Addison and launched Linden L.A.N.D. Group, an ecological landscape design/build company. In 2013, they moved their business and family, which by then included two daughters, to Chittenden County, where they bought 15 acres of a former Shelburne dairy farm.
The pandemic prompted a professional reevaluation. Inspired by supply chain disruptions of household essentials, the couple brainstormed. Becca had dabbled in soapmaking during lockdown. “Soap is the marriage of everything I love: chemistry, botanicals, horticulture, art and craft,” she said.
“We said, ‘Remember when we had an herb farm?'” Becca recalled. “‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we created products that are born and raised here?'”
Two years in, the business projects about $150,000 in annual revenue, mostly from online and farm shop sales, but also via a handful of local retailers and some holiday craft fairs. Bar soap accounts for about half of all sales. The hand-mixed and -poured four-ounce bars sell for $8 to $10. Each batch of 40 bars uses four ounces of essential oils, which derive their intensity from 28 pounds of herbs or flowers. The Lindenmeyrs cannot yet grow enough to meet their needs, but they are working toward that goal.
The couple believes that Farm Craft is one of only a few of seed-to-soap operations in the country. Managing the full production cycle requires a wide range of expertise that few people have, Becca noted: “You really need chemistry and farming and art.”
Farm Craft also offers camping sites, an Airbnb apartment above its workshop, and a handful of tours and classes during the growing season. The Mother’s Day Tea is especially popular. “We wanted to bring people here to share what we’re doing,” Becca said.
When visitors arrive, Becca serves as an expert guide and teacher. A recent property tour for Seven Days started with the farm’s five beehives under an old mulberry tree.
The couple bottles the bees’ pure, raw honey for sale and also uses the beeswax and honey in many products, such as Farm Craft’s face masks. Another important bee-produced ingredient is propolis, created when the insects gather sap from pine trees and mix it with their saliva. Bees deploy the sticky antimicrobial substance to protect their hive from disease. The Lindenmeyrs deploy it in their soothing calendula balm and some lotions.
The calendula comes from the south-facing, quarter-acre herb and flower garden, terraced in an amphitheater design. The couple and one part-time employee tend 50 plant varieties destined for their herbal tea line and the farm-made botanical oils, tinctures and hydrosols used in other products.
Walking the rows, Becca paused to pluck a leaf or flower to demonstrate her points as she rattled off information. “I collect knowledge,” she said.
Sage and thyme, both with natural antibacterial properties, go into Farm Craft deodorant. Spearmint, calendula flowers and rosemary contribute to the morning tea blend, designed to energize and promote digestive activity. Becca noted that lemongrass makes a vibrant local substitute for lemon, and rose-scented geranium leaves pack much more floral punch than actual rose petals.
Becca stopped to point out the indigo, star-shaped flowers of borage, featured in Farm Craft’s logo. The petals go into the calming evening tea blend, while the tiny seeds are pressed into oil that’s added to lotion for its high content of gamma-linolenic acid, another essential fatty acid. The plant is also a bee favorite, Becca added.
Farm Craft employee Tobi Schulman was gathering borage and calendula flowers with Evelyn Kass, an overnight camper who was helping out in exchange for her stay. Kass had returned for a second visit while traveling the country for a year in her RV. The holistic veterinarian said she happened to arrive the first time when Becca was doing a tour. “She is just a world of information,” Kass said.
Kass was also impressed by the Lindenmeyrs’ ecological restoration plan to increase biodiversity, remove invasives and create wildlife corridors through the property. “They’re really trying to create wild spaces and bring back native species and do the right thing,” she said.
Visitors on the organized tours might also be lucky enough to sit down for tea on the stone terrace of the family home, surrounded by meadows and a glass greenhouse housing the copper still used to make essential oils and hydrosols.
The Lindenmeyrs did much of the design for their 2,000-square-foot environmentally sustainable home themselves, and Tim had a hand in building it. The superinsulated house generates as much energy from rooftop solar panels as it uses. A pair of heat pumps covers all heating needs; there’s a woodstove for backup. Local yellow birch flooring complements a living room mantle and furniture crafted from swamp white oak, reclaimed from the 1830s barn on their Addison land.
A collection of 13 stunning botanical paintings by Tim’s paternal grandfather graces the walls. In a house full of thoughtful details, the works of art are prized family heirlooms, encapsulating the couple’s personal and professional passions.
“I designed the house interiors around them,” Becca said with a smile.
The original print version of this article was headlined “Sustainable Suds | A Shelburne couple cultivates a farm-based body care and household products business”
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