People and Planet Over Profit
By Liz Hansen
January is the coldest and rainiest time of year in Whatcom County, and I usually find myself looking for reasons to move closer to the equator (I’m checking ticket prices to Costa Rica as you’re reading this). But in the meantime, I’ve found nothing quite warms my insides and consoles my seasonal affectivness like a nice, warm cup of tea.
I’m not alone in this discovery, as tea is the second most widely consumed beverage in the world, with water being the first. Tea was originally intended to help deliver the medicinal healing properties of plants and dates back to 2nd century BC China. Since then, tea has held some sort of cultural significance with nearly every culture on the planet. And now, modern science can account for the numerous benefits of tea, ranging anywhere from psychological to physical. I was curious about the impact a product with global demand of that magnitude was bound to have, and after chatting with the proprietor of Flying Bird Botanicals, Scout Urling (pictured above), I’ve learned that not all tea is created equal.
Scout’s journey to discover her calling as an herbalist was shaped by first-hand, raw, genuine experience. Her aspirations have always been aimed at healing and helping people, and her pre-med college major laid a strong foundation in health and wellness education. Later, working with a group of Mayan women in Guatemala she gained a depth of understanding in herbology and indigenous medicine that couldn’t be found anywhere else. Her South American journey awakened an awareness in Scout that she longed to share, and she returned to the states to continue her mentoring with local herbalists and professionals that shared her passion for natural healing.
“Herbalism is where my heart is,” says Scout. She started making teas, salves, and tinctures and had a natural talent. Her products quickly became coveted by anyone who tried them. From there, Flying Bird Botanicals almost seemed to create itself. Her small product line of herbal comforts created a self-enhancing demand, all on its own. And it didn’t take Scout long to realize she needed to open her own business in order to supply the steadily growing demand. It’s worth mentioning here that Flying Bird Botanicals isn’t just tea, they also have salves and tinctures on Etsy!
The mission of Flying Bird Botanicals is clear: promote wellness by supporting local businesses and ethical farming practices, at all costs. “I prioritize people and planet over profit,” says Scout. And as a commercial tea business, this is where Scout sets herself apart from other global tea distributors. “We don’t understand the true cost of goods,” says Scout. “Handpicked green and black teas are shipped across the world and only cost a few dollars- it’s an amazing deal, but that cost is absorbed somewhere; the people.”
The high demand for tea has created a global supply chain laden with practices most find unsavory including mistreatment of workers, high pesticide and chemical inputs used to grow ingredients and product that can sit on shelves for years before making it into your mug. A combination that seems to defeat the purpose of drinking tea altogether. So, when Scout set out to create her own line of teas, finding quality sources was her highest priority.
“I love tea. I’ll be drinking tea made of the finest organic ingredients for the rest of my life, whether Flying Bird exists or not. And that’s why I’ll always choose the highest quality, most sustainable, most ethical possible option because that’s what I’d want.” One of the most efficient ways for a producer to do this is to source locally. But since most traditional tea ingredients are only grown where tea originated, like East Asia, this can get tricky.
“If it’s possible to do local, we do it. We look first to the smallest, closest communities then work outwards. If it’s not local, it’s domestic,” Scout explains. For instance, she sources from local farmers where she can, like Bow Hill Blueberry powder in her matcha and Slanted Sun chili peppers in their drinking chocolate. In addition, all her business services are sourced through local entrepreneurs, like her label design and accounting services. Even the tea blending and production is done under the same roof as her office and distribution center. But what about those ingredients that can only be sourced from Asia?
Scout has personally searched and scoured the globe for small farms that are farming with sustainable and ethical practices. It’s her highest precedence to avoid sourcing from global producers and distributors in order to ensure a fresh and morally sound product. Buying directly from the farm over a global distributor means getting the freshest product, from THIS year. A distributor will have lots of product on hand, sometimes more than they can distribute in a year. So, the product you get from them could’ve been sitting on the shelves for a year, or 2 or 3, before it got to you. Which is why a bin of Flying Bird Botanicals tea and sipping chocolate has such a rich depth of flavor profiles. Because it was harvest mere months before you brewed it. With no additives, preservatives, artificial flavors or oils, to prop up the validity of a stale product. “I like my chocolate powder raw, but my nibs a little bit roasted.” Scout is strict about using only fresh, whole ingredients, and the cleanest processing methods. Each unique to the blend it was created for.
You might be wondering why everyone doesn’t source and produce their ingredients this way. For most companies, it’s not lucrative enough. In order to meet USDA regulation guidelines, especially for organic, regulations require an extensive inquiry of expensive testing. And when your company’s bottom line is to strengthen overall profit, it’s easy to cut out expensive elements. So, when Scout finds a small farm, one run by women who practice eco-conscious farming for example, Scout pays for the testing, right out of her own pocket. She’s not looking to get rich off her products, but rather to make a difference in the world and how things are done. It’s a way to endorse equality, equity, free will, and sustainability. So, of course, Flying Bird Botanicals quality consciousness doesn’t stop with just the herbs in the tea. Scout has worked tirelessly to create a tea bag that is good for your health as well. It’s made from consumable, biodegradable corn, not plastic or paper, and with absolutely no glues or weird chemicals to seal it. So you can be sure that every sip of warm, flavorful goodness is as pure and clean as it can get! Even their tins are made in the USA from recycled and recyclable eco-friendly material.
The whole point of Scout’s product line is to promote a world where people and our planet can thrive. When you pick up a tin of Flying Bird Botanicals, you’ll notice the ‘Brew Peace’ logo. This logo is meant to remind us of their intention: “Every time you brew a cup of tea, you promote peace and goodwill in your life and around the world. Because the integrity of the product benefits all the lives that have participated in bringing you a quality cup of tea,” Scout explains.
You can find Flying Bird Botanicals throughout Whatcom County and soon throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond, as Flying Bird Botanicals expands their product line to Whole Foods in the coming spring. “Because if I don’t do this now, someone else will.” I feel confident that if anyone should be upping their small-scale tea production, it’s Flying Bird Botanicals.
If you’ve never tried Flying Bird Botanicals, I recommend trying the chocolatey peppermint flavors of ‘Winter Cheer’ before the seasons over. And if the overcast ails of the winter months have zapped your spirit then you might find the calming effects of ‘Peace of Mind’ particularly soothing. Either way, their medicinal line is highly effective, and everything tastes exquisite. Whether you’re new to tea culture or have been an enthusiast all your life, it’s worth exploring what Flying Bird has to offer. If you’re looking for something specific, try ordering online and use the coupon code ‘bellingham’ or ‘pickup’ for free shipping to their distribution center in Bellingham. Don’t forget to check out their salves and tinctures on Etsy, and if you think that logo is pretty fly, you’ll love sporting their t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other merch around town. I know I do!