PARISHVILLE — SunFeather Natural Soap founder Sandra R. “Sandy” Maine has always had a fascination with scents, which she has used to launch her new company, Adirondack Fragrance & Flavor Farm.
Her line of men’s cologne, room spray, warming muscle balm, body washes and lotions, creams and perfumes features the aromas of plants that can grow in the north country: red currant, rue, valerian, lemon balm, cilantro, mint, lavender, balsam, sweetgrass, borage and milkweed, among others.
Some smells are more pungent than sweet. She also uses beaver and muskrat castoreum, compounds exuded from the animals’ castors, a type of scent gland.
“They’re our region’s musk,” she said. “It’s a very big resource we have.”
As a child growing up in South Dakota, she said, her parents let their children take turns every Sunday picking a family activity.
“My pick was to always go smell the stockyards,” Ms. Maine said. “They were like, ‘Oh, no, not that again.’ I also loved the smell of skunk. I’ve always been a sniffing person.”
Ms. Maine used her nose to build SunFeather, which she started with $15 in 1979 in her farm kitchen. She is known as one of the founders of the artisan soap and body care industry and is the author of several books. SunFeather’s Parishville operation at one point had more than 20 employees.
She sold the brand in 2011 to Nutraceutical, Orem, Utah, a manufacturer and marketer of nutritional supplements. She retained the Parishville factory.
“We subcontract work to them,” said Ms. Maine, who is a consultant to Nutraceutical.
Quasi-retirement did not end up appealing to her.
“I had a year of quiet and I guess I didn’t like it so much,” she said. “I got another idea and I couldn’t resist it.”
She put up a small building, SunFeather Factory Outlet and Roadside Market, in front of the factory at 1551 Route 72, which sells the Adirondack Fragrance & Flavor Farm line. For the Potsdam Summer Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today , Friday and Saturday, the stand will have its annual bag sale of odds and ends pieces of soap. Normal summer hours at the stand are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The Maine farm on Sylvan Falls Road has been used since the early 1860s to grow food.
“Now I want to turn it into a fragrance and flavor farm,” Ms. Maine said.
She started by taking a perfumery class in San Francisco and continued her own experimentation.
While trying to learn how to extract castoreum, she contacted an Italian perfumer who at first told her that perfumers did not give up their secrets. To persuade him to talk to her, she told him she would send him some of the castors if he would tell her how to prepare them for shipping.
“That was lesson one,” she said. “After he tried them, he sent me an email saying, ‘I love, love, love the Adirondack muskrat. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know if you send me more.’”
She has planted a number of plants to determine their suitability for use to scent her products, including hops growing on a teepee-like trellis of her own design, lavender and calendula marigold. Grapes will be used to make an alcohol base. Honey will be made into mead for another kind of alcohol with a subtle scent. The oil from borage seeds is good for lotions and creams.
The barn and workshop will include a classroom and extraction rooms.
Adirondack Fragrance & Flavor Farm also has select food products, including mustard.
“Someday I hope to grow my own mustard seed,” Ms. Maine said.
Her plan is to keep the business personal and confined primarily to the Parishville market, a dozen or more Adirondack accounts, and occasional shows.
“SunFeather got so big I didn’t even know my customers,” she said. “This business, I want to keep it small and regional.”
WANT A FRAGRANCE?
Adirondack Fragrance & Flavor Farm
1551 Route 72, Potsdam, N.Y. 13676