Kitchen Table Front in War on Ticks
Two large measuring cups of coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax bubbled in a water bath on the kitchen stove on Friday, as Jennifer Decker and Lisa-Jae Eggert of 3 Moms Organics sat at a dining table filling four-ounce plastic bottles with a concoction of witch hazel, distilled water, vinegar, and essential oils aimed at repelling one of nature’s most feared pests.
So far, every unit of their TickWise Protector tick and bug repellent and TickStick has been made right there in Ms. Eggert’s kitchen and dining room in Springs, the odor of lavender, lemongrass, and citronella wafting out to the driveway.
“We started doing each bottle by hand, with essential oils and droppers,” Ms. Decker said. “It took hours and hours,” said Ms. Eggert, who is known as L.J.
That was in April, when they first launched the business, spending $1,200 apiece to get it off the ground. They bought the oils in two-ounce jars and the bottles in batches of 42.
Their first challenge, as orders increased, was how to quickly produce “not just 5 but 100 bottles,” all of them uniform, Ms. Decker said.
Once they earned a little money from initial sales, they purchased a machine that automatically portions out more exact measurements so they could up their production speed to meet growing demand. Their early runs with the machine were “almost a little Lucy and Ethel-like,” Ms. Decker said.
Three months later, with their own mini assembly line set up at the kitchen table, the duo can fill 100 bottles in about 15 minutes, even while talking to a reporter.
“We work really well together,” Ms. Eggert said. “Maybe because we were both in the restaurant business, we can multitask.”
Now they’re ordering essential oils in five-pound containers and bottles in cases of 1,300 at a time. Their repellents are sold by 22 retailers across the East End, “and everybody we’ve sold to has come back for more,” Ms. Eggert said.
Long before they founded the business, the two friends, both of whom suffered from tick-borne illnesses, had been making their own mixtures from essential oils known to repel ticks, mosquitoes, and biting flies: cedarwood, rose geranium, citronella, rosemary, lemongrass, lavender, and tea tree.
“Friends were asking me to make it for them,” Ms. Decker said.
“It wasn’t about making money,” Ms. Eggert said. Rather the whole business was spurred by the desire to keep themselves, their family, and their friends as tick-safe as possible. “We’re trying to stop tick-borne diseases one bottle or one stick at a time.”
They have good reason to be on that mission.
Ms. Decker and her young son had the alpha-gal allergy, contracted from a tick bite. He also had ehrlichiosis.
Ms. Eggert was sick for a decade with Lyme disease, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis, and also had the alpha-gal meat allergy. But it gets worse.
She and her husband at the time were each diagnosed with multiple sclerosis within three months. Less was known then about the myriad effects of Lyme disease, the symptoms of which can resemble those of hundreds of other diseases. “We both had the rash,” she said, and yet neither tested positive for Lyme.
What followed for each of them was a years-long odyssey of doctor vis-its and misdiagnoses. Her ex-husband couldn’t walk. He shook uncontrollably. An M.R.I. showed dozens of lesions on his brain, she said.
Meanwhile she had facial palsy, couldn’t move her limbs, and her arm moved uncontrollably. She found herself staggering into walls and forgetting basic things like how to turn on a faucet or tie her shoes. “I wouldn’t even get into a car with my kids.” Her own M.R.I. showed eight lesions on her brain. She was diagnosed with lupus and fibromyalgia, had two knee-replacement surgeries, two kidney surgeries, and suffered from heart problems and hearing loss.
And yet, “I kept getting sicker,” she said. Seventy-five doctors later, a Lyme expert in upstate New York diagnosed her with Lyme disease and babesiosis. She took an oral antibiotic for nine months for Lyme, and an antimalarial drug for six months for babesiosis. After the initial nine months on the oral antibiotic, she was on an intravenous antibiotic for another three.
“By the third day, all my heart problems subsided, all my kidney problems subsided. I was able to eat again, sleep again.”
Her ex, on a different but parallel journey to recovery, had to learn to walk and talk and cook again, she said.
“So this is why I said, ‘We need to protect ourselves,’ ” Ms. Decker said, listening again on Friday to her friend’s story. “My kids were getting bit at school and at playgrounds, at everyday places I would go.” Tick repellent wasn’t optional, and if they were going to put it on themselves and their children every single day, they wanted to use something that was safe for direct skin contact.
They use their own products religiously, but “nothing is 100 percent,” Ms. Decker said. They might spray shoes, pant legs, and covered areas with a repellent containing DEET, and then spray hair, legs, arms, and faces (but not the eye area) with their organic repellent. “Keep your socks pulled up, wear light clothing, check yourself,” and not just once a day, but many times, Ms. Decker advised.
Their repellents can also be used on dogs and horses, but not on cats, which lack an enzyme in their liver that would allow them to process the oils.
“The stick is the product I really wanted to start with,” Ms. Eggert said, “but it took a while to get there. It would crumble, it would melt.” Eventually, they found the winning formula, a mix of coconut oil, beeswax, and shea butter with all the same oils as the spray plus vanilla. It was that combination that was melting in the water bath on Friday, and would then be poured into deodorant-style applicators where it would solidify again.
On their website, the stick goes for $20, a four-ounce bottle for $18, and a two-ounce bottle for $10.
“This winter, we are going to do some lice-prevention stuff, some body scrub, and make this product all winter long,” Ms. Decker said.
“We stopped going around and taking samples to people,” she said. “We wanted to make sure to take care of the 22 retailers we had. . . . It says on our label, made ‘with love and integrity,’ and if we got too big, we couldn’t take care of the people that trusted us.”
Their retailers include Marders in Bridgehampton, the Springs General Store, the Montauk General Store, Round Swamp Farm in East Hampton, and Emporium Hardware in Sag Harbor.
And as for that third mom in the 3 Moms business name? “The third mom,” Ms. Eggert said, “is the consumer.”
“Who takes better care of you than a mom?” Ms. Decker asked.