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Dr. Nettles – Making people healthier: One cup of organic tea at a time

Helping people become healthy naturally and organically is in Dr. Dana Nettles’s DNA. Born into a family with a long legacy of healing and close ties to nature, and raised by parents who were a physician and a nurse, Dr. Nettles grew up respecting and learning the healing powers of nature and wanting to share that knowledge with others in their journeys to health. 

CEO and Co-Founder of Dr. Nettles Natural Beauty company, a pharmacist of almost four decades, an herbalist, and an organic farmer, Dr. Nettles is a member of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) and participant in OTA’s Diversity and Entrepreneurship program, which is a part of the association’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) commitment.  

Dr. Nettles is now spearheading her company’s efforts to become USDA Organic certified, and she says that the trade association has been instrumental in helping her in the process. 

“Joining OTA has helped me through so many of the tough times in getting certified,” said Dr. Nettles. “A lot of times you’ll get discouraged, but if you have a mentor that can help walk you through, that is the most important thing.”  

Dr. Nettles’s ancestors settled on the Gulf of Mexico and in northern Alabama where they harvested land for medicinal purposes. The family farm in northern Alabama dates back to her great, great, great grandfather who acquired a plot of land in the late 1800s. Since the 1930s, the family has sold organic herbal tea and soaps made from products grown on their farm, and in the early 2000s, Dr. Nettles and her husband incorporated the business into Dr. Nettles Natural Beauty. A small farm close to Mobile, Alabama, the headquarters of the company, now produces most of the Dr. Nettles teas and other products, while the larger farm is used to grow the “big goods” like hickory, chicory and bamboo. 

“My family has always lived an herbal medicine life. My dad’s a physician and my mom’s a nurse, but they would never let us take prescription medicine!” said Dr. Nettles. “My great uncles were pharmacists and owned their own apothecaries. They grew their own products to help people get healthy naturally. Herbal medicine has been such an asset to me ... It’s been life-changing, and my family’s been doing it forever.” 

Dr. Nettles traces her current path to certified organic to first joining the Black Farmers Index a couple of years ago and then getting acquainted with OTA, particularly with Stephanie Jerger, Vice President of Operations for OTA and also head of OTA’s Diversity program.  

“Stephanie really propelled me,” said Dr. Nettles. “She made me realize how important it was to get that organic certification. I think we can help a lot more people once we get the USDA Organic seal of approval.” 

OTA’s support has been more than just morale building and information sharing. Shortly into the certification process, which started last fall, she realized that her certifier required a fee as soon as the application for certification was sent in. She turned to OTA, and the trade association awarded her a $750 grant through its Diversity and Entrepreneurship Fund (DEF) to apply to her certification costs. 

“OTA was absolutely amazing because one of the biggest challenges to becoming certified is financial, and trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for it because your certifier wants your money up front. OTA really came through for us,” she said. 

According to Dr. Nettles, the other big challenge to getting USDA organic certification is the paperwork. “Everything has to be very, very specific ... you can’t take anything for granted. ... almost every day we are getting something from our certifier to do this, send that, do that,” she explained while remaining full of praise for her certifying agency, Quality Certification Services (QCS),  noting that they've been “phenomenal” in being helpful and responsive with any questions throughout the process. 

Because the farms have been in the family for decades, and have never had any synthetic chemicals, herbicides, fertilizers or other inputs applied, the certification process for Dr. Nettles is 80 percent complete, with the final certification inspection scheduled for this spring. Although the road has sometimes been bumpy, Dr. Nettles sees nothing but benefits to getting that USDA Organic seal. 

“Becoming certified organic will open up so many doors,” she shared. “It will help us get into better markets, and enable us to give better quality food to people. That’s the most important. We need quality and accountability, and that’s what’s not in our food system.” 

“I’ve been a pharmacist for 36 years, and I’ve seen our world explode with diseases. It’s heartbreaking, and what we are eating is a major cause of many of today’s illnesses. That’s why organic and certified organic is so important,” Dr. Nettles explained. “It may be baby steps for my little company to help our kids and grandkids live in a healthier place, but we’re going to cure people one at a time.”