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Meet Kate Miller of Alpine Botanicals Artisan Apothecary in Nederland

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kate Miller.

Kate, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
If there is a core lesson that I learned as a young child, maybe around 4 or 5 years old, it is that the Earth is sacred and that we are all connected on a very elementary level. I had a real awareness that humans have royally screwed up at conveying this philosophy in our actions, and it was also clear to me that we can and must do better. I come from a family of environmental and social activists so even as a child, there was never any question for me that humans were getting their wake up call, and that in my lifetime, the struggle was going to become very real on this planet if we don’t fight to adopt a different paradigm. I knew I would grow up and try to contribute what I could to create a more resilient and truly ecologically centric society.

Before I began formally studying herbal medicine, I had been on track to become an environmental journalist and had even considered environmental law & policy work. At that time, I thought the only way I could make a real impact was to fight at the policy level for a better and more regenerative agriculture system. But like many of us experience, the Universe had other things in mind for me. Between the health issues I had been having since I was a child, and the nagging feeling in my gut that I was meant to work in the healing arts, it was only a matter of time before the plants called to me.

I started intensively growing herbs, flowers, and vegetables during an internship at Growing Gardens, a longtime local non-profit dedicated to helping cultivate community through sustainable agriculture. I was in my senior year at CU Boulder and had a little gardening experience at that point, but I had never worked on a farm or had to take charge of keeping up with farm and garden tasks. In addition to more traditional approaches to organic farming, we also incorporated Biodynamic practices that year, including composting and specific planting and harvesting rhythms.

My introduction to Biodynamic farming that year would change my life forever. It’s a model that incorporates the movement of the moon, planets, and stars into daily and seasonal planning, as well as using a transformative set of Homeopathic-like herbal preparations in garden and compost systems. Without even fully understanding what I was doing, I felt called into this practice of farming, as if remembering instead of learning. That season, our small group of all female interns helped to guide a cohort of nearly 60 teens and pre-teens, many of which came from low-income backgrounds. I found that with my hands in the dirt every day, I began to learn and experience life quite differently than I had for the last four years spent in a university classroom.

I began observing and interacting with the farm ecology directly, instead of studying farm policy from a removed place. I was also bearing witness to how this process of growing our food was changing and improving the health of the community, and especially the youth who had their hands in the dirt beside me. I was remembering things I had forgotten from my childhood, and re-learning the truth of our highest human potential: that we have the means to nourish ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually if we work in cooperation and relationship with nature.

I had been introduced to holistic and plant medicines at a fairly young age. My parents and many of my family members were not only open to alternative healing modalities but also very influential in my interest in herbs, supplements, nutrition, and other healing methods. They are gardeners, healing foods advocates, and environmentalists, and in my belief, all healers in their own right. My mother especially influenced my path towards working directly with the green realm.

She has always been a gardener and has been growing fresh herbs, veggies, berries, and greens since I was a child, instilling in me the importance of fresh healing foods at an early age. My father and stepmom have also existed closely with the Earth. Composting, gardening, clean chemical-free living, healing whole foods…these were important practices in my childhood and are foundational parts of my life today. My Gramps would always have a basket of herbal extracts, supplements, and fresh juices on the ready if any of us felt like we were getting a cold or needed an energy boost.

When it comes to long term deeply rooted health issues, the conventional medical system is only just beginning to recognize the importance of nutrition, herbal medicine, stress management, and even the role of community in our health. I am witnessing a great shift in large parts of society. We are in the process of relearning to trust in our bodies, understanding that we must stop looking to outsiders to “fix” our health issues, and instead look within to adopt a lifestyle, as individuals and as a community, that supports health for ourselves and future generations, and does not wait until we get sick to take action. Today, I feel fortunate to practice in the interface of herbal medicine, trauma and grief work, regenerative farming, and activism.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
My own struggles have been so essential in informing me on how to help others, and how to serve the greater philosophy that we are our own medicine and our own healers. My struggles are what sparked my interest in plant medicine, nutrition, and holistic health, and they have been my greatest teachers. I hope to help others see that in themselves.

After years of searching for a cause behind many of my longtime symptoms, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2014. It was estimated that I had contracted it nearly twenty years before, during a trip to a cousin’s horse farm where I was bitten by several ticks. I still deal with Lyme symptoms and related issues today, but my approach towards these issues has evolved greatly over time. I have had amazing doctors and practitioners who have been there to support me on the journey, but they can never replace the healing power I have cultivated within myself or the power of the community I have built around me that works in close relationship with nature.

After years in therapy during my teens and 20s, and in constant connection with family and friends, I had begun to dismantle the victim mentality that was leaving me feeling powerless and depressed. A huge part of my work today is reiterating to others that no one can heal your body better than you.

Please tell us about Alpine Botanicals Artisan Apothecary.
I am a Community Herbalist, Biodynamic Herb Grower, Permaculture Design Educator, and total Gnome enthusiast. In 2018 I opened Alpine Botanicals Artisan Apothecary, a retail herb shop in Nederland offering bulk herbs, teas, spices, a house line of body care and other botanical products, as well as fair trade, organically crafted, locally, and ethically sourced brands from all over Colorado and beyond.

The idea for opening a retail shop with an attached greenhouse & plant shop, certified commercial kitchen, and community wellness clinic had been brewing for half a decade, and it has been an incredibly educational and wonderful journey. I knew from the get-go that we would not compromise on our values. We would have strict standards for what we bring into the shop, some almost annoyingly so! We work extremely hard at Alpine to only offer products of the highest integrity, crafted with love and a deep reverence for Nature. Many of the brands we carry are Women-Owned & Colorado-based herbal product brands.

The desire to showcase other small-batch local Colorado herbal products started in my second season of working numerous art festivals, craft shows, and farmers markets with the previous herbal product brand I was a partner in, called Dynamic Roots. I knew I wanted to make sure we had a spot on the shelves for other small Colorado herbal brands one day. More than three years before we even opened, I started to build the community of vendors whose products we feature at the shop today. I feel proud of the hub we have created in Nederland and the safe space that it provides for people to come for support on their healing journey and have a whole shop of products that they can truly trust and love. We are also okay with it if you come just to smell the star jasmine blooming in the greenhouse! We know that plants provide their own important kind of therapy that humans can’t rival.

My passion project the last couple of years as the store has continued to blossom has been the Alpine Botanicals house product line. It includes time tested formulas I’ve been making for nearly a decade, as well as newer formulas created to showcase some of the botanicals we are now growing or sourcing locally. Obviously, we love other products and other brands, so we are not trying to reinvent the wheel or have a product line that covers every single condition. What we are all about are nourishing and effective formulas that are multi-purpose and uncomplicated. The awesome vegan Holy Basil, Licorice root, and Rose petal infused face and body butter that serves as a rash cream or hair mask. The multi-use herbal tea formula that tastes delicious and features a not as well known herb: our beautiful Biodynamically-grown Angelica leaf. This is bioregional and community-supported herbal medicine in action, and the more we blossom as an herb growing community, the more amazing locally-inspired herbal formulas we are sure to see.

Even though I am in the retail side of herbal medicine, I’m most passionate about the regenerative side of the industry, specifically how we will continue offering quality and locally sourced medicines in uncertain times. Not only how we will grow these herbal medicines, but also how we can rehabilitate the soil, provide habitat, create community, teach others, and nourish our spirits. I have been growing herbs Biodynamically on a small plot in Boulder since 2015 and people have definitely come to seek us out for products featuring those botanicals and the formulas that we create. I had heard from people who knew me before I became an herbalist and a farmer that they can see how this work has changed me completely and helped me step into my life more fully.

I am absolutely honored to work with an incredible group of farmers, especially my farming and gardening partner Shelly Boucher of Sun Cat Gardening. I feel that through the creation of Alpine Botanicals, both the apothecary and the herb farm, we have been able to weave an ever-growing web of individuals working in Permaculture, regenerative agriculture, healing and herbal medicine, and eco-social activism. The store itself is only two years old and I feel really excited to see how things progress in the coming years. There are a lot of folks caring for this vision and I have endless gratitude for my staff, family, and community in Nederland, Boulder, and beyond.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I consider myself extremely lucky to come from a family that never questioned the path I have taken towards healing and my complete dive into the world of herbalism. When I was still getting ear infections at 14 years old, my dad and stepmom were my biggest cheerleaders when I was shoving olive oil-soaked garlic cloves in my ears and adopting a dairy-free and plant-based diet. Even when these choices made me somewhat of an outsider as a kid and especially as a teenager, I just knew in my heart that the path I was on was meaningful. If I hadn’t made those difficult changes at that young age, I would have been in terrible shape, and even more sick for it.

Of course, I could have considered it bad luck that I have dealt with health issues for most of my life, but I don’t see things that way anymore. Like so many people I’ve met who struggle with chronic illness or any other constant health challenge, I have come to acknowledge my health challenges as gifts and catalysts for change and growth in myself. That certainly doesn’t mean I succeed at being positive in every moment, and especially my husband and family know when I am feeling grumpy and might need extra rest, love, tea, or time by myself to recuperate. But I feel super grateful and dedicated to my path regardless of what comes up.

I saw a quote recently, “Magic isn’t a product, it’s a process,” and that really resonated with me. Do you know what’s a magical process? Making compost. Transformation is happening around us all the time, and it’s in that process of change and growth that we find the magic. It’s about having gratitude when things get hard, instead of dropping into a victim mentality. It’s about taking the scraps, the negativity, and the grief, and giving it back to the Earth to birth new life and new potential. I consider myself lucky to be able to participate in that process.

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Image Credit:
All photography by Jennifer Morgan

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