Tea Time: An Intriguing Interview with Well Rooted Teas
For our first Small Sustainable Business Series I interviewed Rachel Banken, the founder of Well Rooted Teas to learn more about her and her tea that is made with local organic herbs and native Minnesota foraged botanicals. Her passion for supporting local, sustainable, organic farmers is so inspiring and Rachel informed me that I can forage year-round in my own city parks!
My favorite thing about Well Rooted Teas is the fact that not only are the ingredients local, you can actually see every single ingredient that is in the loose leaf tea in its true form which helps you feel confident about what is going in your body and where it is from! Shopping local businesses and food benefits not only your health, but your whole community so I am so excited to share her story with you!
The Twin Cities as a div
What inspired you to start a sustainable business?
Rachel comes from a long line of Iowa farmers and grew up in a small farming town in Iowa where farming was the way of life and culture for every person there. This fostered an appreciation for the Earth and an inevitable connection with locally grown food that has carried over into her recently started business, Well Rooted Teas.
Rachel started her career in public health research but after taking time off when she had her children she knew that she wanted to go into something that allowed her to be in nature part of the time and also spend time with her children- in her words "there's not much out there unless you make your own!" She grew up foraging her own tea so that part of her business made sense immediately, and she knew she wanted the other part to tie her in to the sustainable farming community.
Rachel told me the thing that makes her job so satisfying is her relationships with the farmers. She told me it is more expensive and time consuming in the short term to run a sustainable and/or organic farm but these farmers are passionate about running in a way that protects and conserves the land for future generations of farmers.
I really admire Rachel so much for not just going the "easy way" by buying commercial ingredients to make her products. Not only does Rachel sourcing her ingredients from sustainable farmers give them buying power, it also spreads their message and makes their efforts known!
What are the wild-crafting sustainability guidelines that you and the local farmers you work with follow for the gathering of your tea ingredients?
Rachel told me that wildcrafting guidelines are "rules of thumb" that guide how to sustainably forage, but she told me that there are three rules to always follow when foraging:
Rule 1: Always forage from abundance
Due to popularity in Minnesota wild ramps and fiddle head ferns are over foraged because they pulled from the root-up, which eliminates the chance of reproduction
Rule 2: Never take more than 10%
Rachel told me her 10% rule of thumb is a bit more strict than most foragers but she believes in taking a small amount that will leave enough for the birds, the animals, and future generations of foragers
Rule 3: Forage at least 300 feet from major roadways and houses
Plants can soak up chemicals and pollution so the farther away from that influence the more pure the plant will be
I never knew that where I live in the Twin Cities of Minnesota I could go out to my parks and forage berries, nuts, and herbs so I am so excited to get out this summer and start exploring! Make sure to ask permission if you are on private property!
Tip #1 from Rachel: Never forage mushrooms unless you are an expert or with an expert, and even then be hesitant!
Tip #2 from Rachel: Stinging Nettle is available all over and has many health benefits like detoxifying the body and helping with joint pain. Rachel says to wear gloves when foraging the nettle and to steep the nettle in a mason jar full of water overnight to get all of the medicinal properties out of the nettle. (It will have an earthy flavor so add it to your own tea or enjoy it by itself!)
Are there benefits of choosing tea locally made and foraged compared to buying green tea or something similar from the market?
Initial reaction: "Oh HECK yeah!".
Rachel told me that most tea that we are going to see in the grocery store has traveled at least thousands of miles to get to the store, has been sitting somewhere on a shelf for a year or so, and on top of that is less nutrient dense because it is ground into a powder.
One large issue with non local brands of tea is the fact that you just don't know if you are getting an ethically sourced tea from a place that not only supports sustainable farming, but things like workers rights, child labor laws, etc. (Interesting article from the International Labor Rights Forum on tea workers in India)
Rachel forages 20% of her own ingredients on private land and sources the remaining ingredients from local farmers who either grow or forage for her. When you support Well Rooted Teas you are also supporting all of the local farmers contributing to her, as well as the local shops that carry her tea. Shopping local businesses and food benefits not only you, but your whole community!
Check out this link to Falling Fruit, a project that maps foraging locations in every city in the United States if you feel inspired to try your hand at wild or urban foraging!