Adirondack Fragrance and Flavor Farm

 

When Sandy Maine and her husband first moved to an old farm in the Adirondack mountains three decades ago, she had no idea it would play a pivotal role in shaping her career, and her life. Over the years that followed, she has made a living out of identifying and capturing the best scents the Adirondacks have to offer, and infusing them into handcrafted soaps, candles, lotions, and more. Using ingredients grown on her farm and the natural landscape that surrounds it, Maine has grown Adirondack Fragrance and Flavor Farm into a successful company that has gained a reputation for their great-smelling artisanal products that capture the essence of rustic mountain living.

Mood of Living Q&A

Mood of Living: Does Adirondack Fragrance and Flavor Farm reflect what you imagined your career would be when you were younger, or has your career trajectory changed over your lifetime?
Sandy Maine: When I was 13, my friend Jean’s mother, Molly, asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told her I wanted to have a small farm and a craft business…so, based upon that evidence from 1970, I’d have to say that I was aware of what made my heart sing from a young age.

MoL: When did you realize this was the work you wanted to do?
SM: When I graduated from college in 1978, I started working in youth services, while at the same time followed my creative intuition and began making and selling handmade soaps. By 1980, I was able to transition into my own company full-time, and have been working full-time in my own company ever since.

MoL: How (if at all) did your upbringing influence your current life and career?
SM: I enjoyed countless hours as a child on my aunt and uncle’s farm in Hall, NY, where I learned to love growing and processing food, tending to sheep and chickens, and all the wonders that exist for children working and playing on a small farm. Also, as a small child, I lived in Japan for three years, and my mother took me on tours of the countryside, where we visited many small cottage industries. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, even as a child. Perhaps these two influences imprinted upon me!

MoL: Did you always have a special interest in nature and scent? How has your relationship with them changed over your career?
SM: Yes, I have always been intrigued by scent. As a child, my favorite place to visit when we lived in South Dakota was the stock yards…a very odiferous place, to be sure. I also loved the smell of skunk, and, of course, my grandmother’s flowers, grapes from my uncle’s vineyards, and the wonderful smells from my mother and grandmother’s kitchen. My favorite gift was a perfume locket given to me by my grandmother, my father’s mother, Clarissa, when I was 13. How could I have known then that much of my life would be devoted to interacting with the natural world, creating wonderful scents and putting them into soaps, candles, natural perfumes, and skin care products?

MoL: What are your favorite scents, and why?
SM: My favorite scent is the scent that presents itself during a special moment in time. I have so many fond memories associated with scent. For example, though it did not smell “good,” I love remembering working with my Aunt Irene in the egg grading and washing room on her farm. It was musty and there were chicken fecal odors mixed with rotten sulfur odors from bad eggs. But that is an odor I associate with the best of times! One evening, while traveling in New Zealand, I walked into a bed and breakfast in Dunedin and there was a jasmine plant in bloom. It was an intoxicating moment I will never forget. I think about it every week, though it happened over 16 years ago. I love tuberose, sweetgrass (which I grow and harvest), and all of the wonderful odors of the Adirondack forests. I’ve recreated many of those in my product line.

MoL: Can you share another instance of when a scent presented itself in a special moment in time?
SM: A couple years ago, my husband was digging a trench from our spring to the house to lay a new water line. He hit a patch of putrid rotting sphagnum moss and mud. He came to the house for lunch, terribly smelly and disgusted. As soon as he said “putrid mud,” my interest peaked, and I went to smell it for myself. The next day I took some of it and made soap with it. After adding in some rose geranium and patchouli to the putrid mud in the soap, I had created a wonderful piece of olfactory soap art that I call “Mud and Roses.” It’s one of the top-selling scents I have.

MoL: What have you found most surprising about this field of work?
SM: I guess I am surprised that my life’s work has never been boring, even though I have been at it for over 35 years. It’s always challenging and teaching me in new ways. Even though it’s basically been the same vocation all of these years, it’s taken so many twists and turns, and brought so many interesting people and experiences into my life, that I never tire of it.

MoL: What do you think most people might not know or imagine about what you do?
SM: How happy I feel after a long day of working on the farm. Tired, stiff, and sore, perhaps, but very contented and happy. A dip in the cold river is a nice way to end a day like that!

MoL: Tell us about your farm. Why did you move there? What was your impression of it when you first arrived, and how has your relationship to it changed since then?
SM: The first time I saw my farm, it was at sunset in the summer. No one was home. The doors were open and we were just there to take a look and see if we wanted to rent it. There was a warm evening breeze, and when I walked up on the porch, there were two electric beaters hanging on shoe strings. They were softly clanging together. It was a magical moment, and I had to laugh at the “wind chimes.” The farm was 3 miles from the nearest electricity, so what better use for electric beaters? Then I checked out the house…it was like walking back in time about 50 years. The barn was enchanting, too. There were friendly goats and a couple draft horses munching on fragrant hay, wondering what the strangers were up to. I was sold! $135.00 a month, we will take it! Will worry about not having electricity later! Eventually we bought the farm, put in a nice solar system, renovated and made additions, and filled up the bedrooms with children (all but one who are on their own now), while trying to maintain its original charm. I’ve had to learn the hard way what will and will not grow there.

MoL: Tell us about the Adirondacks. What are your favorite parts of living there? What is it like during the different seasons?
SM: The seasons are all very distinct and I have learned how to enjoy all of them in different ways. Winter makes me appreciate every moment of the summer supremely. The best thing about having distinct seasons is that it imposes a natural rhythm to one’s life.

MoL: What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
SM: Being a creative-type person, I struggle with and resent the time I must spend on the financial part of the game!

MoL: What do you find most rewarding about the work you do?
SM: Calling my own shots.

MoL: Have the techniques and technologies you use to create your products changed or evolved over time, and if so, in what ways?
SM: Being able to access all kinds of information and to communicate so easily with customers and vendors has been the biggest blessing since the pre-internet years. The downside of that is the amount of time I spend sitting in front of a screen.

MoL: Who works in your factory with you to help make your products?
SM: I have local people who have been working with me for decades. Some have come and gone, but there is a core group of six who have been around for a long time.

MoL: What is the relationship like between your company and the local community?
SM: The community loves to visit our factory outlet store and buy our end pieces by the pound. We also supply the local food pantry and the Amish with handmade soaps.

MoL: Where do the ingredients for your products come from?
SM: Some are locally sourced and others are purchased from around the globe.

MoL: Are they sustainably sourced?
SM: Yes.

MoL: Where do you see Adirondack Fragrance and Flavor Farm years from now? Do you have any particular hopes or plans for its future?
SM: I’d like to grow industrial hemp and produce cannabidiol for use in lotions and balms…as soon as the federal government gets out of the way on that! I’d also like to experiment with growing and extracting scents and flavors from other plants, such as currants, mints, dill, and cilantro.

MoL: What music inspires you?
SM: I love folk, bluegrass, blues, and classical.

MoL: Do you have any hobbies?
SM: I enjoy cooking and baking, hiking, and gardening when I have free time.

MoL: Do you incorporate any of the ingredients you use to make your products into the foods you eat?
SM: I have made some awesome balsam fir-infused vinegar and salt on potato chips!

MoL: Would you be willingly to share the recipe with us?
SM: Place fresh balsam fir needles in cider vinegar and let sit for a week. Soak thin potato slices in the vinegar for an hour and then allow them to dry off a bit before frying in oil. Salt with salt infused with balsam fir needles.

MoL: Is there a place you go to for peace of mind?
SM: In the summer, I like to sit, read, write, and nap on the flat rocks in the middle of the river behind my house. In winter, I like to sit in front of a warm wood fire after the family has gone to bed.

MoL: What is your advice for people looking to get into this line of work?
SM: Start small, keep it regional, and stay in balance!

MoL: Do you have any words of wisdom?
SM: Matter follows thought…so if you want to change what’s around you, start thinking, doing, and becoming through new thoughts!

MoL: What do you think people can do to foster a closer relationship with nature in their own lives?
SM: Find things you enjoy doing outside, and then find people to enjoy those things with you.