Words and images by Iglika Petrova (a devoted Mill City Farmers Market shopper), @iglikapetrova
When talking to Rachel Banken, the founder and maker of Well Rooted Teas, it’s hard not to get inspired and energized to go do something meaningful – something that fills you, and everyone it touches, with so much goodness. Rachel is a true representation of Aristotle’s quote: “At the intersection where your gifts, talents, and abilities meet a human need; therein you will discover your purpose.” She dearly loves what she does as it gives her a purpose. And her teas meet a human need by enriching people’s overall health and wellbeing, as well as supporting the farmers in our community who are dedicated to growing things in a caring way.
Rachel’s teas are unique in a way that most of her ingredients are either grown or foraged on local farms. The farmers she works with are a true partner to her as they grow, harvest and dry the majority of the herbs on their farms. The process of drying the herbs is very complex and not every farmer is able to do it. It requires the right technique and the right way of storing and processing the herbs to be in the form Rachel needs them to be. This ensures a high-quality product as well as allowing Rachel to focus her energy on crafting her tea blends and getting them to the markets on time.
Talking to Rachel, I realized that we as consumers often don’t really know what goes behind the making a product. We are so trained to look at the price point as one of the main values of a product. But what we don’t often know is what goes behind the making of each product, and how each decision impacts the quality on the end product. That is one of the reasons why the Mill City Farmers Market is unique. The market not only features sustainable local growers and makers, but also the ones whose work is a true craftsmanship and reflects the long hours, dedication and the love behind the making of each product.
Rachel’s connection to local farms and farmers, starts with her family. Growing up in Iowa she was surrounded by a community of hard-working farmers, and her memories and experiences of that time of her life influence in a positive and very beautiful way her passion and dedication to local and sustainable farming. That is one of the reasons why she gives 10% of her profits to organizations who are working to promote and protect the environment. Talking to Rachel one can really feel her love and appreciation of her farmer partners:
“I do believe that they are the reason why my teas are so good. From the way they interact with the land, to what they grow, you can really taste that in the tea. The quality is just incredible, and one can taste the love and the care that they put into it. So, although I support local farmers because I am sourcing from them, it’s really more of a partnership between me and them because they make my product so wonderful.”
The story of Well Rooted Teas starts at the time when Rachel had taken time to be with her kids and was ready to go back to work. It took her some time to figure out what her new endeavor would look like, but she knew that it had to be something that aligned with her values, a type of work that connected her to nature, as well as something that improved people’s health. And when Rachel thought about how making and drinking her own teas has been a big part of her life, that sparked the connection that she needed to start her own tea company. When asking Rachel what the most satisfying part of her job is, she replies:
“The most satisfying part of my job is being able to do something that aligns with my values. The fact that I was able to create this and to do it every day it’s extremely satisfying. The most exciting part for me is the foraging and the gathering of some of the ingredients. And I truly enjoy the relationship with the farmers, as majority of my time is spent on the different farms picking ingredients and those relationships with my farmers are one of the greatest parts of my job.”
It’s interesting to hear about how Rachel crafts her tea blends and what inspires her ingredients selection. As she has been making teas all her life, the process of pairing has become very instinctual to her. She knows what herbs pair well together, and how the herb’s taste profile influences the quantity that goes to each blend. The teas also have medicinal qualities so when Rachel creates a blend that has medicinal purposes, she carefully selects the herbs:
“In my seasonal ‘Relief’ blend all the ingredients have allergy soothing properties. Like Nettle, which is nature’s best medicine cabinet for allergies. In the blend I also use local honey, and local honey helps us acclimate and not have allergic responses. And lastly Mullein, which is great for your throat and respiratory system.”
Rachel’s Well Rooted Teas have four blends (Be Well, Calm, Up North and Focus) that she has all year around, and the rest of her teas are seasonal, or limited edition so grab one while she still has them. You can find Rachel and chat with her about teas and local, sustainable farming and foraging at her MCFM booth on select Saturdays year-round. For a list of upcoming market dates, click here.