Every business should have a purpose beyond the bottom line. We have believed in this guiding principle since our beginning over thirty years ago and realize that this is even more important today. We are moved, and at the same time humbled, by all that is happening in the world: the ongoing stress and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recession, job losses, companies closing, continual social distancing, racial tensions remaining high in the pursuit of equality, and more. With all of these challenges, we remain committed to making a positive difference. Whatever amount of good that we can do as a company, we want to do.
Alison Czeczuga, Sustainability and Social Impact Manager, explains, “Our purpose as a company is connecting people, plants, and planet to create healing. This dedication has made us look at our impact work with a more critical eye, knowing that the work will never come to a completion, and there will always be more ways we can show up, do better, and move ahead. We hope that the work highlighted in this article will inspire others to see ways they can lean in and make a positive impact. While we are proud of this work, we also recognize that there is still room for greater improvement.”
Sustainability & Social Impact Highlights
Using Business as a Force for Good™
In 2019, we completed our first year as a Certified B Corporation®. B Corp Certification is administered by the non-profit organization B Lab. Certified B Corporations, or B Corps as they are commonly referred to, are for-profit companies that meet the highest level of third party verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose.
In order to receive B Corp Certification, companies must meet a minimum verified score on the B Corp Assessment—a rigorous analysis of a company’s impact across its entire operations, including employee relations, customers, community impact, and environmental stewardship—and make their B Impact Report transparent on Bcorporation.net. Certified B Corporations also must amend their legal governing documents to require their board of directors to balance profit and purpose.
As Angela McElwee, President and CEO, notes, “Brands must make a choice about what they stand for, and simply selling a high-quality product is no longer enough. B Corp Certification shows a commitment beyond product integrity, to include the environment, community, and employees all as valued stakeholders. We are honored to belong to this small group of approximately 2,600 conscious organizations in the world that have attained this certification.”
Fostering a Healthier World
Creating a healthier world starts with investing in the health and well-being of our people, and the communities we work in. Each year, a 10-acre portion of our farm is dedicated to growing organic produce for our employees and local area food banks. We know the need is now even greater as the demand for food assistance is rising at an extraordinary rate and the access to fresh fruits and vegetables is being diminished.
In 2019, we donated over 3,000 pounds of organic produce, which had been grown on our farm, to community organizations and food banks, providing vulnerable populations access to fresh foods. In addition, approximately 30,000 pounds of fresh produce was given to our employees to take home, as well as prepared in delicious and nutritious lunches created by our Executive Chef, Alex Lapidus.
Improving Soil Health
Healthy soil produces healthy, thriving plants and improves all environmental ecosystems. On our Certified Organic farm, we use regenerative agriculture to continually improve our soil health. Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming practices that seeks to rehabilitate the entire ecosystem by prioritizing soil life and biodiversity and focusing on improving ecological resources rather than depleting them.
Why is regenerative agriculture important? We are living in a climate crisis, and one way to help reverse climate change is through regenerative agriculture, as soil that is high in organic matter draws down atmospheric carbon dioxide, trapping carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate change. In 2019, over 2,490 tons of CO2 were captured in the soil on our farm, equivalent to the emissions from electricity used by 422 homes over the course of a year. We also practice cover cropping to allow the soil time to gain new nutrients during our off-seasons and rotate our perennial herbs, so the soil does not become depleted.
Regenerative agriculture is also the key to maintaining biodiversity on our farm, creating a healthier ecosystem, and producing more bountiful harvests. With soil high in organic matter, the plants are automatically receiving all the nutrients they need to become more resilient, while also providing the potent levels of phytochemicals necessary for our herbal products.
Creating Space for Pollinators to Thrive
Without pollinators, the human race and all of the earth’s terrestrial ecosystems would not survive. Of the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world, almost 80% require pollination by animals.1
Many pollinators call our farm home—birds, bats, moths, beetles, and the buzzing residents of our 200 beehives, to name a few. Monarch butterflies also contribute to our pollinator community. With habitat loss and the widespread use of herbicides and insecticides threatening this vital species survival, we created a safe space for them on our farm. As part of our Pollinator Prosperity program, we planted an additional 600 swamp milkweed plants to ensure that migrating Monarch butterflies have plentiful food and a safe place to lay their eggs.
Addressing Climate Change
Climate change is one of the biggest threats that we face today, and we are committed to doing our part to help ensure a healthy planet for future generations. Because of this, we continue to adapt, mitigate, and in some cases, reverse climate change impact in every aspect of our operations through interdepartmental collaborations and industry alliances. One of these relationships is with Pratt Industries. Since 2011, we have worked with Pratt Industries to obtain our shipping boxes, working in a closed-loop system that saves forests and water, reduces landfill waste, and decreases CO2 emissions. To create our product cartons, we use 100% recycled paperboard sourced from FSC-certified forests.
Putting Quality & Transparency First
It's important to choose your herbal supplements just as carefully as you choose your food and drink. After all, not all herbal supplements are created equal. Two bottles may say they contain the same herb, but one brand may have herbs grown in rich fertile soil, without the use of pesticides and picked at the height of its phytochemical activity, like the herbs in our products. The other bottle may contain herbs from a monocrop grown in depleted soil. The latter is the result of the agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land or an herb doused with chemicals, and picked before or after its peak, diminishing its overall potency. It's wise to do a little research on the companies you are buying from, and to find out where and how your herbs were grown and processed when choosing the best supplements for your health.
We are committed to providing full transparency for our products and ingredients. That’s why we created Meet Your Herbs®, the world’s first herb traceability program. Everyone should feel confident about what they are putting in their body. With Meet Your Herbs, you can enter the unique ID number located on the back of all of our products to learn where each ingredient came from, how the herbs were grown, harvested and extracted, and the tests each product underwent to validate its purity and potency. You can be assured that our products are all safely produced without the use of toxic pesticides and chemicals that can damage our bodies and the earth.
While we grow over 20 species of herbs on our farm, many herbs are unable to grow in the Western North Carolina climate. Through our global Botanical Partnership Network, we source over 200 ingredients from over 30 different countries to obtain herbs from where they grow best, working only with partners whose herbal ingredients meet our stringent standards of purity and potency.
Preserving Forest Botanicals
Southern Appalachia has a rich history of wildcrafting, and in recent years there has been growing interest in the potential of forest farming native Appalachian herbs such as Goldenseal. To maintain these traditional methods and help ensure the future of at-risk plants, we continue to work with organizations such as Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) and the Sustainable Herbs Program (SHP) to develop programs that have both a positive economic and environmental impact. In 2018, we donated a 400-square-foot herb dryer from our farm to ASD's Appalachian Harvest Herb Hub. This dryer has continued to be used by local forest farmers and wildcrafters to increase post-harvest handling efficiencies and enhance product quality.
Igniting Change Through Gaia Roots
We believe that agriculture can be a driver for positive social change. But for this to reach its full potential, it needs to be a truly inclusive movement. This belief led to the birth of our social impact program, the Gaia Herbs Roots Initiative (Gaia Roots), which focuses on improving herbal and food access in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities while strengthening regenerative farming systems. We do this by partnering with mission-aligned organizations at the intersection of racial justice, regenerative farming, and health & wellness. In 2019, we launched our inaugural Gaia Roots small grants program, awarding four $5,000 grants to small farms, non-profits, and social enterprises that focused on regenerative agriculture and prioritized farmers' justice as a mechanism to strengthen communities. It is an honor to support the work of these organizations who were our grant winners: Catatumbo Cooperative Farm, Green Heffa Farms, GrowingChange, and Ogema Organics.
Championing Today for a Better Tomorrow
We are proud of our progress over the past year, and as we move forward, we will strive to continue to broaden our positive impact. To learn more about our efforts, view the full 2019 Sustainability & Social Impact Report.