When her first child, Lilyanna, was born in 2009, Leslie Workman went through what a lot of new moms go through. "I went onto this all-natural kick," she said, and soon was looking for healthier food choices, household cleaners and skin care products.
Contrary to today's society of convenience -- fast food, pre-packaged everything and buying what you need instead of making what you need -- going all natural and homemade is definitely against the grain, although that sentiment is slowly changing. When Lily came along, Leslie jumped ahead of the pack, for years cooking and baking from scratch and hunting wild game to fill her freezer with meat every fall. "There is a lot more work involved with an all-natural lifestyle, but it's so worth it," she said. "There is a sense of pride in knowing that I can do this for my kids. I know exactly what they're eating and consuming." Healthy food choices were just one step though, and she wanted to go a step further.
One day while visiting her mom, Jamie Bennett, Leslie spotted a well-worn copy of the book, "Back to Basics," which, Leslie said, details everything you want to know about homesteading complete with gorgeous hand-drawn illustrations. Her parents used the book when she and her brothers were kids to learn more about canning and gardening. Leslie knew the book had the info she wanted for her new family. "I sat down and read it over and over and over again," she said. After weeks of reading and researching, she finally decided to put the book down. "I'm one of those people who looks at something and wants to do it for myself," she said.
She began the art of kitchen dabbling, starting with practical stuff: laundry soap and other cleaning supplies. She soon turned to crafting a line of bath and beauty products, including candles, soaps and lotions. Her first creations, while fun, weren't quite up to the standard she wanted for herself and her family. "Eventually," she explained, "you have to throw out the book and just do it your own way." She started tweaking her recipes, substituting ingredients, and perfecting her creations.
The first time she made a batch of soap, she was terrified she said. "Lye is scary. And it burns," she said. But her peppermint and tea tree oil goat's milk soap was lovely in its simplicity. "It was beautiful," she said proudly. And with that one batch, she was hooked. "I'm so in love with it," she said. More than that, crafting her own products is something that comes naturally to her.
She now makes soaps, liquid lotion and solid lotion bars, sea salt scrubs, bath bombs and bath tea bags -- everything a girl needs to feel pampered. She's switched from a goat's milk base to olive and coconut oil bases, making her products luxuriously silky and hydrating. When you look at the ingredient list in bar of commercial soap you can pick up at any big box store, the first ingredients listed are water and then lye followed by a bunch of chemicals and synthetic scents; Leslie's ingredient list is olive oil, water, coconut oil, lye and a scent, and that's it. Her scents come from things like orange peel, dried flowers, strawberry seeds or essential oils. One of the major national brands boasts that their product is 25 percent moisturizers -- Leslie's bars are 75 percent moisturizers. "My soaps are just better for you, and I feel good about what my kids are using. I don't have to worry about what chemicals are on their skin," she said.
She started out on the venture just wanting to provide a better lifestyle for her family. "If I can do anything to keep one less toxin out of my body or my kids' bodies, then I'm going to do it," she said. "I think this is the way we're supposed to live, instead of the way we've been conditioned to live." And while her intentions were just her immediate family, soon friends and family were clamoring for more and more of her product. It wasn't until she had the art of soap-making down, and after more and more people began requesting her product, that she thought she might have a nice little side business. She began hitting the craft fair circuit and set up an Esty shop, and now all of a sudden, this all-natural mama has an adoring fan base to make product for on a regular basis.
Over the years and through trial and errors, she's focused on creating all her products in a select line of fragrances: pomegranate, lavender, tangerine, sweet grass (a crisp, clean, refreshing scent) and unscented, for those with sensitivities. She's happy to make almost any custom scent when requested, too, but does like to keep her products as close to the "all natural" label as possible, which means you won't find any sugary, bakery-inspired synthetic scents amongst her products.
About three years ago, realizing that boys like to smell good too, she began creating a men's line, including a lotion bar, shampoo and body wash, and body spray. Now, two stores in Delta County have begun carrying her products, and a friend who owns a massage studio in Delta uses Leslie's salt scrubs in her massages.
She uses the name "Back Home '83" for her product line, an homage to her hometown of Delta. She started her product line when she lived in Elizabeth, but all her best memories were tied to home, and she always knew one day she'd get back here. About two years ago, she was able to move home to take a job here, and now works at Delta County Memorial Hospital as the purchasing manager. At the end of her workday, when she gets home and kicks off her shoes, she ties on her apron and starts crafting a batch of soap or lotion, peace settles in. "For me, it's not work. This is my relaxation, my Zen."
For now, she's happy on her little farm in Pea Green, making products for family, friends and a growing base of fans who snap up her products as quickly as she can make them. But in the back of her mind lingers a dream, one she's had ever since she made her first Christmas wreath when she was 19 -- and that is a quaint, cute specialty gift shop on Delta's Main Street filled with gifts made by local crafters, including her own line, of course. But that's still a dream, and, as she said, "I'm pretty happy with how things are going.
"This whole experience has been amazing. It's been a lot of trial and error, a lot of failures, but when I finally nail something, I run with it, and the result has been great."
She'll be one of the vendors at the Delta Women in Business event on Nov. 2; otherwise, you can check out her full product line at Etsy by searching for "Back Home '83."