By Sarah Bennett.
Photo’s by Sarah Bennett and provided by Town From Tonics, as noted.
Not Letting Perfect be the Enemy of Good
Sustainable, regenerative, educational, and accessible. Those are the four pillars upon which Carissa Wills-DeMello and Adam Davenport created Town Farm Tonics. Health empowerment has always been a core belief of the business’s CEO and co-founder Carissa, but her passion was reignited during her Peace Corps service in Fiji. In the small villages across the islands, herbal medicine and maintaining a connection to nature have withstood the test of time. It was in one of these villages that Carissa realized that “respecting the culture and learning more about the way that people already take care of themselves there is really the best way to help people.”
A Fijian Inspiration…
The people she met in Fiji knew everything about the natural world around them, from different barks to roots to leaves. Carissa felt inspired by how they knew the name of almost every plant they encountered, and their respective applications. When her fiancé Adam visited her, he too was given the chance to learn more about Fijian culture and tap into the world of inspiration that Carissa had been immersed in during her stay. When her service ended and she returned home to Westport, MA, she began studying herbalism and making herbal products for people as gifts. From there, it didn’t take long for her new interest to bloom into the Town Farm Tonics of today.
Carissa’s decision to turn her passion into a business couldn’t have come at a better time. Around the same time the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in the US and people were searching for ways to improve their health, Carissa turned her fun side project (then under the name Bilo Herbs) into her full-time job. Adam still works a separate job to pay the bills, since Town Farm Tonics has not yet reached the point of being able to generate enough money to do more than fund itself. But although they started the business with their own savings, they no longer must tap into that money to keep it afloat.
Both Carissa and Adam emphasized how important family has been throughout their journey. From helping in the kitchen to providing the couple with a space to pack and store products, the co-founders made it clear that the business would have struggled to take off without the assistance of their family. Adam discussed how privileged they have been regarding being able to start up a small business on their own with such success, saying that not having to “take out a loan or get an investor or be able to not pay yourself for a year and actually be able to build your business out of that is such an advantage. I feel like that’s often why with small businesses there can be inequity in that world. Who has access to start a small business and who doesn’t? How many people can leave an income to start a small business?”
…to Home Grown Aspirations
The gratefulness that Carissa and Adam feel is what fuels their ambitions for Town Farm Tonics. They hope that their business can grow to the point where they are able to give back to their community. Sourcing herbs locally as well as growing herbs themselves and hiring locals to work for them is a big part of their future plans for the business.
Town Farm Tonics wants to be regenerative for its community— not just your average business. Carissa recalled her early dreams for the business, like how she envisioned buying only the highest quality herbs in micro-batches and using recyclable containers for all their products. Unfortunately doing either of those ideas, let alone both, is still a bit out of reach and would have led to their products being unaffordable for most people. Until they can produce or find more of their herbs locally, they buy ingredients for their tonics from a couple of large herb purveyors that source high quality, organic herbs.
Access is an important factor when it comes to making decisions for the business. Carissa made it clear that she wants “people, the average person, to be able to buy our tea or elderberry syrup, and not just wealthy people.” So while they search for the best way to get high quality, affordable herbs locally, the next step for Town Farm Tonics is to look at what herbs they can swap out for local or buy direct from farmers. They have even bought seed stock for a local farmer to grow horseradish for them, and they hope to grow their own elderberries soon as well. Adam said that they both “take very seriously what it means to be a sustainable business, or a regenerative business, and it’s not just having solar panels on your building. It’s actually making every purchase of your product support a farmer or support conservation or agricultural preservation.”
Their products can be found in select stores and on their website, but in the future, Carissa hopes to have their own commercial kitchen with retail space and apothecary. Still a practicing herbalist herself, she often does consultations and has realized that there are not many apothecaries around where people can get single loose-leaf herbs or tinctures. Carissa predicts that Town Farm Tonics should be offering them soon, in addition to developing more products.
Blazing the Trail
Town Farm Tonics is best known for their popular elderberry syrup and fire cider, but they want to expand their product line to include more herbal syrups and vinegars. Adam and Carissa’s mission is to be a bridge to herbalism and help people see it as something that is not only for experts, or some far-out fad. Carissa believes “it’s something that should be a part of everyone’s everyday life, and so the elderberry syrup and fire cider are really easy first steps into that world.”
Elderberry syrup is used to support the immune system, making it stronger and more resilient, while fire cider is mainly used for congestion-related issues like clearing up a stuffy nose as well as providing surface immunity to pathogens. They are currently in the process of trying out test batches of new tonics and predict that they’ll be rolling them out in the next year.
When asked if they have any plans to expand their business, Carissa and Adam were very adamant that while they want to expand from where they are right now, they have no intention of going beyond New England. Their perspective is that herbalism is a regional, local practice.
Carissa explained, “I wouldn’t want to see our products in the South or in the Midwest or California because I’d rather see herbalists there making their own versions of the products and selling it within their communities. So that’s part of our vision being a regenerative business, that we can really keep our products local and keep them a high enough quality that people are buying them and supporting us, but that we’re not taking away opportunities from herbalists in other places.” Just as with anything else, people should be consuming products that are locally grown or raised.
At the end of the day, Carissa believes that herbs are just like food. When she was in Fiji, she saw many things that may seem strange in western society, such as bringing infused herbal oils and teas to a new mother and her baby, but are viewed as just normal life there. She claims that when you “break down herbalism it just kinda fits with western medicine really well because it is really specific nutrition. It helps your body do what it needs to do—it’s not curing your disease, it’s just helping your immune system work better, or helping your digestive system balance itself out, or helping your nervous system be stronger and more resilient.”
At Town Farm Tonics they like to focus on herbs that most people will recognize. Wild plants like nettles, dandelions, and elder or commonly cultivated plants like lemon balm or mint are often incorporated into their products. Their hope is that all their products are educational and inspiring.
Perhaps a customer will look at the back of a bag of tea and recognize the plants listed and want to grow them themselves. Or maybe on a walk or in a friend’s backyard, they’ll recognize plants they hadn’t known about before. Ultimately, Town Farm Tonics hopes that their customers will take the connection to plants that they’re providing and be inspired to bring it out into the rest of their lives.
Town Farm Tonics