Carrie Langevin sought inspiration from her grandmother in the creation of Mother Earth Essentials
The owner of Mother Earth Essentials talks entrepreneurship and her work with the Métis Women’s Council on Economic Security
by Michael Ganley
Photograph Ryan Girard
Alberta Venture: Your business, Mother Earth Essentials, is influenced by your grandmother and great grandmother, who was a medicine woman in the Lac Ste. Anne area. How did that happen?
– Carrie Langevin, Mother Earth Essentials
Carrie Langevin: My grandmother, who was Cree, really knew the plants. She grew up traditionally. She had 12 children, and she lost some of her children to residential schools. Mom was one of them. Growing up with my grandma in Hinton, there was a lot of fear of the residential schools because my mom and her sisters were not treated well. We did not talk about that part of our family.
But when my grandma got out in nature – and we went camping and picking berries a lot – you saw this whole different side to her. She would be smiling and happy. She would show me these plants and talk about them. It was beautiful.
Then, when I graduated high school in 1982, I loved the plants, but had no idea what to do with that. We were living in small-town Alberta. So I went to cosmetology school and worked over the years in all aspects of the cosmetic industry, from sales to merchandising and everything in between. I worked in merchandising for Procter & Gamble and in salon supply sales. I tried all of that but it wasn’t feeding my spirit.
So I went back to school and got an education degree from the University of Alberta in health and human ecology. I got my first teaching job at amiskwaciy Academy, the Edmonton Public indigenous high school. It was there that things really came together. They had beautiful gardens in the back and were growing some of the traditional plants. I taught career and life management, food, health and cosmetology, so I could incorporate some of those plants into my teaching and into some hands-on activities with the kids. I saw such a beautiful connection between these urban aboriginal kids and the plants. They would remind them of when they were young and using these plants as medicines at home. I found that inspirational and started creating products with them. We would make teas, we would make things in food and health classes.
Then, 10 years ago, I decided I had to pursue this business. I think I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I left teaching and it’s been an absolute blessing and stressful and fun and all those things.
AV: So how did you get going?
CL: I started making products at home. We picked most of the plants ourselves out at Lac Ste. Anne. We use a lot of wild rose, berry seeds – which are rich in antioxidants. We use willow bark because of its anti-inflammatory properties and salicylic acid is an amazing natural aspirin. We use a lot of sweetgrass, sage and cedar.
The way I see it, our products became little teaching tools to teach people about the beauty of the culture and the contributions of aboriginal people. I grew up with so much shame around the culture, and saw so much racism. I thought, “Why isn’t this plant knowledge being appreciated and respected and acknowledged?” I wanted to be a part of making that better. Now, we sell to about 100 health stores and gift stores across the country and our products are in hotels – Sawridge, Great Eagle, Chateau Lacombe.
We sell from our website and have a storefront [in Edmonton]. My sister and I run things. Most days we’re rolling up our sleeves, packing boxes, preparing product and taking phone calls. We’re not out there with a sales and marketing team yet. I’m a teacher and I love the plants. Learning business has been an interesting challenge.
AV: You were on Dragons’ Den about five years ago. Did that experience help?
CL: It gave us some credibility. If the Dragons like you, you must be OK. They offered us a loan but I never ended up taking it because the fine print was just ridiculous. But it increased our sales to the eastern parts of Canada.
AV: Now you’ve taken a role with the Métis Women’s Council on Economic Security. What are you hoping to achieve there?
CL: The mandate for the council is to provide advice to the government on strategies that will help improve the lives of Métis women. Economic security is more than creating employment. We focus on access to resources and supports that contribute to our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. When those needs are met, then we’re in a good place to access opportunities to better provide for our families and communities.
A previous council provided two reports to the government. I’m still fairly new to the council, but some of the things government has done in response to these reports is they’ve created an indigenous services web portal to improve access to government services; they provided funding support for leadership for young indigenous women; they facilitated opportunities for indigenous women to sell their art in the Legislature’s visitor’s centre; and there was funding for an anti-violence campaign for men and boys called the Moose Hide campaign.
I’ll be looking at the role of entrepreneurship. I’d love to see young women having the confidence to start a business. It took me a long time and a lot of steps to become an entrepreneur. At 18, I knew I wanted to have my own business, but I didn’t have the knowledge or support or confidence or pride of culture, so I didn’t realize I could do it. So if I can help inspire an 18-year-old to say, “Hey, I have this idea,” to go for it, that’s the goal.