Photography courtesy of Mira's Naturals
Have you ever looked at the back of your face wash or deodorant to see what it comprises? It can make for scary reading. Most deodorants, scrubs, and soaps have an array of toxic ingredients like aluminum chlorohydrate, phthalates, parabens, and triclosan, which have been linked to health problems from endocrine disruption to breast cancer.
Many of us want more natural, organic products to put on our bodies, full stop. But the founders of Mira’s Naturals felt compelled to create them, after their daughter was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and they felt that avoiding all forms of chemicals and additives was a good idea for all of them, especially since some studies appear to link chemicals and pesticides to an increased risk of autism. They also knew many other families felt the same way.
We sat down with founders Meghann and Mike Reimondo to discuss their journey, from launching Mira’s Naturals using ingredients from their New York farm to their constant source of inspiration from the world around them, the buzzing bees and their children, Mira and Max. Please read on for more insight.
The Reimondo Family
NEW YORK MAKERS: Founding a line of skincare and household products is quite a lift. What did you do before this and how did it prepare you?
MEGHANN REIMONDO: We still wear a few hats. Mike is an active lineman at Central Hudson Gas & Electric, while I am a bookkeeper, HACCP Coordinator, and administrative assistant to multiple companies. My jobs, as well as Mira's Naturals, which never feels like work, allow me to be present for my children especially during COVID and the rigors of their virtual school learning. My current work has helped me navigate the management of a small business and find a creative outlet producing products that serve a purpose. That has always been a goal of both mine and Mike's. Also, Mike and I met 20 years ago in a fast-paced restaurant environment, where providing great customer service was crucial to success!
NYM: I’d love to hear more about your farm in Woodstock.
MEGHANN: The Longyear family has owned and operated the farm for three generations. It is one of the last remaining farms in Woodstock. Prior to our permanent move to the farm, we would help out whenever needed but especially during hay season. We help maintain and grow the potential the farm has to offer for generations to come. We produce and sell beef, pork, turkey, eggs, maple syrup, and honey with hopes of adding garlic as well. Additionally, we have a greenhouse and garden for our own consumption.
NYM: When did you move there?
MIKE REIMONDO: In 2016, we were offered the amazing opportunity to live and work at the farm alongside our dear friends, Matt and Heather Longyear and the farm matriarch, Kathy Longyear. In July of 2017, we completed building our home and moved in. Living on the farm gives us a greater sense of ownership in the success of the farm. Our motto is “teamwork makes the dream work!” We have been residents of Woodstock for 14 years.
NYM: How did you initially develop the land?
MEGHANN: A lot of the clearing and development had been done by previous generations. A lot of what we do now is maintaining and upgrading within the framework that has been established. The upgrades can vary from something as simple as adding a small silo, so that we can more efficiently purchase feed in bulk, to more technological additions, like adding wireless lights and cameras to the chicken coop.
NYM: Mike heads up the beekeeping. When did Mike get interested in beekeeping and how steep was the learning curve?
MIKE: I believe I first became interested in beekeeping around 2011. I was looking into ways to increase my self-reliance and produce things for myself and my family rather than solely being a consumer. Honeybees seemed so versatile with multiple uses for their honey, beeswax, and propolis. It was actually when I was on a field trip with the kids to an orchard and got to help catch a swarm when I decided that I was officially going to become a beekeeper. There is a lot to learn about bees but one good class could set you up well enough to have your own hive.
NYM: How many bees do you have now?
MIKE: Currently, we have 11 hives and each hive will have approximately 40,000 honey bees during the summer. We peaked at a little over 20 hives but it became a lot with full-time work and additional projects at the farm. In addition to our production hives, we also maintain two observation hives, including one at Kelder's Farm and one for Little School on the Farm which is a preschool that Heather Longyear runs.
NYM: Are you concerned about them leaving your property and foraging in areas with chemical/pesticide sprays?
MIKE: It is a mild concern, about what the bees may come into contact with. We feel lucky to be Woodstock. There are no big agricultural operations within the bees forage area and it feels like the people of Woodstock generally take great care in what they plant and spray on their property.
NYM: How much honey do they produce on average?
MIKE: Our hope is that each hive would produce about 50 pounds of surplus honey. This would be in excess of the 80-100 pounds that the bees will need to survive the winter. In great years we have had a hive produce over 100 pounds of excess honey but in bad years there has been almost nothing.
NYM: What do they do in the winter during their own version of hibernation?
MIKE: Shiver basically. They cluster together as close as they can within the hive even going headfirst into empty cells. They shiver to stay warm and eat from their honey storage.
NYM: How old is Mira and when was she diagnosed on the spectrum?
MEGHANN: Mira is currently 17 years old and she was diagnosed at 32 months of age. We knew early on in her life that we wanted to create a business that could support her in the future and, once beekeeping came into our lives, the trajectory was set to grow Mira's Naturals on her behalf. She also has an amazing brother who is 13 and his name is Max.
NYM: Does Mira participate in the business?
MEGHANN: Mira enjoys writing thank you notes to our customers, she fills lip balms, and she helps pack orders!
NYM: Can you walk me through a few products -- what's in them and how they're made?
MEGHANN: Lip Balms were the first creation which we initially made for family Christmas gifts with leftover cappings wax from our honey harvest. They were a hit! We simply melt beeswax, sweet almond oil, and a dash of honey to create our Original Raw Honey Lip Balm. We added multiple varieties along the way by incorporating essential oils.
Our Raw Honey & Beeswax soap is one of the more involved products we make. The base is a blend of coconut oil, olive oil, tallow, shea butter, castor oil, and beeswax. These ingredients are heated to 140 degrees in order to make the mix a liquid. Lye is then added to saponify the blend into soap. Once saponified, we swirl in our raw honey and jojoba oil. The final blend is poured into molds and cooled slowly so as to not turn the surface ashy.
NYM: Have you noticed a difference in your family’s health after pivoting to natural/sustainable ingredients?
MEGHANN: Mira has been a catalyst in our family to find healthier avenues for our personal care and being aware of what is inside the things around us. It was noticeable at first, but we have been doing it so long that I think the improvements have been incremental over the years. Once you start down the rabbit hole of reading and investigating labels it is hard to stop. It was amazing to find out the amount of lead that was in common children toys.
NYM: Has the pandemic changed your outlook on or approach to the business?
MEGHANN: We were fortunate during the pandemic that one of our products happens to be a natural hand sanitizer. The demand allowed us to fill a public need, which allowed us to feel helpful rather than feeling helpless during the pandemic. Our biggest hurdles were breaks in the supply chain. For a brief time, it was difficult to secure supplies to produce products and also still keep our price points the same. We felt that it was critical to keep costs consistent for our customers no matter what. We are so very grateful for the support of our customers during the past year!
NYM: We could use some winter farm inspo. What's your favorite thing about winter in New York?
MEGHANN: We love the look of snow on trees and the Catskill Mountains and the coziness of being curled up by the fire. Living and thriving in Woodstock is a little slice of heaven any time of year.
Bee Fun Facts, an extra dose of sweetness from Mira’s Naturals:
A hive would have to visit 2,000,000 flowers in order to make 1 pound of honey. An individual bee only makes about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
Bees make their honeycomb home. It is built out of beeswax produced from glands on the bee’s abdomen. They use this to make new bees, store pollen and honey, and to cluster together for warmth in the winter.
The girls kick the boys out of the hive before winter. A hive of bees is 99% female normally but 100% female in the winter.
If you live within 2 miles of a hive those bees probably visit your flowers. Most bee foraging occurs within ½ mile of the hive, but they will travel up to 2 miles away.
Bees use the pollen baskets on their legs to collect pollen pellets from each plant they visit to transport it back to the hive. A single bee can carry a pollen load that weighs 35% of its own body weight.
Bees dance to communicate. Bees will do a waggle dance to tell others where to go. Their navigation is also based on the sun.
When bees swarm it looks like a tornado. When the bees start to swarm from the hive they come out in a swirl and cover the sky before clustering up and deciding where to go.
Local honey can help with allergies when consumed because it contains traces of pollen from area flowers, trees, and bushes that can help build tolerance and reduce the risk or severity of a reaction.