By Michael Jessen
Maggie Bajer’s herbal medicine business began with a dream. But before she could begin to heal people, she first had to heal some land.
Bajer is the mainspring of Flying Hands Farm, a family-operated venture nestled at the 3,000-foot level above Summit Lake near Nakusp. On almost three acres, Bajer grows echinacea, rosemary, comfrey, ginko, and lemon balm and wildcrafts horsetail, chickweed, plantain, poplar buds, and birch leaves.
From her strictly organic garden and the “weeds”, Bajer produces a skin salve, a liniment salve, and an echinacea tincture that draw rave reviews from users and are now available through a dozen West Kootenay retail outlets as well as by mail order on the Internet.
But the journey from green medicine to a green business hasn’t always been easy for Bajer, who grew up in downtown Toronto and left for BC at age 17. (The flying hands logo came to Bajer in a 1987 dream about starting a business in the Kootenays.)
“When we found this property 18 years ago, it had been damaged by fire – probably man-made,” says Bajer. “Although there was some second-growth timber, it was essentially an avalanche chute. It took five years to develop two feet of topsoil where there was maybe two inches to begin with.”
In Bajer’s words, “the farm is a cooperative venture with our beautiful animals – two bashkir curly horses, chickens, honey bees and the forces of nature.” Her three products have been on the market for five years and are made with “the intent to promote health, healing and to help alleviate physical pain.”
Herbal remedies, which were largely unknown less than five years ago, have now become mainstays of our medicine cabinets. By some estimates, North Americans spend over $3 billion a year on herbal supplements.
Fighting for market share hasn’t been easy for Bajer. “One problem that really green local microbusinesses have is that they are not working within an established system,” she says. “We make very helpful products that are classified within the health field, but since we have nothing whatsoever to do with the medical establishment, it is very hard for many people to take our products seriously.”
The acupuncturist in Nakusp uses her products, says Bajer, and the local reflexologist assists in telling people about them. “If people have any wants that are not being met, they should know there are alternatives and different ways of healing.”
Flying Hands Farm products are available in the Nakusp area at The Re-Awakening Health Centre, Nakusp Drugs, Nakusp Hot Springs, Halcyon Health Spa, and Huckleberry Natural Foods; at Kaslo Drugs in Kaslo; the Yasodhara Ashram at Kootenay Bay on the east shore of Kootenay Lake; Ainsworth Hot Springs; in Nelson at the Kootenay Country Co-op, Kootenay Folks, and Ellison’s; Anne's Natural Foods in New Denver; the Straight Arrow Trading Company in Rossland; and at Community Natural Foods in Calgary, Alberta.
Ien Van Houten of Nakusp vouches for Bajer’s liniment salve made with poplar buds and birch leaves (which contain a natural topical painkilling aspirin) and comfrey, along with other effective plants. Van Houten broke her ankle last spring and during the four weeks that she recuperated, she applied the salve to her ankle.
“I’m on my feet during my workday,” says Van Houten. “I kept putting the salve on every morning to be pain free all day.” She credits the salve with keeping her working.
“Our salves have a pure olive oil base into which are incorporated the plants that we grow,” says Bajer. “Each blend is synergistic, each herb working with others in correct proportions.” The salves have no chemical stabilizers and are thickened with wax from the farm’s honeybees.
One important reason to purchase locally made herbal products can be found in the results of a 20-year study by the nonprofit International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It determined that 34,000 plant species worldwide have become so rare that they could easily disappear. That amounts to 12.5% of the 270,000 fern, conifer, and flowering species known worldwide. Of the imperiled species, 91% exist in no more than one country.
Habitat loss is the major – if not leading – factor in the demise of the most threatened medicinal herbs in North America. United Plant Savers of Vermont says well-known herbal medicines such as echinacea, goldenseal, and black cohosh are at risk of survival.
For Maggie Bajer, the healing doesn’t stop. She and her family are planning to purchase a clearcut and heal it to grow herbs for her medicines. One of her children will stay on the original property. “We’ll have Flying Hands North and Flying Hands South,” she says jokingly.
ONE SMALL STEP – Maggie Bajer’s products are delivered in bulk to retailers who put them into smaller containers. You can help reduce packaging waste by buying in bulk and bringing your own containers and bags when you shop. More than 100,000 plastic bags are distributed through West Kootenay food stores every week.
To reach Flying Hands Farm online, the web address is www.geocities.com/HotSprings/Villa/1493. Maggie Bajer can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about ethical wildcrafting and the IUCN study can be found through the National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs at www.ncpmh.org/. Another article on the study with suggestions for consumers can be found at www.frontiercoop.com/fch/pc/pc017.html.
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