CRESTON – Maranda Johnson stood on the stepladder, nine months pregnant, and poured a trickle of water from a huge jug into the vat. Next to her, her husband Michael Johnson operated a 1-horsepower mixer, emulsifying the collection of organic oils and water into a thick mixture.
They stood in the workshop of their house, where all the products in their business, The Good Stuff Botanicals, are born. It’s more of a modern apothecary’s nook than workshop, with jars of raw, organic treats from nature lining the walls, while others held oils in which seeds or other materials marinate for a year at a time.
Inside the vat was the mixture that changed the course of this couple’s life, compelling them to quit their jobs and take on the business of botanicals full-time.
“We found an old Romanian Gypsy recipe,” Maranda said. “We tinkered with it for two years until it really started working.”
The resulting Gypsy Cream has put The Good Stuff Botanicals on the map, and now the couple’s wares are in 70 stores across the country, including the organic Huckleberry’s section of 16 Rosauers grocery stores.
Like many good ideas, the recipe for Gypsy Cream was developed out of necessity. Before they knew about the cream, Michael had been struggling with psoriasis, and the medications he’d been prescribed were not cutting it. By the time he and Maranda met, he’d tried nearly everything to soothe and heal his skin.
“Steroids were not the answer for us,” he said.
They were already interested in natural remedies, so Maranda explored apothecary and other natural-remedy books for a solution. When they found the recipe, they experimented until it was effective for Michael. The Good Stuff’s products use raw and organic materials, harvested in the local forests if possible, and never include GMOs, parabens, sulfates, chemicals, fragrance, or dyes.
“We started in our kitchen, in a blender,” Michael said.
“We were going through blenders …” Maranda started.
“ … every week,” Michael finished.
The cream proved so effective for Michael’s skin that the couple began giving it away as gifts. When their first child was born, they gave the NICU nurses at Kalispell Regional Medical Center a jar of Gypsy Cream as a thank you. It worked so well for the NICU’s patients’ diaper rash that it replaced another product, and the Johnsons continue to donate cream to the hospital.
Hemp oil is one of the main reasons the cream can heal and soothe so quickly, Michael said. Molecularly, it’s relatively small when compared to coconut butter, so it’s absorbed through the pores instead of clogging them, he said. They also tout the water they use in their products, which comes from a local hot spring with a high silica content and a favorable pH.
Gypsy Cream began to sell, and the couple worked three farmers markets a week all summer. Eventually, their botanical product line grew to include 15 items, ranging from creams to toners to bath salts. A production line that once put out perhaps 12 bottles of cream at a time now makes 12 cases of 24 bottles a week.
They aren’t technically certified organic, but that’s only because they didn’t think the USDA’s rules went far enough. They spent almost a year filling out the paperwork and getting visits from inspectors, but when the final paperwork arrived, the USDA said they needed to include some parabens so the product has a two-year shelf life. They rejected the USDA, Maranda said, and continue to use all organic, raw products.
“We sell fresh peaches,” Michael said, “not canned peaches.”
Even the process of using the mixer to emulsify the wax and the water is part of it, they said, because otherwise they would have to use an emulsifying wax that they don’t want in their product.
While they still peddle their botanicals at farmers markets, the product is stocked in many local shops, such as Withey’s Health Foods, Sykes’ Market, Sage & Cedar, and more.
Even big names like Saks Fifth Avenue and the hit show, “Shark Tank,” have come calling, but the Johnsons aren’t interested in being on TV. Their next step is finding a bigger workspace, perhaps a co-op of makers and artists, to expand.
Until then, they’ll continue in their home, letting the business grow organically. But before all of that, Maranda needs to give birth. Luckily, the couple has all the diaper-rash cream they could need.
“A little bit of Gypsy Cream goes a long way,” Maranda said.
For more information on The Good Stuff Botanicals, including a list of Montana retailers, visit www.thegoodstuffbotanicals.com.