Kathy Garber, the president of Mountain Meadow Herbs, Inc., runs a business borne out of one of the toughest times in her life. At 2 years old, Garber’s first child was diagnosed with severe kidney damage from a rare birth defect in 1995. Two years of medical treatment did little to help, and by the time he was 4, Garber’s son faced going on dialysis or undergoing a kidney transplant to survive.
Desperate for another option, Garber began buying up any books she could afford on the traditional uses of herbs, and she began paying closer attention to what her son ate, and what he was hungry for. Garber began to concoct her own herbal extracts in an orange crock-pot and combine them, coming up with her own remedies. And her son’s health improved rapidly. Within a year, she said, his kidney functions were within the normal range of a boy his age. While he will need treatment his whole life, Garber’s son has never needed a transplant or dialysis.
Subsequently, friends and family came to Garber with their own health issues. She created an herbal remedy for a sister dealing with infertility. Her sister was pregnant six weeks later. Garber made another treatment for her mother-in-law, a midwife seeking a natural way to ease the pain of childbirth.
“We ended up developing a whole line of products for women because of what my mother-in-law does,” Garber said. Those products became the core of what is now a rapidly growing herbal remedy business. Garber and her family moved to the Flathead from Heron, and she began an herbal remedies business in her garage with $1,000 in 2003. Five years later, Mountain Meadow Herbs’ did just under $2 million in sales last year. Garber has 14 employees, and offers 22 products – not bad for a woman raised in an Amish community, who had an eighth-grade-level education until getting her high school equivalency.
“Adversity in life led to a gift that happened to be profitable,” she said on a recent afternoon while walking through her company’s Evergreen headquarters. “There’s just a huge shift toward people taking responsibility for their own health and wanting to do it naturally.” But Garber stresses she is not in it solely for the money, and cares deeply that Mountain Meadow’s products improve the health and wellbeing of her customers. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved Mountain Meadow’s herbal remedies.
“Because my son’s condition was so serious, for me to make it and sell it, it has to make a difference,” she said. “People trust us because we’re not in it just to make money.”
At the back of Mountain Meadow’s production facility looms a wall of more than 200 herbs, in the form of dried roots, leaves and flowers. Some are common medicinal herbs, like St. John’s Wort, while others are more exotic and costly, like False Unicorn, which has a balancing effect on women’s hormones but costs $150 per pound.
The herbs are combined with a vegetable glycerin and cooked on a low heat over several days to produce the extracts, which are stored in jugs on wall facing the raw herbs. One room over, the extracts are combined in specific combinations to produce Mountain Meadow’s remedies, then bottled, labeled and shipped out every day. Garber sells her remedies almost exclusively to the Amish and Mennonites – a market from which she is looking to expand.
Mountain Meadow offers treatments for everything from migraines to attention deficit, from stress to infertility. Garber’s biggest seller last month was Maxi-Milk, for nursing mothers to produce more and richer milk. A four-ounce bottle costs $28. Garber emphasizes that people react to herbal treatments in different ways, and what helps one person may not help another. She is also clear that her company’s products are no replacement for the care of a medical doctor, and work best for people who would like to improve their health without drugs, or who have tried drugs and don’t have any options left.
Looking ahead, Garber would like to see her company’s annual sales grow to $15 million over the next five years, while maintaining the charitable projects of the business. Every month Mountain Meadow provides money for clothes, food and school supplies to a 420-child orphanage in Uganda. And Garber is beginning to develop an herbal treatment for malaria. While she isn’t complaining, as the company has grown Garber has gotten farther from what she enjoys most: developing natural remedies to relieve suffering.
“I do the business end of things because it’s what needs to be done,” she said, “but it’s not my love.”
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