Fighting for Herbalism: Urban Moonshine, the FDA, and RAILYARD Apothecary

Last week, I shared some reflections from my time at the 2015 IHS, mostly around regulatory hurdles facing herbalists.  Speak of the devil:  This week, the local alternative paper Seven Days published a story on Urban Moonshine’s struggles with FDA regulations.  The piece details how:

[Urban Moonshine founder Jovial] King and her employees put in countless hours and spent tens of thousands of dollars to fix the issues. She hired lawyers and consultants to help her parse the legalese. Her herbs underwent a battery of chemical tests at professional labs. She signed a 10-year lease on a much larger, more suitable production space.

Yet, the latest inspection still failed to satisfy the FDA, and Jovial has made the difficult decision to outsource to a larger manufacturer.

I’ve been buying Urban Moonshine products for the last five years, and during that time I’ve gotten to know the company well, through picking up orders (in person, since they’re based about half an hour from my home) and through attending classes with Jovial and with Guido Masé, the company’s chief herbalist.  Through my herbal studies, I’ve also gotten to visit Zack Woods Herb Farm, where Urban Moonshine sources many of their ingredients.  It’s been such a joy to see this company grow so successfully while still staying local and constantly demonstrating their commitment to incredibly high quality products.  The company is staffed with smart, experienced, mindful and heartful herbalists, and I’ve always been completely confident of the quality of Urban Moonshine’s products.

Jovial and the other folks at the company have incredibly high standards, and I’m confident that Urban Moonshine will continue to put out products that meet those standards even as the actual manufacture is outsourced.  I’ll certainly continue keeping my shelves well-stocked.  But it’s also heartbreaking that the company has been forced into this situation:  Urban Moonshine was already making products of a superior quality, right here in Burlington, Vermont.  This is a company that was keeping it local, and it’s a crime that they’ve been forced to outsource because of arbitrary technicalities.

This outcome is also frightening because, as Jovial put it, Urban Moonshine is the “canary in the coal mine.”  There is no exemption from the FDA’s “Good Manufacturing Practices” for small herbal businesses, or even for micro-businesses.  While all the wonderful home-based herbal start-ups that can be found at farmer’s markets are less likely to be targeted by FDA inspections, they could be at any time.  If a company as well-run as Urban Moonshine can’t make it past the FDA regulations without outsourcing production, how can a one-person start-up have a hope of doing so?  There is a very real potential for the enforcement of these regulations to make it impossible to start an herbal business, unless you already have significant financial backing.  Herbal medicine is kitchen medicine, so this makes about as much sense as making it impossible to start a home bakery.  The way the FDA is enforcing GMPs is showing itself to be hostile to small and medium-sized businesses – and so also hostile to nurturing strong local economies.

What’s the good news?  The folks at Urban Moonshine are resilient and resourceful.  In the face of all of this, they’ve launched a new project, RAILYARD Apothecary – a crowd-funded project that will make herbal medicine more accessible to the local community and create a place for herbalists to organize on a national level.  Both of these are vitally important if we want to educate the community and the government about herbs and organize to keep the government from legislating herbal products in ways that favor mass-production and mediocrity.

I really, really want RAILYARD to happen.  I’ve already donated to the Kickstarter campaign, and I hope that – if you can, and you care about herbal medicine, education, health, and strong local economies – you will too.  Please watch the video below to learn more, and then click here to donate and to check out the brilliant rewards being offered to backers.