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Passion for clean products gets taken to the next level

I started picking products with care when I was pregnant. I researched everything: laundry detergent, shampoo, sunscreen, car seats and beyond for harmful chemical contents.

 I already knew first-hand how toxic many common chemicals were, and I wanted to avoid using products that could harm my child.

 This led me not only to read labels and check ingredients but to start making some products myself — some body care products for myself and my family.

 Motherhood took Katie Alvarez down a similar path. She told me, “when my children were young, I just became obsessed with making sure they had the best chance at a healthy start. So I really started to pay attention to what the ingredients were on the bottle, and looking at all of that, and becoming a more educated consumer.

 “The more I did that I realized there are a lot of ingredients that I cannot pronounce and I have no idea what they are, and I’m putting them on my children or myself.

 “The more I started paying attention to that the more I wanted to feel secure in what I was doing, to the point where I wanted to create my own because I then knew exactly what was in it.”

 This is where our stories diverge. Katie took her passion for natural products to the next level, and started a business — Appalachian Wax Works — that is healthy not only for her family but also for the world.

 Katie said she works in partnership with bees to make her wax- and honey-based products. “I make soap, I make lip balm, I make hand salve, I also make fire-starter, I make food wraps and candles,” Katie said, in addition to honey sticks, jars of honey and raw wax for those interested in making their own products.

 She has her own apiary of about 20 hives in western Maryland. She became interested in bees when helping her beekeeping aunt tend hives.

 In addition to helping her make healthy products and help the environment by giving bees a helping hand, the practical activity of beekeeping keeps Katie feeling healthier.

 “I firmly believe that the closer we are to nature, the healthier we will be. The bees are a consistent reminder of this for me. I’ve never paid closer attention to what is blooming around me than when I became a beekeeper,” she wrote to me in an email.

 Out of this comes beautiful products. I was drawn to her booth at a Morgantown Arts Walks, which was full of aesthetically pleasing products. I wanted to know how she colors the wax into lovely earthy but lively tones. She said she uses eco-friendly dyes or colorants as simple as paprika or mica. Katie also said each batch of wax varies due to variation in pollen and floral sources.

 She said  she uses wax from different parts of the hive for different products. Wax from areas that aren’t as clean go into candles, while the cleanest wax goes into body products.

 To clean the wax, Katie first lets the bees clean it, then she melts it and pours in through a cheese cloth several times to remove debris. She said working with wax is meditative for her, and teaches her patience as it cannot be rushed.

 Katie is mindful in every step — being a good steward of the bees, while taking time and care making the products and sourcing eco-friendly packaging.

 “All my products are infused with the energy of the hive,” Katie said.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, exploring possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County.