Friday, July 29, 2011

Odor de Door County

This week we made our first sojourn to Door County, Wisconsin to scope out a possible future store location. But also, as life-long Wisconsin natives with a nomad’s love for travel, it had been gnawing on our conscious for years that we had never visited one of the most well-loved travel destinations in Wisconsin.
The things that I enjoy most when traveling are of course the things I can’t find at home: Cherries, cherries, CHERRIES!!!! (Eh-hem…avid fruit lover here) Beautiful, big, blue bays nestled between green, wooded cliffs. Charming shore-side towns filled with shops, galleries, and eateries. Harbors adorned by a smattering of sailboats that when silhouetted by a setting sun, cause you to stop and stare.
But as a naturalist, what I found most striking were the cedars which, coming from an overly deer-browsed community, are scarce to non-existent back home, but here were fairly large and plentiful, softening the shorelines with fans of lacy, green leaves, and also, the tiny dead alewives that dotted the white rocks along the waterline of Washington Islands’ beaches.
Both visually striking, yes, but as you can imagine, odorously striking. Slightly malodorous in the case of the fish, but for me smelling fish kind of enriched my experience on the lake…where it just had my mom near gagging.
This got me meditating on the diverse effect of smell on people, which I so often see in the store. One customer can open a jar of body butter and hungrily breathe in whatever scent wafts from that particular jar, and then the next customer may pick up that same jar, start to take a smell, and quickly jerk their head away in distaste.
We are all unique individuals, with unique personal chemistries and what smells wonderful to one, can smell like dead fish to another. Even more confounding, what smells great ON one person can smell like…well, maybe not dead fish…just not great, on another.

So while we promise never to make a product that smells like dead fish to anyone (we do, however, make a soap that will make fish like how you smell) I encourage you to remember, all smells are not the same…because people aren’t.
Wishing you only good smells! Alyssa

Friday, July 22, 2011

Our Lake

This week's blog is written by Alyssa Untiedt, owner and organic formulator for The Brown Barn Company.
When we decided to open our first Brown Barn Bath Company store, it wasn’t very hard to decide where to start: Lake Holcombe, WI.
Why Lake Holcombe? Many good reasons: We have family here, many tourists come through the area, the community is very welcoming, and everything seems to come so smoothly…it just feels right.
Also…there is a lake.
This, I suppose, is why all those aforementioned good things came here in the first place.  So in the most literal sense, the lake really made this place. And the funny thing about places is that if you stay long enough, the place will make you, while you make the place.
Kind of abstract, so I’d like to give a literal example, in the short, but still unfinished Tale of Eurasian Water Milfoil Invasion.
Draped over the blades of boat motors, this nefarious aquatic plant hitched a ride into Lake Holcombe and nestled itself into the comfortable, still bays of the flowage. Over a short time, the milfoil, efficiently reproducing through stolons and runners on the lake floor, began to over-run the area, crowding out native plants and altering the native fish habitat into an unrecognizable and nearly unlivable aquatic landscape.
This did not go unnoticed, however, by the people inhabiting the shoreline, and a plan was hatched! The Lake Holcombe Improvement Association brought in a regular naval squadron made up of platoons of weevils, 3mm long dark brown and tan striped insects with the ability to decimate the infamous Eurasian water milfoil by chewing up the stems and leaves, and laying larval ‘bombs’ on the tops of each plant.  When the eggs hatch, these ‘larval bombs’ will mine down into the stems of the plants, killing them from the inside out. This fearsome battalion is currently in-training but will be ready to be let loose by the end of the month!
Surrounded by this kind of environmentally conscious community, here at Brown Barn we understand the continual exchange we have with our environment, which is why we make it a top priority to use as much natural ingredients as possible and keep chemicals to an absolute minimum. We also use recyclable and/or biodegradable packaging and are continually refining our business practices to have a smaller impact on the environment.
If you have your tickets, join us Sunday for Lake Fest 2011 to celebrate Lake Holcombe, the fabulous community that surrounds it, and where Brown Barn Company makes its home.
Now shut down your computer and get out enjoy the nice weather while you can! Summer is already half over!

Wishing you much relaxation and good health, Alyssa

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Getting into the Bath Business

The A-Number 1, most asked question I've receive in the past three weeks has been "How did you get into this business?"  I can honestly say that The Brown Barn Bath Company grew from humble roots!

About fifteen years ago my husband and I purchased a small farmette in the Abbotsford, Wisconsin area.  The house on the farm was in horrible condition, the barn was falling down, the pole building didn't have concrete but the farm had forty acres with a large swath of woods for the kids and a forty foot long glass greenhouse with a brick headhouse for me.  This, combined with the right price for my husband, were the selling points.

At first we did not intend to run the greenhouse as a business however after a year I succumbed to neighborhood pressure to re-open the greenhouse to the public as it had been a commercial greenhouse for the previous twenty years. Afterall, how hard could growing flowers be? Oh my gosh! We were so naive! I can easily claim to have killed more flowers in those first years than most people plant in a lifetime.  Our learning curve was swift with this business and after a few years I found myself starting to build a wobbly foundation to the greenhouse business.

Unfortunately, just as I started to get my greenhouse legs under me the local Mennonite community experienced a rapid expansion.  With them came greenhouse businesses and an auction house. Soon our community went from having five local greenhouses to about twenty-five, with rock-bottom prices.  I am proud to say that my wonderful customers were loyal but, just like I would have done, they spread their finances around to all the greenhouses and my profit margin shrunk.  It was time to take a greenhouse business break.

After spending another five years assisting my husband in expanding his wastewater irrigation business and shepherding my children thru high school and on to college I found myself puttering in the greenhouse more and more and yearning for something of my own. But what? There was no way to compete with the prices and volume of the Mennonite community.  I settled on herbs with the intention of running an herb farm and making herb-related products. 

At first I grew herbs in small plots, drying the plants at the end of the season.  I then used the dried material to stuff hand-sewn herbal eye masks and neck pillows, sachets, hot pads and more. I created a web site and visited trade shows in an effort to sell my little creations.  To fill out my product line I also made hand-made soap and bath bombs.  As I worked with the herbs I began to develop a deep appreciation for the effect herbs, natural scents and natural bases had on me and my immediate environment.  With this appreciation came a desire to assist others in not only finding a moment for themselves but also in creating healthy alternatives to the chemical laden products found on most store shelves.

Much to my surprise the bath bombs and soaps sold far better than any of my beloved herb products.  Soon I was making a host of body products, taking classes and filling Internet orders regularly.  Every spare corner of the house, headhouse and even the barn was filled with products and materials. I was driving my poor family out of their minds with talk of lotions, botanicals and visits to investigate similar businesses. A Bath Business (more like obsession) was born.

And what happened to our little Abbotsford farm? Its still there, a lot weedier and looking a little forelorn right now but underneath are lots and lots of wonderful herb plants, fruit and perennials waiting for a tender touch to bring them back to their previous glory. Our intention is to hire a farm manager this Fall who will work with us to bring all of these wonderful plants to our customers in the form of beautiful fresh flower bouquets to decorate the stores, fresh hand-made seasonal masks and scrubs from the fruit as it ripens in the field and dried botanicals to add into our year-round products. 

Here's hoping you have a wonderful week!  Chris

This week's Store Theme:  The Lake Holcombe Lake Improvement Association Fund-Raiser
This week's Web Special:  15% off using the code: LAKE HOLCOMBE and free shipping on all orders
This week's In-Store Special:  Receive 15% off your entire purchase by mentioning our Facebook page or this blog.
New This Week:  Lip Balms; Vanilla Body Dusting Powder; Lavender Flower Brown Sugar Scrub; Shampoo and other hair care products; A great selection of items for girls including jewelry; Beaded Jewelry; Bath Robes; Hand-made greeting cards; New Scents; 500 bars of soap in 50 scents including goats milk, organic and all-natural bar soaps.
Coming Soon: Even more new scents in all item areas; Healing bath soaks; Milk baths; Foot and hand care scrubs and moisturizers; More salves; More Bee/Massage Bars; BODY MIST!

Friday, July 8, 2011


As I've mentioned, The Brown Barn Bath Company began as an herb farm at our little old farm property in Abbotsford. Our goal was (and still is) to grow all of our own herbs, botanicals and fruit extracts. I was dying to be able to grow our own Lavender and Rose Hips but was stymied by our Zone 3/4 weather.  How do you grow zone 5-7 Lavenders and have them come back?  The only answer would be to somehow raise the zone on our farm!
To block wind and retain heat, we installed a large wooden fence attached to a gazebo made from our old milk house.  This picture shows the fence.  We purchased the fencing from Menards and have been very pleased with the result.  To keep bunnies and other critters out we ran low wire rabbit fencing around the bottom and finished with field stones picked from the surrounding test plots.
Alyssa and I quickly set to work planting a wide selection of lavender and roses from zones as high as seven. Thru the winter I watched our fenced area fill with snow, snow and more snow... to the point where eventually the snow tipped over the top of the fence and little critter tracks ran up and over the snow drifts.  The inside of the fence was the last to thaw this spring. I shook my head and declared the experiment a failure because of the heavy snow and long time it took to thaw. I was sure the entire area would be mushy plants this summer.
With the decision to open the Lake Holcombe store we knew we would have to temporarily abondon our poor little farm so as to move the business forward. Gardening forgotten, each week we made a visit to the little farm to collect more of our lab equipment and supplies. Weeds quickly consumed the test gardens and I did not bother to go down to look at the gardens in my rush to load things up. 

This week Alyssa ventured down to the gardens to find a wonderful surprise!!  ALL of our lavender and roses have returned this year and were in FULL BLOOM!!  We quickly grabbed the scissors and snipped off a few of the plants, which I am now bundling in the shop. 
In the spring we will be hiring a farm manager/grower to take over the Abbotsford operation. Our intention is to bring you some dried herbs from these great plants, decorate our stores with fresh flowers grown on the farm and to offer fresh facial products from our farm produce (such as blueberry masks, raspberry scrub or strawberry lotion).  You'll have to use the product upon purchase and they won't be available year round, only when in season. We think it'll be such fun to add these items to our product line!
This Saturday (July 9) is the Lake Holcombe Gardening club’s Garden Walk.  This is your chance to visit some of those gorgeous gardens you usually only get a peek at as you drive around the lake.  Being slightly voyeuristic myself, I love this walk and encourage anyone who will be in the area to attend. 
If you go to the walk be sure to sign up for the door prizes so that you get a chance to win one of The Brown Barn Bath Company’s gift baskets.  This basket will include gardener’s soap, salve, bath tools and anything else I put in, including a gift certficiate!
I feel I cannot sign off this week without taking a minute to give some tips for caring for yourself as you work in your garden.  (Please excuse the blatent product promotion…I can’t help myself! J):
·    Of course everyone says to wear gloves, but if you are like me, you hate the darn things! But you also hate all the dirt that becomes embedded in your nails. Run your fingernails over a bar of soap before going out to the garden. The soap will form a plug to keep the dirt out and when you wash up you’ll find it greatly reduces the grime. (If you are working with chemicals wear gloves no matter what!!)
·    I’m not a boot wearer either (I guess I’m more of a no gloves, run barefoot thru the grass kind of girl, HA HA) A pumice stone and foot brush should be in your arsenal of beauty care.  This week we are introducing “Foot Fizzies”.  Simply drop the tablet in a foot bath of warm water, soak and then follow up with your brush and some lotion.  You’ll be clean and smooth and as good as new. (Look for them on the web-site soon, we'll be adding a foot and hand care section by the end of next week.)
·    Wear a good sunscreen of at 30!!  And follow up with an After Sun Spritzer.
·    Know your bugs and ticks and please be aware of ground bees!  We have a nice set of natural bug repellents to choose from.  (These will be added to the web-site soon too).
Here’s wishing you a great gardening week!  Chris Untiedt

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Lake, The Farm & The Sun

Growing up, my all-time favorite place to spend a summer day was at Lake Holcombe’s Big Swede’s “pond”.  This is not actually a “pond”.   I’m not sure of the exact term for this body of water; it’s more like a small spring-fed lake.  The water is so clear you can actually see the spring water bubbling to the surface and tiny fish rush to fresh legs as they enter the water.  As an adult, I spent day after day laying on the beach tanning while my two children carried on the tradition of summer days swimming at “Big Swede’s”. 

(You can visit Big Swede's Resort yourself and swim in that same pond... )

As a child I remember my mother slathering me with Coppertone sun tan lotion and as an adult I slathered myself with tanning oils for that “deep tropical tan”.  Now, at almost fifty my back is covered in sun spots and age spots that I have to watch carefully for any signs of cancer.  I wish I’d known then what I know now.

My worst sun experience surprisingly did not happen on Lake Holcombe.  It happened quite by accident on the “farm”.  We call our place in Abbotsford “the farm” because it has a greenhouse, a barn, a pole building and 40 acres.  It’s not really a “farm” compared to our neighbors or our wastewater customers, who milk a thousand cows.  But to us, it’s our farm.   Because we began this journey as a greenhouse and nursery business the farm lawns are thick with a decorative shrub border grown out of control and trees, a fenced garden originally intended to be used as a lavender growing area, and lots of dog toys.  There is also an orchard and a weird side yard of apple trees and evergreens that were planted at the end of one of our first greenhouse seasons….back when we didn’t know that evergreens would shade out the apple trees.
Mowing our farm lawn is a herculean task.  It requires at least a weekly mowing, weed-whacking and constant maintenance to keep it looking good.  Now that I’ve relocated to Holcombe and the Abbotsford property has been left to the care of a neighbor’s lawn mowing business I realize why I was always strapped for time in the summer…the darn lawn!  Mowing and caring for the lawn is at least one full-day’s job a week if it is to be done correctly.
A few years ago I spent an unusually warm June day happily riding the lawn mower and tractor mower for the day.  It was not until I was finished that I realized I had acquired the worst sun-burn of my life.  I had worn my swimsuit and shorts that day hoping to get a tan.  My face, shoulders, back and the tops of my legs were glowing, fire-engine red and hot hot hot to the touch.  Luckily I owned a greenhouse and in that greenhouse I had many Aloe Vera plants.  I spent the next several days rubbing Aloe Vera on my burned areas and over time they healed. 

If you have an Aloe Vera plant you know that when you slice into it you find a thick gel substance that is 100% aloe. That's the good stuff!  If you have a plant, slather that on your burns for the best relief, or better still add a few drops of German Blue Chamomile and to the mix for even more anti-inflammatory help. Unfortunately the Aloe Vera plant enzymes quickly break the gel down into a watery substance. Companies add a thickener to reproduce the gel from the plant. When you buy "Aloe Vera Gel" in the store it is always infused with thickeners. Be sure to check your labels to ensure that your gel is using safe thickeners.

To find out if the ingredients in your products are safe, visit Skin Deep at:

We sell after sun care items using only Aloe Vera water with no thickeners. It's safer and works just as well in a spritzer! We also do not include any Polysorbate binding agents so you can rest assured your only getting the good stuff...all you have to do is shake well before using!
This week we are introducing “After-Sun” care items in the store and on the web-site.  They hold an Aloe Vera base with botanicals and very valuable German Blue Chamomile to help soothe parched skin.
The Brown Barn Bath After-Sun Spritzer

Everyone here at The Brown Barn Bath Company hopes you have fun and safe Fourth of July!