My Visit to Gaia Herbs Farm

Or the Tale of Rare White Squirrels, Ginkgo Groves, Fields of Echinacea to the Horizon, Dedicated People, and Organic Products that Care for Health and the Environment

Profile by Steven Hoffman, Compass Natural

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Asheville, NC (September 6, 2018) - Driving southwest on Highway 64 out of Asheville, North Carolina, on this early morning in late summer, in and out of thick fog and cool mountain air as my rental car navigates hills and valleys, I am struck by the lush, verdant, and primordial landscape of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

I am headed to the legendary, certified organic Gaia Herbs Farm.

Located in its own little valley, protected from pesticide drift by mountains on all sides, and bordered by the French Broad River and the 530,000-acre Nantahala National Forest to the west, the farm is in a uniquely biodiverse, temperate rainforest region where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the Great Smoky Mountains in Western North Carolina. In fact, nearly 80 percent of all plant species used in North American herbalism are native to this region – a key reason Gaia Herbs established itself here more than 32 years ago.

This was my first visit to the Asheville area, and for a guy from Boulder, Colorado, I felt right at home in this densely forested, rugged, mountainous region – an ancient geologic area left untouched by the glaciers of the last ice age that flattened much of the Northern Appalachians, with rock formations that are nearly half as old as Earth itself, and home to the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River. Plus, what they say about Asheville is true – it’s a mecca for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, and a delightful, historic town full of restaurants, craft breweries, shops, music, unique architecture, art, culture and more.

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The good folks at Gaia Herbs, one of the nation’s leading herbal products brands – invited me to visit Gaia’s proprietary 350-acre organic herb farm where it grows up to 6.5 million plants a year to satisfy demand for pure, safe and efficacious herbal remedies.

The team hosted me for a full day of meetings and tours of the farm, as well as the analytical and quality assurance laboratories, and extraction and processing facilities located right on the property.

Offering more than 200 products and with a commitment to regenerative organic agriculture practices, Gaia Herbs is a truly vertically integrated herbal products manufacturer committed to health and the environment. With its farm, laboratories and processing facilities primarily in one location, the company ensures quality, integrity, potency, safety and efficacy from seed to shelf.

Discovering a Verdant Valley … and White Squirrels
More than 32 years ago, Massachusetts-based Medical Herbalist Ric Scalzo was searching for a location where he could grow the medicinal herbs he used in the formulas he developed for patients. Demand was growing for the products he created, and the farming season in New England was too short for the crops he had in mind. So, Ric headed south and stopped in his tracks when he discovered a fertile little valley tucked just outside of the rural town of Brevard, North Carolina, about 45 minutes south of Asheville. 

The property that caught his eye was an old dairy farm. Protected from other industrial agriculture and with pure mountain water from Cathey’s Creek, a designated Wild Trout stream running through the farm on its way to the French Broad River, Scalzo knew that this rich bottom land would soon be home to Gaia Herbs.

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(Now, here’s where the white squirrels come in: Brevard, founded in 1861 as the county seat in Transylvania County, is also known as home to a thriving, rare white squirrel population said to have descended from a pair of escaped carnival animals. The animals are unique to the area and so loved by the community that in 1986 the Brevard City Council voted unanimously to establish the town as a sanctuary for white squirrels.

After hearing numerous times from friendly staff about these elusive white squirrels, I finally got to see one hanging out in a Hawthorn tree grove near Gaia’s main farmhouse (the floral buds of the Hawthorn trees, too, are harvested for Gaia’s herbal product formulations). Not albinos, these cute critters – all white with a dark stripe running from the top of their head down their back – are a unique strain of the common gray squirrel that thrives in this particular area.)

Gaia Herbs – Next Generation
Today, Gaia Herbs employs more than 250 people and grows about a third of the plants it needs on the Brevard farm. The company also operates an organic farm in Costa Rica where it cultivates turmeric and other herbs, and plants are also sourced from certified organic farmers and ethical wildcrafters who sustainably harvest plants from nature. After completing a $5 million, state-of-the-art expansion in 2016 of its manufacturing facilities on the farm in Brevard and opening a 60,000 square-foot greenhouse in nearby Mills River, NC, Gaia Herbs is an internationally respected brand, known for its authenticity, purity, potency, efficacy, transparency, and commitment to health, organic agriculture and the environment.

With its Meet Your Herbs® transparency program from seed to shelf, and building on a platform of “Purity + Integrity = Potency,” Gaia Herbs is developing new products and herbal blends to serve an increasingly savvy and demanding natural health consumer. Under leadership of President Angela McElwee, a natural product industry veteran who started her career at age 16 helping customers in the aisles of Healthy Alternative, an independent natural foods retail chain based in Dayton, OH, the “Gaia Difference” is being well received, and Gaia Herbs continues to foster its position as an innovator and brand leader in the natural, organic, and herbal products market.

Meet Your Herbs® – Setting a New Standard for Traceability
For consumers, Gaia’s Meet Your Herbs® program raises the bar for transparency and traceability, says the company. For every Gaia Herbs product, a customer can enter a unique ID number located on the package to “virtually experience” how the botanical ingredients of a particular product were grown, cultivated and harvested, and then tested down to the DNA level in Gaia’s state-of-the-art analytical laboratories for quality and potency, efficacy and safety. Meet Your Herbs® also presents easy-to-understand science validating each step in Gaia’s process from seed to shelf, and anyone can explore the history, uses and function of each particular herb in their Gaia Herbs product formulation.  

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The company will showcase its new blends, including Calm A.S.A.P. and Mood Uplift, at the upcoming Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, MD. Unlike many herbal products that claim to support emotional coping skills by recommending a maintenance dose, Calm A.S.A.P. was specifically formulated for relief in the moment.* Blended from herbs cultivated on the company’s organic farms and sourced from an “impeccably transparent supply chain,” Calm A.S.A.P. was recently recognized as a 2018 NEXTY AwardFinalist for Best Condition-Specific Supplement by New Hope Network, producer of Natural Products Expo and publisher of leading trade and consumer magazines in the natural, nutritional and organic products market.

Mood Uplift, a new Gaia Herbs product designed to support mental and emotional wellbeing, combines herbal extracts traditionally used to help the body cope with daily stress, nourish the nervous system, calm the mind, support a balanced mood and help foster a better outlook on life.*

These new products, along with other Gaia Herbs’ liquid extracts, are available in Vegan Liquid Phyto Caps™. Designed for rapid absorption, Gaia’s plant-based Phyto Caps™ are a unique patented delivery system developed exclusively by the company to deliver the concentrated potency of a liquid extract in the convenience of an easily digestible, fast-dissolving capsule.

Giving Back – A Team Effort
As a socially responsible, mission-driven company, Gaia Herbs cares for its employees first, along with the local community and organizations dedicated to food, agriculture and the environment. Each year, a portion of the farm’s acreage is dedicated to growing vegetables for the company’s employees; the Gaia Employee CSA (community supported agriculture) provides 20,000 pounds of farm-fresh organic vegetables to the staff each season. In addition, team members benefit from employee wellness programs, living wage certification, and a paid volunteer program. Outside the farm, Gaia supports mission-aligned organizations including the Bread of Life Free Community Kitchen in Transylvania County, the Pisgah Conservancy to support environmental preservation in the region, Golden Courage, an international organization with a mission to end child poverty, and more.

Learn More about Gaia Herb’s Traceability Program, Meet Your Herbs®, in Part 2 of My Visit to Gaia Herbs Farm, coming next month!

Learn more at www.GaiaHerbs.com, and visit Gaia Herbs at Booth #3163 at Natural Products Expo East, Sept. 13-15, 2018, at the Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, MD.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.

Photos: Compass Natural, Wikimedia Commons, Gaia Herbs

*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.