This week's Six Questions comes from a company brand-new to Greencity, the wonderful Perthshire-based Birken Tree.
Rob and Gabrielle are a husband and wife team whose combination of forester and healer have led them on a journey to revive the folk knowledge surrounding the use of birch trees that was once widespread in the Highlands. Their combined knowledge of trees and their healing properties has resulted in the Birken Tree company, through which they sell their hand-tapped birch water, and other birch-derived products.
Always searching for ways to enhance their natural lifestyle, their ethos is to share the health potential of birch trees by harvesting their natural bounty. We asked them our six questions, and here's what they had to say:
1.How/why and when did you start your business?
Our business idea came in January 2018, when we realised nobody was commercially producing Birchwater (birch sap) in the UK, all the existing brands import their sap from north and eastern Europe, despite all the birch trees present in Scotland. Our combination of forester/ healer and knowledge of natural remedies, led us naturally want to change that, offering people natural products that are good for health, and also reviving ancient traditions and knowledge that were once widespread in the Highlands.
We began by tapping 10 birch trees in March, gathered 500L of birch sap that we stocked, and bottled in our kitchen. We did seek grants and advice via Business Gateway, Scotland Food and Drink and Perthshire Chamber of Commerce to help us and started with a design company T’GO creative to build a website and a brand. In July, we started trading, participating in shows and markets, and market testing our products.
2. What advice would you give to someone starting a new business in the sector?
Follow your passion, your intuition, and be ready to work hard for your vision. There is lot of help available in Scotland for Start-up businesses, but you need to search and go for it, because most of the help we got, we found by ourselves, by constantly looking and asking. You don’t know what you don’t know.
We didn’t know anything about Food and Drink when we started, and it has been a great year to learn and evolve. We saw the opportunity that was in alignment with our values, and we just went for it!
We made many mistakes but have learned valuable lessons from them. So make mistakes and quickly adapt. Listen to the advice people give you, but follow your gut feeling… at the end of the day, YOU take the decisions and run the business.
3. What motivates you?
We want to show how Native woodland in Scotland is a treasure that is neglected and has much to offer.
Birch woodland is important for the landscape, ecosystem and can even be economically profitable, sustainable, and not just for timber products. The Birch tree has an amazing capacity for growth in almost any condition, restoring the soils of a damaged land to help other trees to seed and grow. It is home to numerous animals, birds, insects and fungi. Part of our ethos is also to revive the traditional use of Birch. In Scotland it has been used for millennia for its amazing health properties, aside with its practical uses.
We want also to provide people a healthy alternative to other soft drinks, and show that there are other alternatives to chemicals and preservatives. We want to encourage research and reconnect people with what they consume.
We want to show people the rich bounty of native woodlands, reconnect them to nature, and teach them about foraging and woodland skills, which is our future project by creating a forest hub centre.
4. How do you think the food & drinks industry could improve?
The food and drink industry is already evolving, because people are changing their consumption habits. Focused more and more on local producers, more aware of carbon footprint and environmental issues.
There is still so much work to be done, but we think it starts with the consumer. If people value more healthy and local choices, then the industry will follow, because they follow where the money will be spent.
5. Is there an individual or organisation, current or in the past, who inspires you?
John Muir, the great environmentalist who went from Scotland to America in the 1800s, and promoted the protection of wilderness and forests there, has been an important inspiration to us.
6. Apart from Greencity, which other three or more people, living or deceased, would you invite to make a dinner party entertaining?
We would invite the mongol emperor Ghengis Khan, because we want world domination for our birch water.
Probably a Native American Shaman, to help us entertain people with nature and self connection, building a big fire and teach us how to dance.
And finally for contrast we would invite Chunk (the funny chubby boy) from the Goonies, that marvellous film from the 80’s, to bring some silliness.