A loyal following, a struggle to expand

Consumer beauty products can involve an amazing number of chemicals. So many that one might apply the same policy recommended on sausage and legislation — it’s best not to see how these things are made.

Not so with Elise Muller’s fair-trade, organic and all-natural skin and hair products. “What we place on our skin goes into all our organs,” said Muller. “Women have really started to become educated, and to that I say Hallelujah!, because I’m offering an alternative to chemically-laced skincare.” She said awareness has grown about the potential toxicity and plethora of unnecessary ingredients in many products.

A fixture at the Saugerties Farmers Market, Muller has been a seasonal Saugerties resident since childhood. She relocated from Florida, where she’d long worked as a massage therapist, to a farmhouse and stream-front property in the Blue Mountain area about eight years ago.


It turned out to be her mother’s final year on earth. Elise and her siblings inherited the property, once a bungalow colony for city firefighters, now split into two 16-acre parcels. Elise got the rambling farmhouse. Her brother lives across the street. Their firefighter father purchased the place in 1962 directly from the Hommel family, the tract’s original owners, who developed much of that area of Blue Mountain.

Elise’s inheritance allowed her to go pro with the all-natural products she’d been making on the side for two decades. Feeling flush, Muller hired a top Oregon-based “green business” web designer to create exactly the look and functionality she wanted for www.mountain-spirit-botanicals.com, which also features Elise’s diverse blog essays.

As one might expect, most of her regular customers are women who’ve moved up from the city or weekenders. Selling at the market makes sense to Muller because she considers her products to be food for the skin, and the ingredients are so wholesome and natural you could eat them, although it would be kind of expensive and strange-tasting.

Jacob Diaz, 30, of Slow Roots Farm, has a produce stand at the Saugerties Farmers Market adjacent to Muller’s table. They’ve become fast friends, and she’s turned him on to some of her products. He’s been using two of Mountain Spirit’s products for about a year; the Mango Blossom Organic Moisturizer, $24 for four ounces, and the Coconut Hair Cream, $34 for seven ounces.

“Now I have really short hair, but I started using the (coconut) pomade when I had dreadlocks. I use it on my face as a moisturizer, too. It’s an amazing product. I’m out in the elements most of the year and my skin gets really dry and irritated,” said Diaz.

Jacob says his skin is much improved because “that’s now my basic hygiene regimen.”

Diaz views their businesses as very similar.

“We both work directly with plants and retail directly,” said Diaz. “It’s the local economy thing, but also the intimacy,” the farmer said, adding that he really likes “knowing personally who made and put the product into the containers.”

Woodstock-based healer Kristine Flones, who is trained in the Native American and homeopathic traditions, among others, began using Mountain Spirit Botanicals products about seven years ago.

“A friend had a party and invited us to try it out, we did a whole facial thing, and everything Eli made just felt so clean and so good,” said Flones, who is 66 and has amazing skin.

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