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Farmers grow ingredients for personal-care products

Issue Date: September 2, 2020
By Robyn Rominger
Organic farmer Sherri Wood of Capay Valley Lavender holds dried lavender in her production facility in Yolo County. The farm sells about half its lavender for culinary use and half for fragrance, including use in olive oil-based soaps made by another Yolo County company.
Photo/Robyn Rominger

Natural beauty and personal-care products have become increasingly available in recent years, including those produced from organically grown crops—representing a potential marketing opportunity for California farmers, according to business officials.

Product manufacturers say more people are becoming aware not only of what they are putting in their bodies, but also what they're putting on their bodies. As a result, a growing number of people want organically grown products because they know such products meet particular standards.

"It just becomes a lifestyle," said Jessica Iclisoy, founder and chief executive officer of California Baby, a Los Angeles-based company that produces organic skin-care products.

Organic personal-care products represented 1.3% of the total U.S. personal-care market in 2019, up from 0.8% in 2010, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Organic Trade Association.

Peter Nell of California Certified Organic Farmers in Santa Cruz said if personal-care items are made from agricultural products, they can be certified organic. CCOF is one of many agencies accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to certify products as organically grown if they meet the standards set forth in the USDA National Organic Program regulations; non-food products must meet the same requirements as organic food.

A wide range of organically grown crops can be used in health and beauty products, including oil crops (almonds, olives, sunflowers); grain crops (corn, rice, wheat); fruit (citrus, dried plums, strawberries); dairy products (milk, yogurt); and flowers (camellia, lavender, rose).

Many of the plants from which these products are made are referred to as botanicals, a category that includes everything from aloe vera to witch hazel.

For many years, books have explained how to make homemade beauty and personal-care products from plants, as well as from honey and eggs. In the last few decades, companies have been established that commercially produce such products.

California Baby, which Iclisoy established 25 years ago, is one such company. It has a 100-acre certified-organic farm in Santa Barbara County, where it grows calendula and other plants used in its products.

In 1990, Iclisoy was pregnant and, when she read baby-product labels, she couldn't find any she considered safe, plant-based skin-care products for her newborn. That led her to create her own product line, and the company quickly grew. Today, its products are sold in major retail outlets such as Target and Whole Foods.

"We sell baby products, but we also market to sensitive adults," Iclisoy said. "We estimate that 40% of our customers are adults with a chemical sensitivity, intolerances or allergies."

Iclisoy said she perceives "a big market" for such products, and wants to encourage farmers to grow the organic ingredients.

"A lot of these botanicals come from Europe," she said. "There's really no reason that California farmers can't grow them. There are a lot of botanicals that can be grown in the U.S., and I think there's a market opportunity."

Iclisoy recommends farmers "start small—don't bet the house on the crop—but if they start it and diversify, I think it will add a nice diversification to their portfolio. ... They can make money, and there's good money if they grow a high-quality botanical."

Another company that produces certified-organic crops for use in personal-care products is Capay Valley Lavender in Yolo County. Sherri Wood established her farm about three years ago and has 12,000 lavender plants on 5 acres.

"Half are French lavender for fragrance and half are English lavender for culinary use," she explained. "I made the decision from the beginning to be organic. It's a big commitment but one that I felt was important."

Wood said she sells products directly via a farm store and also sells organic lavender wholesale to other growers across the country.

One of her customers is Joe Muller of Woodland, who makes olive oil-based soaps. His son produces organic olive oil, sold under the Pasture 42 label.

"We decided to use the extra oil that we had left over to make soap," Muller said.

The soaps, available in 23 different scents, are handmade from natural ingredients including organic lavender flowers purchased from Capay Valley Lavender.

"We try to use as many organic ingredients as we can," Muller said. "A lot of people would love to make organic products if they could find organic ingredients."

Dairy-based beauty products are also available, from goat's milk-based lotions to lip balms made from donkey's milk.

"Goat's milk is everywhere," said organic dairy farmer Blake Alexandre of Crescent City. Alexandre, a California Farm Bureau Federation board member, also serves on the American Farm Bureau Federation organic and direct marketing issues advisory committee.

"Market opportunities for California farmers are greater than for any other farmers on the planet," Alexandre said. "When it comes to the integrity of our products, other countries recognize that."

He said the growth of social media and other information technology has changed markets.

"We have to be aware of that and work within that," Alexandre added. "If consumer awareness changes, then the farmer awareness also has to change and evolve—that's the bottom line."

(Robyn Rominger is a reporter in Winters. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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