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From ground to shelf, the making of a farm-to-face product

Mary Ahern, interview with formulator for Bottega Organica

Bottega Organica has got this whole green beauty thing down. From start to finish their products ooze greenness from their pores. Between the molecular geneticist founder, research supported products, organic farm grown ingredients, and glass packaging it’s no wonder us clean beauties have taken such a liking to them.

All of Bottega's products are farm-to-face, meaning they plant the seeds, pick the botanicals, formulate the products, and hand pour each and every one of their artisanal showstoppers. What does this really looks like though? When writing my two (here and here) recent reviews on some of their products I became fascinated with how production worked. A farm-to-face product is so unique, even in the clean beauty realm, and I couldn’t resist knowing more. 

Interview with Mary Ahern of Bottega Organica

So…I sat down with, Mary Ahern, the head of product formulation in New York to discover exactly how a farm-to-face product is born. Mary, began formulating about 17 years ago while developing products for postpartum care. She was working with midwives who used plants to assist in healing. This practice eventually developed into a broader product use that she was able to bring to a newly created Bottega Organica, almost two years ago.

Here’s what Mary has to say....

Let’s start at the beginning, how long does the process from ground to bottle for the average product take?

In general, the process takes about one year. It begins with planting, growing, and harvesting. The plants we grow are in the ground late spring and harvested late summer through fall. Then, drying takes a few weeks. Infusions take about a month. 

An Infusion? What’s that?

What is a solar infusion

A Solar infusion is a botanical extraction process which takes a few weeks. Dried plant material is weighed and measured with our olive oil into canning jars and placed on shelves built into the south facing windows of the apothecary.

At this stage the heat seals the jars (similar to canning principles). Proper drying of the plants and the air-tight seal eliminates the risk of water activity so no spoilage. We have determined a time period that allows the plant to be infused without damaging the oil. 

Mary Ahern harvesting plants

Very cool, so back to the beginning, after planting and tending to the botanicals as they grow the next step is harvesting right? Can you explain a bit more about how harvesting works.

With harvesting, each plant is different. They all have a different window for picking. You keep an eye on them everyday. Certain plants get harvested right away, some have a longer growing period. Flowers are collected at their height before they decline. Roots and seeds in the fall. Whole plants are harvested at the end of the season. 

Wow, so the entire plant eventually gets used?!

Yes

That’s great, I love that there’s minimal waste going on…very green. Regarding Bottega’s star ingredient Prawn Sage, is it difficult to grow? Do you also use the whole plant, too?

prawn sage at the new york farm

In New York, we grow it as an annual as it is very difficult to grow year-round in our climate. We plant after last frost and harvest in the fall. In Italy the sage grows very well as a perennial. We have more than 400 plants growing at our farm in Liguria. There and in New York the plant flowers twice for harvesting. We use every part of the plant.

Ok, so after harvesting what is the next step? 

Drying. We shade dry with cross ventilation. This is such an important process and we are careful to do it properly so that all the moisture is drawn out while keeping the integrity of plant material in tact. 

So then you have all these botanicals ready to use. How do you decide what to use where?

Formulating is a long period of development. By the time a new formula comes to production, it has evolved through all the adjustments and questions along the way. It is an approach that is slow and deliberate. 

Bottega Organica's Apothecary

Is it just you or a team that comes up with the formulas?

I develop the formulas with our scientific board and our founder, molecular geneticist Andrea Alimonti. It’s a collaboration where I create the recipes and determine the vehicles for the plant materials based on their research.  

So, once the final formula is decided are the rest of the products made by hand or machine?

Made by hand in small batches. 

That’s what I thought, and am so happy to hear! You definitely have your work cut out for you then. NY is pretty snowy in the winter, what goes on in the winter time at Bottega?

The growing season is really busy with farming so I take a lot of notes over the summer and then take the winter to review ideas for future formulations. It’s also a good time to take inventory of plant material which helps planning for the next growing season.

Wow, that is a very intriguing process. Farm-to-face skincare certainly sounds like a laboursome but rewarding job. Are there any new products in the works for Bottega that you can share?

Bottega Organica Rejuvinating Face Scrub

We just launched the Rejuvenating Face Scrub {here’s my review} and reformulated the Body Scrub which is also in a larger size now. The sea salt gently exfoliates while the shea butter and beeswax help remove dead skin cells and pollutants. It’s not stripping or abrasive the way most scrubs are and leaves your skin soft and glowing.

Oh, those sound lovely! Can you share any tips and tricks to make the most of the Bottega line?

Use the Ultra-Concentrated Face Serum to boost any product. Remember to use a mist before applying oils for optimal skin absorption. The Ageless Mist is great for face and body.

I love both of those products (here’s my review of them), great tips. Lastly, what’s your personal "stuck on an island with nothing else" Bottega product?

Extra Nourishing Face Formula. It’s a small bottle packed with antioxidants from vanilla, prawn sage, apricot and wild carrot. It’s so reparative and protective. 

I think I would have to agree with you, the Face Formula is a close tie with the Face Scrub for my favorites. It's just such a unique product it's hard not to love. Thank you so much for helping us learn the process of a farm-to-face product, Mary. It was very informative!

You can find Mary on Instagram @bottegaorganicafarm

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