Herbs Fill Niche:
Prairieland Herbs enjoys home-grown success
By Darcy Doughtery Maulsby, Farm News Staff Writer
Wouldn't it be great to market those pesky weeds that grow in your lawn, fields, and ditches?
But who would want them? Lots of people, according to the owners of Prairieland Herbs near Woodward.
"People love to learn what to do with weeds," said Maggie Julseth Howe, who owns and manages Prairieland Herbs with her mother, Donna Julseth. The pair uses a wide variety of home-grown perennial and annual herbs and flowers to create unique lines of natural bath and body products.
"Horsetail is one of those weeds that no farmer in his right mind wants to have around, but it's one of the best things for your hair," Julseth added. "It has trace minerals and builds the strength of your hair. Nettles are also good for your hair and give you a healthy scalp."
Some of Prairieland Herbs' most popular shampoo bars have names like "Rosemary Nettle" and "Mint Nettle." Supplied by Heart of Iowa Soapworks in Gilbert, the shampoos are just part of Prairieland Herbs' selection of locally produced, environmentally friendly bath and body products.
We grow our of our herbs, perennials and flowers on our two acres using sustainable, chemical-free farming methods," Julseth said. "Our products are healthy for the mind, body and soul."
Building a Business
Prairieland Herbs offers a wide variety of herbal products, including bath and body oils, baby care producs, bubble bath, bath salts, har rinses, beeswax lip balm, lotions, body scrubs, pet shampoos and more. hey also sel llive plants and herbs to customers who want to try mixing their own products.
But is there any science behind any of this? "Yes," says Julseth, a microbiologist who teaches biology at Des Moines Area Community College. "We put asmuch research into our products as any company. We test everything we make on our family and friends. There have been mandy products that didn't pass the test."
For 15 years, Julseth and Howe have grown herbs and experiments with new products. In the beginning, they didn't expect to launch a business like Prairieland Herbs.
"Gardening has always been my passion," Julseth said. "When Maggie was in fifth grade, she asked me why I didn't plant herbs. I gave it a try, and then she wanted to know what we were going to do with them. I didn't know, so she started researching and experimenting. There was a lot of trial and error."
As they developed their own bath and body products, the pair sold their creations at craft shows and farmers' markets. "We never were really a good fit in either category, thought, because we weren't selling crafts of foods. That's why we decided to start our own business in September of 1988," said Howe, who earned degrees in environmental studies and public service and administration at Iowa State University.
The business has thrived, thanks to loyal customers and the Internet. "Even though we're located in the middle of Iowa and are surrounded by cornfields, we sell our products all over the world. We've got customers from France to China to Singapore," Howe said.
Julseth and Howe also reach new customers through the adult education classes they teach in the Des Moines public school system. They are completing some remodeling on their acreage near Woodward so they can offer more classes closer to home.
Filling a niche
During the summer, Julseth and Howe stay busy planting, mulching, harvesting and drying herbs and flowers for their herbally-infused oils and other products like dried flower bouquets and wreaths.
"When it's hot at mid-day or when it rains, this gives us time to fill the orders we recieve off our Web site. When we added online shopping to our site, it really boosted sales," said Howe, who manages the Prairieland Herbs Web site and sends customers electronic newsletters via e-mail.
Providing a personal touch is a key component of Prairieland Herbs' customer service, Julseth said. "For example, people who have eczema or psoraisis ask if our products can help. We can customize the products we make for individual customers' problems 99 percent of the time."
Julseth and Howe spend a lot of time answering customers' questions. "We believe in education. We don't just sell products - we explain why you should consider trying these products," howe said.
Prairieland Herbs customers like Cathy Dodson of Van Meter appreciate this personalized attention. When you buy Donna and Maggie's products, you get the satisfaction of knowing you've helped a locally-owned business. I don't get any satisfaction from helping Procter and Gamble."
Julseth and Howe are also strong supporters of the local economy, and they feature products from other local farmers, business owners and artisans at their shop. They also help support area animal shelters.
"We've just kept growing year by year, and at times it has almost suprised us. We are a niche market, but we are an option. When customers praise our products, we feel like we're doing the right thing," Julseth said.
Prairieland Herbs is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 515-438-4268 or go oneline to www.prairielandherbs.com
This article appeared in Farm News from Fort Dodge, Iowa, on Friday May 9, 2003.