Amanda Nolan lives in a yurt. It’s a round, cozy, surprisingly spacious building which she built for $14,000 two years ago on a plot of land in the Lincoln County town of Alna. She lives there, off the grid except for the Internet, with her boyfriend and business partner, Joe, her two daughters, a pair of tawny-colored cats named Nori and Chester and an enormous, jet-black Newfoundland named Finn. Outside, a small herd of goats bleats as visitors arrive, slowly making their way down the long driveway that leads to her homestead.
“I own my home outright at 29. I don’t have a mortgage,” she said. “I don’t think many other people can say that. It’s pretty cool being debt-free.”
Inside, everything smells good, between the wood smoke, hot mugs of tea and the shelves upon shelves of soaps, body creams, lip balms and perfume oils, which she makes daily on an old-fashioned stove. Her body products, sold under the name Long Winter Farm, are sweet treats for your skin, made from all-natural ingredients in a seemingly never-ending array of scents, from violet and peony to peppermint hot cocoa and campfire.
Nolan, 29, is a New York native who came to Maine 11 years ago to attend the University of Maine. After hiking the Appalachian Trail and having her kids, Zoe, now 5, and Lucy, now 3, she settled into life in rural Maine, trying to decide what career path to go down. Her decision came shortly after Lucy was born, and initially, it was out of necessity.
“My second daughter is a redhead, and she has extremely sensitive skin. She was born with neonatal acne and terrible eczema,” said Nolan. “She got contact dermatitis from everything. It was awful. And all the products we could buy that did help were just so, so expensive.”
Nolan decided to try to make her own body care products that wouldn’t further irritate her baby’s skin. Over the winter of 2006 into 2007, she got the ingredients to make her first batch of cold-process soap — basically, lye and oils, mixed with water and either shea butter or goat’s milk, and poured into molds until the mixture saponifies, or becomes soap. She’d never done it before, and wasn’t sure if she’d succeed. Fortunately, it worked, and she quickly added beeswax-based lip balms and body cream made with aloe and glycerin to her repertoire.
By March 2007, she had enough soap made to try selling it online. She set up a shop on Etsy.com and began featuring her wares at craft fairs and festivals around the state. Slowly but surely, Long Winter Farm began to pick up customers.
What drew them in? Well, aside from the appeal of a Maine made, chemical-free body care product, the big reason is the way all the Long Winter Farm products smell. Nolan obtains fragrance oils, both all-natural and synthetic, from a supplier in Massachusetts. The synthetic oils are some of the only non-natural products she uses.
“Many essential oils, contrary to popular belief, can be very irritating to the skin. Some can even aggravate lots of serious medical conditions,” said Nolan. “On top of it all, the harvest of many essential oils is having a devastating ecological effect, and I really want no part of killing off the last of the sandalwood trees in the name of smelling pretty. I’d much rather get my stink from a clean, conscious, animal-free lab.”
For those with a sweet tooth, there are almond biscotti, pumpkin cheesecake, apple pie and marzipan scents. For the flower-loving gal, there are lavender lemongrass, sweet pea, linden blossom and the exotic-sounding cloudberry and willow. Men will like the sweetly smoky campfire scent, the woodsy-smelling pointed firs or the “hiker” scent, which smells like earth, trees and fresh mountain air. Kids can try the Harry Potter-inspired butterbeer or even grass stain, one of Long Winter’s most popular varieties, which really does smell like cut grass.
And that only scratches the surface; Nolan has made more than 100 varieties over the past four years. Her products are visually appealing, as well. Her soaps have a creamy density and are packaged in recycled paper and muslin bags. Soaps with honey in them have a honeycomb pattern, made by using bubble wrap, while others have colorful swirls reflecting their scents. In use, they produce a healthy lather that moisturizes as it cleans. Her lip balms are as good as any mass-produced brand, and her body cream is thick but not greasy.
“We keep experimenting,” said Nolan. “The possibilities seem kind of endless.”
In January 2010, Nolan was a featured seller on Etsy. During the four days Long Winter Farm was on the main page of the site, she filled more than 1,200 orders. She has a global following, with customers from as far away as Singapore, who request such interesting scents as “old books” or “skating rink.” Nolan is now able to focus on her products fulltime, something she had no idea was even an option when she started way back in 2006.
“It’s a full-time job, and we’ve been pretty steady all this year,” she said. “I don’t know what else I’d do, anyway. If you can’t find a job, you can always just make one yourself. I don’t really want to work in a restaurant. I’d much rather be home with my kids, making things that smell amazing.”