At last, my first post. It took forever it seems. I think I rewrote this article 8 or 9 times. I was so caught up in writing THE perfect article and focused on what I thought a blog post should sound like that I was stuck.
I decided (with the help of a very patient friend) to change my angle and go with “how I feel it” instead. Here it goes…
2 years ago, I discovered a great place. I had heard a lot of good things about Garden Path Homemade Soap. So on a beautiful August afternoon I decided to drive there. As soon as I turned in the driveway, I was struck by the serenity of the property. The house, the garden and the shop are nestled among majestic trees and beautiful nature. It felt cozy and peaceful. I parked my car and walked to the dainty, welcoming shop. There, I was greeted by Tara MacWhirter’s engaging smile. It felt great; the place felt great. I remember the calming aromas of the soaps. I took a deep breath and felt a big smile in me. The shop not only smelled delicious it was beautiful too. It was rustic yet elegant and the products were presented in an attractive way. I wanted to touch and feel everything. I think I smelled every soap in there and read all the ingredients. I took my time. I enjoyed it.
Tara then told me about some of the ingredients that were in the soaps and that some soaps have medicinal properties. She told me some plants and herbs that were in her soaps come directly from her garden. She informed me about the biodegradable packaging. She also explained how she uses locally made ingredients. Then, I noticed the rearing cage in which I saw caterpillars and chrysalis. Tara told me they were Monarch caterpillars. She explained that when she finds a Monarch caterpillar she gives them a safe place to morph into beautiful Monarchs which are then released in her garden. She taught me that the dreadful milkweed that grew on my land is the only food that Monarch caterpillars have to sustain themselves before making their chrysalis. I learned a lot about Monarchs that day. And lastly, when she invited me to stroll through her garden and take my time I understood that Garden Path Homemade Soaps was so much more than just a shop. I walked in her garden letting the peace fill me and to be honest, I did not want to leave.
When I returned to my car after this great experience I smiled and thought: “She cares!”
That evening, I tried her Lavender, Rosemary & Oat soap bar and I was impressed with the quality of this soap. I have very sensitive skin and my skin felt great. No itch. No soapy residues. I just fell in love. Later that year, I tried her facial scrub and for the first time in my life, I was able to use an exfoliating product on my skin that did not leave me with a Rosacea outbreak. I adopted her lavender body butter for my skin but also as a lip balm. I use her room spray and tried her stain removal bar. I was hooked. It felt great to use products that were made with so much care for our health and our planet.
The more I discovered her products, the more I wanted to know about Tara’s journey. I went to her website and followed her Facebook page.
When I decided to start a blog about people and businesses who implemented sustainable business practices I wanted my first article to be about Tara and Garden Path Homemade Soaps. Because she cares and because I care that she cares. And yeah, because I am a curious brat too.
Being an introvert it took me months to gather the courage to request an interview and needless to say, it felt amazing when Tara MacWhirter accepted my request.
I don’t have much experience in interviewing people but Tara welcomed me in her cozy home and she made this a great experience for me. And she graciously answered my questions.
As I listened to her talk with so much passion, I realized that with Garden Path Homemade Soap there is much more than what meets the eye. The shop is a part of Tara’s adventure and I can’t quite bring myself to call it a business (although it sure is a business and a successful one). I don’t really think the word business fits here as I would describe Tara’s work as a vocation. As an extension of who she is. Her carefully crafted products, her beloved garden and her business practices are deeply rooted and in sync with her personal and familial values: healthy lifestyle, respect of the environment and sustainability.
It all started when her friend introduced her to homemade soap making and gave her soap bars. She loved it and so did her family. When she ran out and bought soap from the store her 2 young sons felt the difference and asked her “Where are the good soaps?” Tara then asked her friend to teach her how to make soap so that she could make some for her family for Christmas.
And her family loved the soaps. They asked for more. And they gave them as gifts. And they asked for more.
And that’s how her calling found her. Garden Path Homemade Soap was born.
Guided by the suggestions of her clients and the offerings of her garden, she developed new soaps and new products. As much as she can, she uses what she can grow in her beautiful garden. For the other ingredients she needs, if possible, she partners with local producers (Beau’s Beer in Vankleek Hill, a local Honey producer for her beeswax). As for the fats that are the base of many of her products, she researches to find the most sustainable sources. This is quite a challenge as the oils and fats have to be imported.
Tara works really hard to make packaging sustainable. Many of her products come in reusable glass jars. Her soaps are wrapped with unbleached paper that is biodegradable. She packages the orders, with reused cardboard boxes and she reuses bubble wrap. She reuses the jugs of palm oil and olive oil to bottle her laundry soap (which is quite nice I might add).
And to promote sustainable packaging further, Tara is offering a1$ incentive for her clients who bring back their empty glass jars and bottles. I was really impressed with the 90% return rate. And her clients are also returning the jugs of laundry soap even with no incentive.
Choosing sustainability can sometimes bring difficult questions and tough choices. For example, her bath bombs have to be wrapped in plastic to prevent moisture damage. And she hates plastic (as much as I do I think). For some products so far she has not found an alternative to plastic packaging but she tries to keep it at a minimum.
Tara dreams of the day new agriculture technologies will allow palm oil and olive oil to be produced locally as the international shipping has a high environmental cost.
One thing that struck me about Tara is her generosity and her loving way of sharing her passion. She was a teacher, in another life, and although she is now working fulltime in her business/vocation, the teacher never left her. She has a natural talent to reach out and educate. Every client of hers is touched by her passion and her work. Plus, Tara is giving time to her community by giving workshops and working on a great community initiative: Edible Gardens of Vankleek Hill (yes, I will write an article on this).
Furthermore, she is inspiring many with her great work of education and her conservation effort to save the Monarch butterfly.
The Monarch has always been a part of Tara’s life. She spent a lot of time looking for Monarch caterpillars when she was a child and one day, while she was working in her parents’ garden she found one under a Milkweed leaf. And she began learning about them and started her conservation work and shared her discoveries with more and more people. I did not know it was now an almost endangered species.
She taught me about Monarchs and what she taught me made me want to know more and, most importantly, made me want to do more. I now leave the milkweed on my land and have a deeper appreciation for it.
I had many questions for Tara but one was very important for me. I wanted to know if she had a message for all of us, something that not many people ask her; something important for her to share. She did.
She explained that we are very careful and we educate ourselves about what we eat, what we put in our bodies. But Tara feels that we have to be equally aware and careful about what we put on our skin. The products we use should be as natural as possible and we have to ask ourselves if we need all those products. “We have everything we need here, in our gardens, in our community. We have to rethink about what we use as cosmetics and beauty products, why we use them and how much we use.”
That struck a chord. Her message is deeply relevant and important. Sustainability and health, I believe, have everything to do with her message. It starts with all the small daily choices that we make. It starts with asking ourselves: Do I really need this product? Can I choose one with natural ingredients? Is there a product with less or no packaging? Is there a choice that uses sustainable ingredients and is made locally? By asking those questions and being more careful about what we buy we can make a big difference in the end.
Tara is making a difference. I believe in humanity in business and business for humanity and Tara’s philosophy is right there.
Since my first visit 2 years ago, I can’t help but be proud of supporting Tara and Garden Path Homemade Soap. And the interview was an inspiring encounter. It gave me a lot of hope. It feels great to know that someone cares about our health, our kid’s health, our planet and our future. It makes me care even more and inspires me to do more.
Thank you Tara and long life to Garden Path Homemade Soap.
Here are Garden Path Homemade Soap website and Facebook page: