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Dinwiddie farming couple adds vaping to their diversified business - Progress Index

Discussion in 'What's in the Vape News?' started by news, Jul 26, 2016.

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    news Active Member

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    DINWIDDIE — Amid the fields where King Tobacco has long reigned in Dinwiddie County, an alternative enterprise has quietly taken root.

    At Willows Bend Farm off Carson Road, just a half mile away from the trucks barreling south on Interstate 85, Sanford and Alisa Strunk have built a haven for unconventional agriculture and, in their own unique way, jumped into the growing vaping market that seems set to transform the long-rooted tobacco industry.

    “We thought, Why can’t we do this?” said Alisa Strunk. “We can make something more natural.”

    And, her husband added, “it turns out it was really a natural outgrowth of what we were doing.”

    The Strunks have been at Willows Bend since 2008, when they moved to Dinwiddie, Alisa from Spotsylvania County and Sandy from Kansas. Since then, they have built a diversified business that includes heirloom fruits and vegetables, flowers, medicinal herbs and essential oils. In the community, their faces have become a familiar sight at farmers’ markets, and Alisa serves on Dinwiddie’s Agritourism and Buy Fresh Buy Local committees.

    On a stormy afternoon in their 1911 Sears farmhouse, surrounded by a small pack of dogs, they cite the numerous health benefits they have experienced and witnessed others experience as a result of using Alisa’s essential oil blends. (Their joint relief blend, both note, is a particular star in their lineup of products, garnering eager testimonials and an unusually loyal following.) Their sales manager, Keith Norris, a New York transplant who started out as a customer and then became so enthusiastic he joined the enterprise, added his voice to the chorus.

    “Until you get accustomed to what the oils do, it appears to be miraculous,” he said.

    Alisa and Sanford Strunk are, at first glance, an unlikely couple, describing themselves as Mulder and Scully, the famously opposite pair from “The X-Files.”

    In their case, the genders are reversed: Alisa is Mulder, the believer. The sole proprietor of the Willows Bend business, she is passionate about natural treatments and the therapeutic alternatives they offer to conventional pharmaceutical medicine.

    Her counterpart is Sanford: Scully, the skeptic. A trained chemist who, until last February, worked in the pharmaceutical industry, most recently at Evonik’s Hopewell plant, Sanford Strunk brought a scientific eye to his wife’s enterprise and a heavier focus on clinical trials and the science behind the anecdotal experiences.

    Still, even that formulation is a little too pat: asked if he is still a skeptic, Sanford hesitated before replying, “Let’s just say that I lost my job in industry last February and now I’m all in.” And Alisa is adamant and educated about both the research that has been done on natural treatments — much of it outside the United States — and the limits of the work that she does.

    “I am not a doctor,” she said firmly. “It’s really important to make that distinction that I’m not curing anything.”

    Still, she noted, “That being said, I research, and I can recommend these treatments to clients.”

    Given Willows Bend’s focus on health, vaping at first seemed “incompatible” with the Strunks’ mission, Alisa recalled. But after her daughter showed up at the house one day vaping a liquid that smelled of banana bread, she started to consider the possibilities.

    Essential oils, she pointed out, are actually best applied topically or through inhalation. And many of the people who take up vaping are either looking to ease off cigarettes in their journey toward quitting or to find a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco products.

    Soon the pair had put their heads together and combined their bodies of knowledge to produce a set of vaping juices that use vegetable glycerin joined with tiny amounts of propylene glycol as a carrier for the oils. Their research extended also to the proper way to package their products to ensure that the oils would not degrade and how to add varying amounts of nicotine to the mixtures to suit individual customers.

    Ultimately, they produced a product that they said they believe is a healthier alternative to not only cigarettes but also the vapes produced by large tobacco corporations that derive their taste from food-grade additives.

    Still, Sanford Strunk cautioned, “We really can’t make any health claims on our own.”

    In a way, they aren’t alone: vaping is so new that research on its health effects remains limited, although new regulations issued by the federal Food and Drug Administration this past May will likely alter that situation. Those rules, which brought e-cigarettes under the FDA’s aegis, will undoubtedly spur more focused research on the issue.

    At the end of the day, while the pair is continuing to explore their vaping business, “it’s not something that we’re really going to aggressively market,” said Alisa.

    With plans aplenty between them — besides the range of products they grow and make, they are also closely involved in educational enterprises and hope to add a commercial kitchen for small producers to their property down the road —vaping will likely remain one sliver of their diversified enterprise.

    “One thing we’ve learned is we can’t do everything well,” said Sanford. “We can only do a few things well.”

    • Sarah Vogelsong can be reached at [email protected] or 804-722-5154.

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