Timing is everything, it's been said — and if there was ever a time to supercharge your immune system, now is it. Carissa Wills-DeMello, co-founder and CEO of Town Farm Tonics, along with her …
Timing is everything, it's been said — and if there was ever a time to supercharge your immune system, now is it. Carissa Wills-DeMello, co-founder and CEO of Town Farm Tonics, along with her partner and fiancé Adam Davenport, started this journey years before Covid was a household word. “We started this business because we believe in the potential that home herbalism has to empower people,” she said.
"I started my journey in herbalism in the Peace Corps, in Fiji in 2014," said the Dartmouth High School and Brown University graduate. "I was in a small town called Koro, working as a Community Health Empowerment Facilitator. "The people there are so connected to the landscape, and food as medicine," she said. "It ignited my interest in healing and herbalism."
Returning from Fiji, Carissa began working for a non-profit, while at the same time beginning studies at Farmacy Herbs in Providence, an herbal farm, apothecary, and education center. She took classes, worked on the farm and in the shop, and eventually had a clinical rotation at the Sage Healing Collaborative in East Providence.
During her herbal education and residency she started a tea business as a side project. "I love teas," she said. "They are simple, tasty, easy, and relevant to everyday wellness issues like sleep and digestion." She called her company Bilo Herbs, a name taken from a favorite Fijian expression: Mai dua na bilo, which translates to "Come have a cup of tea."
"The name was a homage to that experience in Fiji, that way of life that has resonated with me and driven me," Carissa said. "I love the idea that a cup of tea can be a moment for self care; it's transformative and beautiful."
She ran Bilo herbs for a couple of years before coming to the conclusion that she wanted her company name to reflect where she actually lived, and not a foreign word, At the same time, her business was evolving and she was looking for ways to expand to tonics.
She settled on Town Farm Tonics, after the Westport property, about a mile from where she and Adam live on the Westport River. "Its a special place, where a lot of the same variety of plants used in herbal medicines grow wild," she said. Plants like elderberry, rose hips, nettles, garlic and onion.
Currently, Carissa and Adam source from herbal purveyors that source from growers. "Theres not a big local medicinal herb market here right now," she said. "We hope the business will be successful enough that we can be an engine to support local farmers and herbal purveyors one day."
Adam, who Carissa credits as "the gears in the machine" and "the numbers guy" is a Program Manager for the Marion Institute's grow education program. "He visited me in Fiji for 6 weeks and got a taste of that lifestyle," she said. Several years later they were riding down the East Bay Bike Path and noticed the activity at Hope & Main, which was coincidentally holding a "Meet Your Maker" event that day.
"It was fortuitous," Carissa said. "Waterman (Brown, of Hope & Main) offered us a french fry, and then we met Lisa (Raiola, founder). We were smitten with the idea of a local food incubator."
A couple of years later, when Carissa and Adam were ready to make that leap into bottled products (which require commercial kitchen and significant infrastructure) they remembered Hope & Main. That was a year ago.
Their two key product lines right now are Elderberry Syrup and Fire Cider, which they make in 15 and 40 gallon batches, respectively. "We've scaled up, but they are still produced slowly and traditionally, with small batch attention and care," Carissa said. The only scaling-up problem Carissa reports was the the amount of time it took to hand peel and chop 10 pounds of garlic.
"I think of elderberry syrup as a bridge into herbalism. It's designed to support your immune system, and there's recent scientific data backing it up; it contains compounds that prevent viruses from entering your body and replicating."
Fire cider, made with apple cider vinegar, honey, and herbs, is said to support digestion and clear congestion, and is packed with herbs known to support wellness such as garlic, ginger, and thyme; it’s delicious and potent. Together, Elderberry Syrup and Fire Cider are considered the “salt and pepper” of the herbal world.
"I'm still doing the teas," Carissa said. "My heart is in the teas," which are mostly sold direct through the website and at farmers markets, including the Tiverton pop-up Valentines market which will be held on Feb. 13 at Sandywoods from noon to 4 p.m.
“Cultivating health and resilience should be easy, enjoyable, and accessible for the average person,” said Carissa. “That’s what brought me to herbalism in the first place: the ability to care for yourself and others is an act of empowerment.”
To learn more about Town Farm Tonics, which are available at local retailers including Lee’s Market (Westport), Down to Earth (New Bedford), Farm & Coast Market (Dartmouth), Urban Greens (Providence), visit TownFarmTonics.com.