It’s been a year of unpredictable weather. We saw record levels of snow in the Sierras—nearly double the annual average in some places—while peaches in Georgia froze and tornadoes touched down in Massachusetts.
Climate change and this year’s unusual weather are making things a bit more unpredictable for growers everywhere, including those in south Santa Cruz County.
“Everything this year is late,” says Katy Thompson, owner of Copper Moon Apothecary. “I’m seeing a lot of green growth, but not a lot of fruit or blooms. Things are really taking their time. I’m seeing some changes with the herbs this year. Everything is a little smaller.”
Since starting Copper Moon more than 10 years ago, Thompson has grown most of the herbs she needs, including comfrey, calendula, plantain, and elder, on her 9-acre property in the Larkin Valley. She makes lotions, soaps, bath soaks, cleansers, and live face masks and scrubs by hand using homegrown herbs and locally sourced products.
“At first, I tested everything on my poor friends. I remember selling my first bar of soap at the farmers market. I was so excited,” Thompson says. “The business grew, and that’s all I wanted to talk about and do. I was collecting seeds and growing herbs and wildcrafting, and I created this big, beautiful monster.”
As we move into citrus season, Thompson says she will start looking to fall’s citrus to make fresh products, like bath and shower scrub. Because she sources everything from her fields and nearby areas, Thompson says the late bloom will affect how she operates this year. “I’m fine for now, but it’s really going to hit me in December and January when I may not have the backstock of dried herbs.”
Other community members have expressed similar concerns about weird weather patterns this year. “We are all buzzing around and talking about it in the ag community,” Thompson says. In her case, she may need to buy herbs from other suppliers.
Depending on the farmers market, website and wholesale orders, Thompson will figure out how much to make per week. This week, she’s making all of the products for markets and incorporating herbs that are prime for use, like calendula.
“If you buy a bar of soap from me this weekend at the farmers market, you are going to have big, green flecks of lemongrass because it’s in season right now,” she says. “So fresh lemongrass will go into the soap. But come December or January, there is no fresh lemongrass, so I’ll have to rely on everything I have harvested and dried months ago. The appearance will change dramatically.”
Thompson already ships in sandalwood oil and ylang ylang (a tropical flower), since they don’t grow here, and she tries to use them sparingly.
Lately, Thompson has been weighing the prospect of getting extra help. She doesn’t want to outsource anything. “If I do that, it’s no longer handcrafted by me, and I don’t necessarily know what’s going into the product,” she says. “I want to keep it small and keep it crunchy.”
Copper Moon Apothecary currently sells to markets all over Santa Cruz, including Staff of Life and The Herb Room, and runs weekly Santa Cruz Farmers Market booths. She’s also working on a “skin salvation” face serum and wants to experiment with frankincense and a new oil, called Kuss, originating from India. Between managing orders, saving up stock for the winter months and experimenting with new products, Thompson has her hands full.
“There are limitations. People want their product to smell like bubblegum, but it doesn’t,” Thompson says. “People are so used to the bubbles of Dove and other commercial products. This stuff isn’t that. It’s made to order for them. It’s natural and homegrown and good for you, good for the planet.”