Eastsound, Washington – May 15, 2020 – OrcaSong is not your typical small farm. Based on Orcas Island in the upper part of the Puget Sound, this women-led team not only grows 130+ acres of food and botanical fields of hemp and lavender, but also has a mission to support their community through plant-based wellness products, creating jobs and giving back. Inclusion is the biggest part of their vocabulary. They are LGBTQ+ owned, managed and allied, and work to create a safe space where everyone can be who they are. “We lead our team with care and respect for ourselves and each other. OrcaSong is an environment that nurtures innovative ideas on a stunning landscape through dedication and passion. We want people to know that all are welcome here at the farm, but we will also speak up in order to maintain an environment of respect,” says Farm Manager, Ariana Terrence. This approach seems to have paid off well, especially in a crisis.
When the pandemic first hit, much of their business model at the time revolved around tourism and non-essential wellness products. With tourists staying at home, the OrcaSong team had to quickly pivot their focus, and maximize what they had available. As wholesalers of lavender oil and hydrosol to perfume and soap manufacturers, they had plenty of their organic, farm-grown lavender distillates. With the sudden lack of hand sanitizer in the marketplace, they studied, tested, mixed and learned how to make sanitizer that people would not only need but also want. In doing so, OrcaSong could create something that would not only help keep people safe but would also help sustain the farm and create more jobs within their community. And just as this is no ordinary farm, the product they made is no ordinary Hand Sanitizer. With 66% alcohol and organic, farm-grown ingredients — and aloe and vitamin E to moisturize — this Sanitizer softens skin while it kills germs. This combination of high quality ingredients came at a higher price than what people were used to seeing at stores before the pandemic.
When it was first introduced, the OrcaSong Lavender Hand Sanitizer encountered some scrutiny, primarily based on price. “There were a good number of people comparing apples to oranges,” says Sara Donnelly, the Marketing Director at OrcaSong. “With the underlying panic, we had a few people telling us we were price gouging. But our product is different–it has premium ingredients that we grow on our organic farm, and it actually benefits your skin. While we wanted to make our products as accessible as possible, we also needed to price our products in a way that covered our costs to run the farm, so the farm could survive the pandemic and allow us to continue to give back to the community. The vast majority of our customers understood that the quality of our product justified the price though, and we knew we had done the right thing when reviews started coming in and the re-orders began. In addition, we partnered with PCC stores in Seattle to make our sanitizer available to shoppers in that area.”
As the pandemic continued to worsen, OrcaSong ran into struggles producing their sanitizer product. Each week presented its own challenges. One week it was a 179% increase in the price of isopropyl alcohol, a key ingredient in the Lavender Hand Sanitizer– if they could find it at all, given demand had skyrocketed with new sanitizer producers entering the market. Next week’s challenge was global packaging shortages and a scramble to find any bottles available so they could keep supplying the sanitizer to their customers and community.
At another point, Ariana had to wring out aloe vera leaves, collected from around the island, by (gloved) hand. “We were proud of how we all came together to make it happen, especially in a time when we were all dealing with our own emotions and fears,” says Ariana. “We added more women to our team in a time when most people were getting laid off. This was great, but it also required a new challenge to create a structure that was supportive to everyone’s understandable emotional needs. Staying busy on the farm and being around our team meant a lot to me.”
The success of the Hand Sanitizer prompted the team to add a new plant-based Moisturizing Hand Soap, also with high quality ingredients and organic lavender extracts from the farm. The new Hand Soap will allow the team to expand opportunities for employment at the farm, as well as food production for their local community. “We love the products we are making right now,” says Ariana. “Creating a Moisturizing Hand Soap to go along with our Hand Sanitizer was a no-brainer. Soon we will introduce a Cedar Hand Sanitizer for men (and women), and shortly after that, a Doug Fir Sanitizer. This way people will have all they need to keep their hands clean and moisturized.”
The movement to localize the food chain is a big part of their motivation. As a not-for-profit farm, the team understands that keeping their business going will benefit the farm and the community around them. Through it all, the team says they are a farm first. “You could definitely say we are a unique farm. Our team is women-led and we are vocal about our values. We are also deeply allied with the LGBTQ+ community,” says Agricultural Manager, Sally Spicer. “My wife and I took on the management of this farm because we were given the chance to be who we are and do what we love.” Their expansion of food production is now part of the San Juan Island Food Hub, an effort to localize community farms and makers.
As the future is still uncertain for so many, and as recession hits harder every day, the OrcaSong team works to keep their mission alive. For now, they are taking it one day at a time, happy with their story of survival thus far.
If you would like more information about this topic, please call Sara Donnelly at 360.218.4220 or email email@example.com