Today we’d like to introduce you to Victoria Sheldon.
Hi Victoria, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Relish is, at its core, simply my love affair with plants + the wonders they do for your skin, your body, + your mindset. I have been gardening for over a decade, I interned at Urban Harvest in 2019, + in 2020, I took advantage of the lockdown + the extra time off for some online classes + farm programs: Earthdance farm school, Tend & Flourish herbalism program, growing mushrooms with Cornell + herbal skin care with the Herbal Academy. I learned so much from all of these incredible opportunities, + got to connect with inspirational, creative, + driven people.
I started making my own skin care originally because of a lack of “clean” skin care available in my budget. I had very sensitive skin + so many of the synthetic fragrances + preservatives would cause a reaction or a break-out, + I had no real desire to study the ingredient list of every single product, looking up all the ingredients I didn’t know. When I started oil cleansing my face with a few basic oils (not to be dramatic, but…) it completely transformed my skin! I went from patchy dry skin with horrible breakouts that I was constantly covering with layers + layers of make-up, to confidently being able to leave my house totally clean faced. From there I started seeing what else I could make with cleaner ingredients, + gifting handmade goodies to friends + family every chance I got. I made my own skin care + bath products for years but diving into herbalism was when I really started to bring my love of growing plants into it + I really started to get passionate about it. Infusing my products with herbs, flowers + roots added such a depth of potency + made each simple product feel so much more complex + magical. I began working with plants with more intention, adding herbs for their physical + topical uses, as well as their more emotional uses. Take Calendula for example, one of my all time favorite plants. Calendula is in the daisy family + is a beautiful yellow/orange sunshine of a flower, that is basically a panacea for skin + body. Not only is calendula incredibly healing used on your skin or in your tea, it imparts a brightness + joy to everything it’s infused in. Really getting to know the plants, building relationships with them, + bringing them into the creation of skin-care products truly makes those products feel like self-care + an act of self-love.
On the provisions side of things, that was a natural progression for me, career-wise. I have worked in restaurants in every capacity for the better part of two decades. I started with waiting tables + line cooking, then bartending everywhere from dive bars to craft cocktail lounges, finally moving from bartending to bakeries + coffee shops. Creating new recipes from cocktails + syrups to cookies + cakes allowed me a creative outlet at work that I adored. I bring all of that passion to making herbal tea blends, botanical shrubs, syrups, + bitters, as well as infused salts, + sugars. I love cooking + entertaining at home, + having delicious, unique, + health-forward syrups, shrubs, + bitters around to make it easy to give craft-cocktail vibes to even the simplest of recipes. plus makes creating delicious spirit-free beverages a breeze.
Like so many people in 2020, I spent a lot of time thinking about what was important to me, + how much of what I was doing was simply going through the motions. I deeply enjoyed slow mornings with a cup of tea + a good book, + felt the most alive in my garden, so when I was off work for a few months for lock-down, I thrived. I spent nearly every waking moment in the garden, between working in it, working with the plants I was growing + simply enjoying it. When I went back to work I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing + I needed a change. I worked for an incredible couple, with incredible coworkers, + I truly believed in the business, but I still kept feeling like it didn’t fit anymore. I felt like I needed more of a creative outlet, + was looking for a way to make some extra income. So, somewhat on a whim, in January of 2021, I created an LLC for Relish, signed up for the Tuesday Farmer’s Market at Tower Grove, took some money out of savings, ordered a bunch of inventory + started infusing oils with plants from garden.
This first year I filled in every weekend with as many pop-ups + markets as I could fit, with Tuesday’s Tower Grove farmer’s market being my home base. I fell in love with working at the farmer’s market. The community of farmers + creatives there, plus the incredible people that make it a priority to shop small + local completely won me over. I met some amazing people, + it was wonderful how passionate farmer’s market shoppers are about small businesses + supporting locally. The farmer’s market began to feel like home in a way that few jobs had. Tower Grove farmer’s market has given me a platform to sell weekly, as well as meeting some amazing humans, + giving me the support to feel like I can make my little dream of sharing intentionally made goods infused with all the healing + magic of plants, a sustainable reality.
I am so excited for the future of Relish, to take the lessons I learned in my first year + build upon them in the coming seasons. I’m looking forward to working more intentionally, with clearer goals, + a balanced metric for success. This year I have also partnered up with an incredibly inspiring + creative woman, Erin Luna, to lease an acre of farm land from an amazing farmer, Paul Krautman of Bellews Creek Farm. Our new farm is called Marigold Moon Farm + we will be growing + foraging nearly all of the herbs for Relish products. On top of providing herbs + flowers for Relish, we will also be growing medicinal + culinary herbs for the farmer’s markets + local herb shops, growing natural dye plants (Erin’s specialty), + cut flowers for local florists. I’m thrilled for Relish to have more opportunities with this sister business to connect with the community, offering workshops, + a space to bring people together on the land their food, flowers, herbs, + textile colors are grown.
I get asked about the name all the time since I do not, in fact, sell any actual relish! That’s just the joy of the English language that relish can be a topping on a hot dog, or it can describe great enjoyment + satisfaction. Relish, for me, evokes pleasure, delight, + savoring of moments. I believe routine skin care can become a ritual of self-love + gratitude. I believe nourishing herbs encourage mindfulness + health with every meal or cup of tea. I want everyone to be free to relish the skin + body that they are in, with intentionally chosen, organic, ethical ingredients.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The struggle has been real! The first few months were a whirl-wind of working full time, then going home + working full time in the garden + the kitchen, creating new products + building up inventory. My plan was to continue to hustle both jobs for a year to save up money, but it didn’t take long to see this would be emotionally + mentally unsustainable for me. I took a giant financial risk, + leap of faith + left my full-time job at the end of May to focus on Relish full-time. That decision has proved itself to be the best + worst choice I could have made! Financially it has been incredibly stressful. They say all new businesses lose money in their first year, + they aren’t kidding! Since one of my core tenets of my business was to build a life I was happy to live + build my business around that, I wasn’t interested in working 80 hours a week just to pay the bills. So I reevaluated my personal + professional budgets to see what was essential + what I could live without + I have gotten very creative with my resources to make it through during the financially tougher times. I luckily have an incredibly supportive partner that I literally could not do this without! I also have an amazing support system of friends + family, so many of whom also run their own small businesses, that have been inspiring beyond belief.
The biggest struggle for me, though, has been breaking out of the grind culture + internalized capitalism, + running a business based on community, sustainability, + relishing the life we have. Before I started Relish, I had read a ton of books focusing on running a sustainable + ethical business. The most inspiring was The Magic of Tiny Business by Sharon Rowe. She talks about running a business that focuses on living an intentional life, putting family + personal life first, + doing something that makes a positive impact on your community. I thought it would be much easier to implement, but it is much more difficult than I thought to take time off without shame or guilt. My goal is to create when the creativity is there, to work hard when the energy + flow is there, to rest when I need it, to spend time enjoying life without beating myself up over the never ending to-do lists, but it has certainly not been easy to guiltlessly rest or have fun, especially when budgets are tight + I feel like all my time needs to be devoted getting the bills paid. But, at the end of the day, we have such a short time to be alive, it would be amazing if we could spend less of it focused on acquiring money, + more of it actually living. So I’m working on creating my own metric of success including mental health + joy as part of the profitability equation.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
I specialize in botanically-infused self care + provisions. Some of my favorite products to make are the herbal teas, infused salts, oil cleansers, seasonal infused body oils, + botanical shrubs. The shrubs were a very slow start on sales, but once they caught on they have developed quite a devoted fan base. Shrubs are basically sweetened, fruit-infused vinegars. I infuse raw apple cider with local, seasonal fruits from the farmer’s markets + herbs from my farm, + sweeten with either local honey or maple syrup. The end result is a sweet/tart syrup, perfect for stirring into sparkling water for a refreshing + healthful beverage, or for mixing up craft-style cocktails + mocktails that have a remarkable depth of flavor.
All of the product packaging is reusable + recyclable. I do offer a buy-back program, when you can bring your empty containers to any market or pop-up I’m at, + get $1 off for each container. Last year that return program saved over 100 bottles + jars. My goal for this year is to triple that! All shipping material is recyclable + compostable, + oftentimes reused, like shipping boxes, + the paper-fill in gift boxes which is shredded packing material from orders I have received.
Last year I donated a portion of all sales to various environmental + food equity focused non-profits + mutual aids, the grand total being just shy of $500. This year I’d like to expand on that, partnering with a different organization each season + offering special products where the proceeds go directly to the partnering organization.
This year I am offering a Tea of the Month Program, set up like a CSA (or TeaSA, if you will!) to help offset some of my farm + garden start-up costs, as well as giving me a little creative outlet for making many more fun + medicinal herbal tea blends. It’s set up so you pay for the year (April- December) + each month get two varieties of herbal teas delivered, one of which is a TeaSA exclusive. I’m very excited for this program, since it will challenge me + allow me more freedom to play with hyper-seasonal ingredients.
Alright so before we go can you talk to us a bit about how people can work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
As far as support, I’ll be at the Tower Grove Farmer’s Market every Tuesday + most Saturdays, + will be sharing my booth with Marigold Moon Farm, so you can pick up some plant starts + fresh + dried herbs from Marigold Moon, + all kind of goodies made from those herbs from Relish! I also sell online + often have many items you can order online that I may not bring to every market, or that I make to order.
If anyone is looking for a local provider of bulk herbs, dye plants, or flowers are grown without fertilizers or pesticides, I would love to chat about what we can grow + forage for you!
- TeaSA (2 seasonal herbal teas a month, 15 servings each from April – December) – $162 for St. Louis City residents, $200 to include shipping.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: relishherbalcare.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/relish_stl/
Emily Nicole Photography (Main Photo)