Sponsored Content - Presented by St. Francis Herb Farm
Growing up on a biodynamic farm on Vancouver Island where his parents were early leaders in organic farming, Paul Rivett-Carnac learned the industry from the roots up. His father took courses on herbal herbals and built nurseries and his mother apprenticed with a herbalist.
“My parents were ahead of their time,” he recalls. “They met when they were both tree planting and she was leading a herbal walk through the woods.”
His parents made simple herbal formulations for salves. His father had learned about this from his own grandmother. At a farmers’ market they came to the attention of a local naturopath, who helped them to fine tune their recipes. When Paul was six, in the summer of 1988, the family moved to Ontario and his parents set up Saint Francis Herb Farm in the kitchen of their old farmhouse.
Paul is now President and CEO of St Francis Herb Farm. As the second-generation owners, he and his wife Caitlin have their own 52-acre farm in the Madawaska Highlands in Ontario’s cottage country. Like Paul in his youth, their two sons are a growing part of the Herb Farm.
On the farm, where they grew 55 different kinds of herbs, he pulled weeds, harvested wild herbs, and watered the greenhouse beds. He watched his parents craft herbal medicines using traditional means. “It was a great way to grow up. Some of these traditions started as family remedies to help with colds. Grandma was in the kitchen preparing a family recipe. You find this in all cultures.”
Now the new farm teems with wildlife and has a creek running through it. “It’s a place to get our hands dirty, to explore with our boys and connect with nature,” he says. “This was a grassroots’ beginning. St. Francis Herb Farm didn’t start in the boardroom.”
The family business developed tinctures based on powdered extracts and became masters of their craft. Today they have a leadership position as a trusted source in herbal medicine. A certified organic farm, they created their Holistic Herb Approach™, which customizes their method to each plant.
Their methodology is more than just “no pesticides or herbicides.” They work on principles like soil care, crop rotation, and building raised beds and wind barriers; and exploring permaculture, which means planning the farm and the crops so that they imitate what’s happening in nature.
Today, St. Francis Herb Farm manufactures over 100 herbal health products. They specialize in herbal extraction, with a lineup featuring Deep Immune, Strest, and Canadian Bitters, as well as tinctures, herbal capsules, creams, salves and herbal oils. They use organic herbs including valerian, burdock, nettle, sheep sorrel, and marshmallow, all of which thrive in the local climate.
“Our emphasis is on anti-aging, and awareness of how adaptogens can prevent health problems and help you feel more empowered,” he says. “We have always had infectious diseases and in recent decades there have been H1N1 and now COVID. We want to help Canadians take control of their own health.”
For example, the liver is the hardest working organ in the body and builds up toxins, he says. “It needs a bit of help. The same with the bowels. The body is made to live optimally.”
SFHF is developing detox products, flipping the script so people can consume products regularly that work with one’s natural pathways. Alcohol free and flavored, Deep Immune kits are the number-one product in their category. One new product will be presented in capsule form.
NEW PLANT & NEW MODELS
In November 2021, the company opened a 33,000 square-foot facility, Canada’s largest plant medicine operation dedicated to craft products, in Barry’s Bay, Ontario. The new site unites St. Francis Herb Farm operations for product research and development, production, distribution and warehousing, and allows expanded manufacturing capabilities.
“Our new facility is a symbol of how far we have come,” says Paul. “We went through a long design and engineering phase. Moving in was a surreal experience as the new facility was sorely needed. It was very gratifying for the family. It is state of the art and gives us room to grow.”
Meanwhile, Paul is watching the big industry trends. All-natural products are where the food industry is going, and supplements as well, he says. “Sourcing is key. My father said you can’t improve the initial quality of herbal products. We start with high-quality herbs that we grow or that we get from local farmers. With dry herbs, one key question is, how long has it been since the harvest?
One big challenge for all the brands and retailers in the sector is the evolving digital model, the rise of online retailing which COVID has accelerated.
“There is no going back,” he says. “Brands and retailers are pivoting and helping to educate consumers online. Developing solutions is a specific skillset that is not intuitive. We are working to enhance our educational efforts, especially online. We are a family business with a personable tone that is backed by credible science.”
Another trend is the amount of health-related information everywhere, with everyone seeming to have a voice online. “People have to bring critical thinking to their own health,” he says. “It is easy to overload on information, and not all is trustworthy.”
Now Paul Rivett-Carnac has returned to his roots. He and his wife Caitlin took over the farm and live their own values. In the winter they did a workout program together and had an accountability group with their own families. They eat mostly local food which comes from a rural cottage industry, with emphasis on organic and fermented food from local farms. They make a lot of their dishes from scratch.
Paul keeps his eyes firmly on healthy foods. “We are only scratching the surface with what can be done with fermented foods,” he says.
The final trend: retirement, or lack of it. “Research in so-called blue zones, which have a lot of healthy people aged 100 or more, shows that ‘retirement’ is not a word in some of these places,” he says “People keep busy. Centenarians are out working in their vegetable gardens.”
That orientation suits Paul and indeed his entire clan of all ages. They are busy working, being outdoors, building stuff, having fun. Herbs are the past – and the future too. They are a family on a mission.
The company will celebrate its 35th anniversary in 2023.