The Mindful Omnivore

24 June 2019

That’s me – Kathy Becker, Creative Director at Purple Martin Naturals. Welcome to my first blog post! If you like our approach and want to hear more, I hope you'll join our mailing list. But I'm getting ahead of myself already! Let me start by telling you a bit about how The Mindful Omnivore blog came to be.

When I started thinking about a blog for our small business, I decided to write as me - the blogs I enjoy most are those that are written by a person, not a company. But that immediately makes it personal; this will be as much about me as it is about our small business. Although it feels a bit funny, I think this makes the most sense since building a small business is a personal endeavour. My worldview influences the way we do business, so it makes sense to me that I launch our blog with a bit about me and a bit about our business.

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m mindful of the impact of my day-to-day choices on the planet. Like choosing repurposed over new (reusing things is much better!), choosing local over imported (minimizing that carbon footprint!), and choosing unpackaged or minimally packaged products (#breakupwithplastic!). And although I have been vegetarian and vegan at different times in my life, I am an omnivore; I eat a variety of foods, including meat. And in choosing to source locally harvested ingredients direct from producers, I've clearly applied thismindful omnivore approach to our small business. But getting here wasn't exactly a direct path.

Which path?

When we started out as crafters of natural bar soap, there seemed to be two paths: one that had been well-worn, and another that seemed forgotten and overgrown. So we started out on the well-worn path, the path of least resistance, which went something like this: start with coconut oil and add other imported tropical oils and butters to combat the drying effects of coconut oil in soap. As a mindful omnivore, it was important to me to identify a coconut oil brand that was produced in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner. But that turned out to be a problem. Our travel budget was (is!) nonexistent, so we couldn't hope to see for ourselves how that farmer in Thailand grew the coconuts that were used to make the coconut oil. And there are so many different certification programs that it seemed impossible to reliably know which coconut oil producer was actually doing right by the land and the people involved in its production. And then the final problem; no matter how responsibly it was produced, that coconut had to be transported a great distance to get to us here in Ontario. This is an environmental expense I didn’t feel right incurring in the name of our handmade soaps. All of this led us to take a second look at the forgotten and overgrown path; could we make an exceptional natural bar soap without imported tropical oils?

Instead of importing tropical oils across oceans, we’re making use of locally harvested oils along with tallow and lard, readily-available local by-products. Our carefully selected partners - responsible, small-scale local farmers - take great care to ensure the health and wellness of both the animals and land under their care. We think this is the most traditional and sustainable approach possible.

Yes, we can!

This time we started by making a list of oilseed crops & fats produced in Ontario, Canada, and North America (in that order). The list included tallow and lard (both excellent replacements for coconut and the more controversial palm oil), along with sunflower, avocado, hemp, meadowfoam, flax, and other oils – oh boy! We assessed the fatty acid profiles of these oils and fats to determine what properties each would contribute to our bar soaps. We came up with some trial formulations and made some simple soaps; they not only worked - each one was long-lasting and super conditioning! We experimented with enhancements to modify scent and colour. We added beeswax and honey from a nearby apiary to enhance hardness, scent and bubbliness. We added marl clay collected from a local lake and tamarack buds wild harvested from our farm property. We incorporated lavender flowers and other dried botanicals. And we chose a small number of essential oils to combine into great-smelling, long-lasting blends. Through this process, we not only gained a thorough understanding of using local, natural ingredients in bath & body products, but also developed a complete collection of natural handmade soaps that we were proud to share with our family & friends. And in June 2018, we started bringing our soaps to local farmer’s markets and community events.

Where does your tallow come from?

Sourcing locally-harvested ingredients has been such a great experience! It involves contacting farmers and producers, talking with them about their approaches, and visiting their sites. It’s a real treat to learn about their experiences, and we absolutely adore presenting them with the soaps we make from what they produce. We’ve partnered with producers whose values are in close alignment with our own, in particular those applying the practices of regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is a sustainable approach to farming that brings a number of positive environmental impacts, including the following:

  • improving soil health
  • mitigating climate disruption
  • restoring biodiversity
  • improving water cycles

And it turns out that one of the core practices of regenerative farming – holistic livestock management – results in a high quality of life for farm animals. In most cases, the animals spend their entire lives in the care of a single family, grazing freely together in healthy fields. This is in sharp contrast to large-scale farming, sometimes referred to as factory-farming. Tallow or lard from factory farms have no place in our products.

We soon realized that tallow was much more than just an exceptional solid oil for soapmaking! Tallow has been used for generations in both soapmaking and candlemaking. The nutrients in grass-fed tallow are very well suited and beneficial for our skin.

Keep up with us!

As we enter our second year, we're excited to bring you even more natural goodies crafted using ingredients that have been locally farmed with care. We’ll soon be releasing our new Tallow Balms, infused with botanical ingredients and blended with tallow and other nourishing oils. And we’re developing our own all-natural, palm- and soy-free Tallow + Beeswax Candles – they burn clean and bright! And we've just released our own Beard Oil that’s skin-soothing and lightly scented.

Now that I've written my first blog post, I plan to post semi-regularly. I'll profile our amazing local partners, take you behind the scenes in my soap studio, and share my insights as a small business owner in Waterloo Region. Sign up to receive updates - not too many, I promise!