Four Elements to Organic Success
Tucked into the green, fertile Baraboo Bluffs is one of central Wisconsin’s best-kept secrets—Four Elements Organic Herbals. Founder/owner Jane Hawley Stevens says that the land’s rich, rocky hills and bountiful woods have been particularly kind to her. “I’m blessed to have found this place,” she admits. “I feel that the spirit put me here.”
Stevens chose her career when she was a just high school senior. “I knew I wanted to have a family farm,” Stevens recalls, “and I knew it wasn’t dairy. My grandparents had farming roots, so did my uncles. The day I graduated from high school, I moved to Madison and took a course in botany.” Eventually, Stevens enrolled in the University of Madison and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in horticulture.
Four Elements was born in 1987 in Texas where Stevens was living at the time. After a few years, she relocated to Wisconsin. However, it took a great deal of effort to find the right property to suit her purposes. “I looked at so many different areas—around Spring Green, Portage, Dodgeville—but none of them seemed right,” Stevens tells. “Plus nobody wanted to give a single mother with an herb business a mortgage. I spent a good deal of time crying in parking lots before I found my farm,” she laughs.
Four Elements Organic Herbals is set on 130 certified-organic acres of meadows, fields, woods and prairies. While Jane tends to the plants, it’s her husband David’s job as field manager is to prepare the soil. “David’s the perfectionist; he makes the gardens look beautiful and complete. I’m the herbalist; I love even the weeds,” she jokes. The two met at the Dallas Arboretum then reconnected when David was accepted at graduate school in Madison to study, what else, horticulture.
Today, the term “organic” has become a trendy buzz word, but for Stevens, it’s long been a way of life. “People are finally realizing that all the chemicals we dump into the ground are adversely affecting our health,” she says. “We’re all part of the same life cycle, so it eventually comes back to us. Growing organic was the only choice for me.” All of Stevens’ herbs are OCIA-certified.
Four Elements Organic Herbals’ catalog is constantly growing and evolving. To date, Stevens offers almost 150 flower essences and tinctures, handcrafted soaps like Meadow Flowers and Sweet Violet, and herb-infused body oils, all culled from her vast garden. There also are creamy lip balms, bath salts, soothing salves and moisture creams.
“The marketplace is always looking for new products and I’m happy to oblige,” Stevens smiles. “I’ve created a fantastic anti-wrinkle product called ‘Golden Crown Botanical Elixir.’ We also have a new perfume line based on the elements—Earth, Water, Fire and Air/Spirit. Not only do they smell wonderful but they can be used energetically to help balance the emotions.”
Perseverance seems to be the key to all facets of Stevens’ life—especially her success as an herbalist. “I never give up,” Stevens admits. “I keep reinventing myself, coming up with unique products and different ways to market them. At least once a month, I try to set up a booth at an arts and crafts fair or an herb event. I believe that face-to-face meetings are the best way to establish strong relationships with customers.”
Stevens never seems to run out of innovative ways to get her superb organic products to the public. “Last year, I did local farmers markets two days a week in Baraboo, which worked out really well for us,” she tells. “I just began offering classes like Organic Growing Techniques and Tincture Making at the farm. I also immensely enjoyed my first experience teaching at the local community college. And of course, Four Elements has our annual Open House every June. We invite people out here to see how we work, buy plants and start herb gardens of their own.”
Each season is fruitful. Springtime is when the herbs are rowed out in the fields and cultivated. It’s also the time when roots and bark are gathered. Summers are the busiest, that’s when flowers and leafy parts of herbs are harvested. Herbs are then hand-cut in the fields, put into big dryers in the barn, then stored in five gallon tins recycled from the tubs cocoa butter and palm oil are shipped in.
“Although winter isn’t busy in terms of growing, it’s one of our most active times,” Stevens says. “We tap maple trees in March and make maple syrup. Winter is also a gift-giving season and the time when people’s skin dries out. So we stay busy manufacturing and filling orders.”
Stevens has devised an ingenious work force—a dedicated group of local women, which she credits with much of her success. Instead of clashing with family commitments, her staff’s schedules revolve around their children’s school hours. They come in just after drop-off and end the work day early enough to be home for their kids. “Not only aren’t they stressed-out because of childcare costs and babysitting-related issues,” Stevens says, “but they give me their all and for that, I’m very grateful.”
In addition to supporting local labor, Stevens donates a portion of Four Elements’ profits to grass-roots organizations like the Baraboo Range Preserve, The Nature Conservancy, United Plant Savers and environmental projects in Sauk County. “I truly feel I’m here to serve,” Stevens explains. “Working with the earth, the most giving thing of all, how can you not give back to your community?”
The company has an impressive website, www.fourelementsherbals.com, which is as warm and welcoming as Stevens herself. But she concedes that most of her customers are attained and maintained the old-fashioned way. “Although I do get some sales from the Internet,” she says, “the most successful method for me seems to be one-on-one.”
Stevens continues, “The organic market keeps growing, so big businesses are now getting into it. I can’t compete with huge conglomerates. I can’t afford to place full-page glossy ads in magazines. What I rely on most is word of mouth, keeping loyal, happy customers, and endurance. Perseverance. I push extremely hard but the rewards I reap are boundless.”