My guest today is Peggy Farabaugh, owner and operator of Vermont Woods Studios, an online furniture store specializing in high-quality, eco-friendly, handmade wood furniture from Vermont. She’s a CEO who breaks for salamanders, has bottle-fed rescued squirrels, and spends her vacations volunteering to plant trees in the rainforests of Central and South America. She believes in the future and in the people who build it. A former distance learning instructor at Tulane University with a master’s in Environmental Health and Safety, Peggy turned an interest in forest conservation and endangered species into a thriving, local furniture business. Now in it’s 10th year, Vermont Woods Studios exists not only online but in a lovingly restored 200 year old farmhouse in the woodlands of southern Vermont. www.vermontwoodsstudios.com
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
Handmade, Toxic-free Wood Furniture that Helps Rainforests too
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Peggy Farabaugh
Date of Broadcast: July 22, 2015
DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world and live toxic free.
I always love listening to that song. I’ve listened to it – how many shows have we done? Two hundred and fifty or something like that. I always listen to that song. I’m always sitting here, tapping on the desk and just enjoying the thought that we do the right thing, that we really are points of lights. And this show really is all about doing the right thing in terms of toxics and not being exposed to toxic chemicals, producing toxic chemicals, manufacturing toxic chemicals, having toxic chemicals hurt us in any way and all the wonderful, wonderful alternatives that are available, all the people who are really doing the right thing.
I’m just so happy to be here every day, bringing you this show really. Even though I’ve done so many of them now, it always makes me happy to be here.
So it is Tuesday, July 22nd, 2015. I’m here in Clearwater, Florida where it’s a beautiful summer day. I don’t think we’re going to have a thunderstorm in the next hour.
My guest today is the owner and operator of Vermont Wood Studios, which is an online furniture store specializing in high-quality, eco-friendly, handmade wood furniture from Vermont. Her name is Peggy. I’m guessing how to pronounce it, it’s Farabaugh, but we’ll ask her when she comes on.
Her bio says that she’s a CEO who breaks for salamanders, has bottle-fed rescued squirrels and spends her vacations volunteering to plant trees in the rainforests of Central and South America. Hi, Peggy.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Hi, Debra.
DEBRA: How do you say your name?
PEGGY FARABAUGH: It’s Farabaugh like “faraway.”
DEBRA: Oh, good, Farabaugh. I’ll get it right the next I say it, Farabaugh. Okay, it’s good.
The first thing I want to say to you, Peggy, is that this show is about toxics and doing things that aren’t toxic and your furniture certainly qualifies in spades. There’s nothing I would change about your furniture in terms of how you would produce it.
What I think is so wonderful is that if we start with saying, “I don’t want something to be toxic,” you can end by saying, “Okay, this is not toxic.” But to go farther and have beauty of design, to have a purpose behind your business, to utilize your local resources and have it be a locally based business that contributes to your local economy, you just have done so many things that are just all the best things that I would like to see in a business. I just wanted to start by saying that.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Thank you very much. We try our best. I didn’t come into this business as a businessperson. I came into it as someone who wanted to see if you really could develop a business that could do good things and be a part of the solution that we’re all trying to find for this world and the environment.
DEBRA: I would say you certainly accomplished it. So tell us your story. What made you decide that you wanted to start this business?
PEGGY FARABAUGH: It started with losing my job.
DEBRA: Sometimes, they can be blessings in disguise.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Yes. Yeah, I didn’t realize it at the time. I was working as a distance learning instructor for Tulane University and I was in their Environmental Health and Safety Department. Hurricane Katrina came along and wiped out a large part of the Tulane campus, leaving me and many others without a job.
I was working from Vermont. And doing all of my work online, I had learned a little bit about how to develop online communities of likeminded people. So when I was trying to figure out what I would do next and couldn’t find an employer up here in Vermont that was a match to my skills, I decided I try to start my own business.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: So I really took the time to take stock of what I knew and what I believed in and what my passion was. I married that with where I am in Vermont, which is a very woody place. There were a lot of woodworkers including my husband.
So I said, “Ken, if you want to do the wood working and make wooden furniture, I would be very interested in promoting it if it was made of all sustainable materials and non-toxic finishes.” And so we just walked into it as an experiment, Debra.
DEBRA: And it was a big success!
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Yeah. Well, it’s a day-to-day adventure I guess, but it has been a big success. We were one of the first who believe that you could sell fine furniture online. And everybody looked at me like I was crazy.
I said, “Well, I would buy it for someone who explained what it was and who had pictures of what it looks like from all angles and who could tell me all of the little details about how it was made, where the wood came from, what kind of finishes were on it, who made it. I’m someone who doesn’t like to go into a store and be sold to. I’d rather do the research and do my own selection.”
So we went forward on the premise that other people, some other people at least, believe in the same thing. And it worked!
DEBRA: I had to say too with all the other things that I said in the beginning that your website is so beautiful. The first instant that I saw it, I went, “Oh, wow! I wish I needed to buy furniture” because your pictures are so inviting, the design, the simplicity and the timelessness of your furniture. It’s like it has familiarness in the designs, but it’s not something that could go out of date.
It has a moderness to it, but it also has traditionalness to it. I just want to walk right into those rooms that you have in these pictures and just sit down and stay there forever.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Thank you. And you’re welcome to come up here and do that anytime.
DEBRA: Thank you. I need to see that.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: It may be just the right time to visit Vermont.
DEBRA: Yeah, I’ve never been to Vermont, but it’s a place that I’ve always wanted to go. As I said before, I just have so much admiration for the way you’ve put together your values with such beauty and craftsmanship and ecological safety for people and for the planet.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Thank you. We have a lot to build on in Vermont because our state does have a 200 or 250-year old history of woodworking and fine furniture making. So we’ve taken that tradition and we’ve connected with fine furniture makers all over the state who has their own independent businesses.
They were wonderful craft people. But honestly, they’re not very good at tooting their own horn. They needed someone to partner with them to show the world what they’re doing and how beautiful it is. They needed somebody to take pictures and convey all the details of their furniture.
So it has been a nice partnership and an efficient one too because in this age of such competitive companies especially online, you have to be a specialist in order to compete.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: So the crafts people can be a specialist in their workshop and studios. We’ve developed specialties in online marketing and sales.
DEBRA: An excellent job. We need to go to break. But when we come back, we’ll talk more with Peggy Farabaugh. Did I get it right?
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Farabaugh.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Like “faraway.”
DEBRA: Farabaugh. Okay, Farabaugh, owner and operator of Vermont Wood Studios. Her website is VermontWoodStudios.com. If you’re listening on a computer, just jump right up there during the break and see how beautiful it is. We’ll be right back.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Peggy Farabaugh. Did I get it right that time?
PEGGY FARABAUGH: That was good.
DEBRA: Thank you. She’s the owner and operator of Vermont Wood Studio where they specialize in high-quality eco-friendly handmade and wood furniture from Vermont. Excuse me. I had this tickle on my throat.
Let’s talk for a minute about why did you decide that you needed to have nontoxic finishes? Actually, I’ll tell you, that’s pretty unusual.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Right. For most furniture, you don’t know what the finish is. I don’t know how you would even find out. But I think pretty much we never considered anything else living in Vermont and working with Vermont furniture makers.
It’s the tradition in Vermont to use traditional finishes like linseed oil, which is nontoxic. It’s a natural substance made from flax. A lot of our furniture makers use that or a version of that. Some use a lacquer, a clear, nontoxic lacquer. Basically those are the two finishes. We have a specialty finish that some of our furniture makers use and that’s called Vermont Natural Coatings.
DEBRA: Which I love, I absolutely love. I’ve been using that. I used it to paint some wooden stairs, to finish some wooden stairs. It was absolutely lovely to work with.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: It is. It smells like baby food or something.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: It’s made of whey (as in curds and whey). It’s made right here in Vermont.
DEBRA: That’s a byproduct of cheese makers.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: I think Vermont is really, truly a leader in both sustainable furniture and nontoxic finishes.
DEBRA: I think so too. And I think that you seem to have a sense of sustainable community like Vermont, you’ve got a cheese maker and then you’ve got Vermont Natural Coatings making a finish from the byproducts of the cheese-making process. And then it’s going down the street probably literally to you and it goes on a piece of furniture. That is the way all manufacturing should be.
It’s people actually making each one of these products with their own hands. And it’s all beautiful and it’s safe materials and it’s renewable. All the money just goes around in your community and it all got shared by the people that are there.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: It’s true. I think Vermont is pretty outstanding in that respect. We work together to build our communities. There’s a big push now for American-made, which is great. But I can say that we’ve always had Vermont-made and local at the top of the list of priorities up here.
Local, we have a local wood, local good. We try to get as much of our wood for furniture as we can locally. It just helps in so many ways, including reducing transportation cost and oil usage and pollution and so on and so forth.
DEBRA: Right. So I just want to mention because this is a show about toxics that if you were to look at a spectrum of furniture, Peggy’s would be at the very, very best at the top. And then at the very bottom would be something like you buy at most furniture stores, which is basically particle board, which is emitting formaldehyde and this unknown finish that’s made out of toxic chemicals that actually is evaporating from the furniture.
What you said earlier, you probably can’t even find out what the finish is. That is absolutely true. I’m constantly asking people, “What’s the finish on this piece of furniture?” They can’t tell me. I think that this is a big issue for consumers that there are all these products (and we’re talking about furniture, so we’ll talk about furniture), all this furniture has materials in it that we don’t know what they are. So we can’t even begin to evaluate the toxicity of it.
So what I’ve done in the past is that I just buy unfinished wood furniture and so I can put whatever finish that I want to put on it. So, it’s so wonderful for me to see that you have put all these elements together and I know that I can come to you. The next time I buy a piece of furniture, I’m buying it from you.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Well, I’d be happy to see you in Vermont. We will show you everything we’ve got. I’ll find the perfect thing just for you, Debra.
DEBRA: You have put it all together. I know that I can come and I can get solid wood. I know that it’s grown and harvested in America, so it’s not sitting on some tank or truck being sprayed with pesticides and that you have the right finishes.
And you’re totally transparent in all of your disclosure about everything that you’re using. Probably, if I wanted to, I could come up there and you’d take me down the street and introduce me to the furniture maker.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: We could do that. We could tour you around. We have so many furniture makers that we partner with.
DEBRA: I want to do this. I’d love to do this.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Yeah. I have a neighbor who adopted a little girl from China and she had lead poisoning when they did her blood test. That is very common, to have lead in the coatings of furniture that’s brought in from other countries. And most furniture that you see in the stores in the US, especially the big box stores, comes from Asia or different developing countries where there’s little to no safety regulations.
DEBRA: Right. We have regulations here in America that I think are not as strict as they should be, but they have even less in other countries and those products are allowed to come into this country with who knows what on them. And as I said, they did spray pesticides all over these tankers and these containers that they are shipping these things in.
I even saw on TV once – some doctor show, I don’t remember. It was a mystery. We have to go to break. I’ll the story when we come back.
You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Peggy Farabaugh, owner and operator of Vermont Wood Studios, VermontWoodStudios.com. We will be right back.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Peggy Farabaugh. She’s the owner and operator of Vermont Wood Studios, which we’ve been talking about. You can go to her website at VermontWoodStudios.com.
Peggy, I know that part of your inspiration to start this business had to do with the rainforest. Tell us about that.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Okay. That’s one of my favorite things to talk about. I guess I developed a love of the forest and the rainforest as I was growing up. I’ve always lived in rural world places. I don’t know. Maybe 20 years ago, I started realizing and reading that the rainforest is being mowed down at a dangerous rate. In fact, we’re losing an acre of rainforest every second.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: I guess it’s hard, especially for people in northern climates to understand the importance of the rainforest. But even though the total of all the rainforests on earth only take up about 2% of the earth’s surface, but they have 55% of the earth’s species. So we really need to conserve this precious resource and the biodiversity inside it.
It’s not just that, but it’s also the wildlife in the rainforest that I always had an interest in. Most of the primates that you think of (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, all those iconic species that I used to watch and still watch on TV), they live in the rainforest and they are all extremely endangered. They won’t be here very much longer if we don’t conserve the rainforest.
That was probably the biggest influence really in my developing Vermont Wood Studios. I knew that the rainforest was being cut down largely to provide timber, which is turned into furniture and flooring and is sold very, very cheaply at the big box stores. I thought maybe we could use the beauty and the integrity of Vermont-made furniture to raise awareness about buying responsibly, buying American-made or Vermont-made furniture rather than imported furniture that’s contributing to rainforest destruction.
DEBRA: That’s such an important connection to make because I think that a lot of times, I don’t want to say casually, I think most people don’t realize the connection between the products that they buy and where those resources came from and what is the ecological destruction that happens in order for that product to exist.
I’ve been aware of this for a long time. I used to live in a forest in Northern California and I lived there for 12 years actually in the forest and another 2 years before that in a different forest. But I remember when I was writing a book, I wrote something about my local forest. And my editor who lived in New York had no idea what I was talking about.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Right.
DEBRA: And I live next to a place called Samuel P. Taylor Park where there’s a whole stand of redwoods in that park. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful park. It was preserved. They used to cut the redwoods to make paper. Instead of cutting the stand of redwoods, I think it was Mr. Samuel P. Taylor who was collecting rags to make paper out of rags so that the trees could stand.
It just touches my heart when I hear these kinds of things because it’s such a different viewpoint from the industrial viewpoint. And the industrial viewpoint just says, “Let’s just cut down all the resources and turn them into products and sell them as cheaply as we can.” Whereas what you’re doing is being very thoughtful about harvesting the wood in a sustainable so that the forest is still there.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Right. And our challenge every day is to promote this awareness. I guess a lot of people really don’t think about the forest. If you live in a city, you certainly don’t think about the rainforests, but so many of the things that we use in our daily life do come from the rainforests, coffee, paper, anything that’s made of wood, pharmaceuticals I think.
Forty percent of cancer pharmaceuticals originate in rainforests and scientists were saying, “There’s so much research to be done about what else we can extract from the rainforest for new cancer-fighting drugs.”
It’s a tough part of our mission to raise that awareness, but we are not giving up on it.
DEBRA: But you’re providing an alternative. You can say to somebody either, “You have furniture in your house that is clear-cutting the rainforest” or “You can have this beautiful furniture in your house that is using a renewable resource that has been sustainably harvested in a thoughtful so that that ecosystem stays in place.”
I think that if anybody understands that, it’s an easy choice to make. It’s just that I think most people don’t know. When you walk into a big-box store, there is not a big sign on the $19.95 chair that says, “This came from a clear-cut rainforest.”
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Right, it’s true. And you’re probably not going to see anything in a big-box store, anything at all that shows where that furniture originates.
There might be one or two lines of furniture that say American-made, but a lot of times what that means is that the wood was clear-cut illegally from the Amazon rainforest. It was shipped to China or to Vietnam because there’s a lower cost workforce there. It’s shipped there, it’s made into furniture, it’s shipped across the ocean to America where this Asino, maybe the drawer handles are put in or maybe a finish is put on and that’s the way they’re designing American-made furniture.
DEBRA: That’s just not right.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Yeah, it’s very tough to know where your furniture is coming from unless you go to a small company.
You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Peggy Farabaugh. And she’s from Vermont Wood Studios. She’s the owner and operator at VermontWoodStudios.com. Go see how beautiful their furniture is. We’ll be right back.
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd and my guest today is Peggy Farabaugh, owner and operator of Vermont Wood Studios and she’s at VermontWoodStudios.com.
Peggy, tell us all the details about your furniture.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: You already know it’s made of real solid wood that’s sustainably harvested in North America.
Typically, we like to use four – hardwood maple, which is harvested typically in Vermont, cherry, black cherry wood, which doesn’t grow really so well here in our state, but it grows in adjacent New York and Pennsylvania. So that’s where we usually get that from. We use walnut, which is a beautiful darker wood and that we have to often go to the Midwest for. It doesn’t grow so well here. And then we use oak, which grows fine in and around Vermont.
So those are the woods we use. And we have many different styles, ranging from your traditional shaker style, which is probably our most popular. And we also have a lot of people interested in mission style furniture. And then we’ve got many things in between.
And then we have some modern furniture as well or mid-century modern furniture, which maybe you remember. Well, you’re too young, Debra. But I do remember back the furniture from the 1950s and 1960s.
DEBRA: I was a toddler then.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: That’s back in style now, so we’re making a lot of that and anything in between.
And we also do custom furniture. People often will say, “I love this bed, but I’m tall and I need it longer.” Or they’ll say, “I’m short. I want my table leg shorter.” And sometimes, they’ll just send us a picture of something that we have never even considered before. So we do a range of different work and we have a range of different styles and furniture makers and price points.
DEBRA: So I just want to reiterate here that if you’re looking for furniture, how can you get better than this? It’s real solid wood from the USA with a nontoxic finish that you can specify. And you can have any design you want. What could be better than that?
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Well, we’re trying our best to listen to our customers and understand what their preferences are. Usually people come to us because they’ve looked for a long time and they haven’t been able to find exactly what they want. So that’s why they’re coming to us.
We try to show a lot of pictures in our online store. And for I guess probably six or eight years, we were able to run the business just with the online store.
But we always wanted a beautiful place to showcase this Vermont-made furniture because it’s a natural product. It’s beautiful, it’s handmade and we really didn’t think that the website did it justice. So in the last two years, we’ve been fortunate enough to find a gorgeous spot on the mountainside in Vermont where we have renovated an old farmhouse and we’re using that as our showroom.
DEBRA: I’m coming to Vermont.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Well, I can tell what you’ll see when you get here.
DEBRA: Yes, tell me.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: So I’m looking out the windows. You’re going to walk into our farmhouse on a stone pathway. And it’s a traditional farmhouse with a porch. It’s painted white with some blue shutters.
You’ll walk in. At the back of the house you’ll see a wall of windows that overlook meadows, which rule down to a view of the Connecticut River. And this is what we feel is worthy of showcasing Vermont furniture.
Now the downside, Debra is that we are in the middle of nowhere. We’re on a mountain in southeastern Vermont. So it takes a little time to get here, but we have made a promise to our customers that it is worth the trip.
DEBRA: I’m sure it is. I totally am sure it is. Again, I want to say that it’s one thing to take a step away from toxic chemicals and find something that’s not toxic. And it’s another thing entirely to take all the steps that you’ve taken to have this incredible business that addresses so many other things that go from the beauty of the furniture, that it’s handmade, that it’s local, that it’s saving the rainforest. I just love it.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: We have a team here that is very, I don’t know, “aspirational” I guess. We all have shared values of healthy environments, natural materials and we wanted to work for something that reflected our values.
So that’s how the company has evolved to be what it is. It wasn’t just my initial thought and Ken’s initial furniture designs. It’s really reflective of the people who work here who are very hardworking, creative people, each trying to make the world a better place.
DEBRA: That’s just so beautiful. I just would like to be able to buy all of the products that I need to buy from a company like yours. It’s just a model of how I think a company should be. Someone used to say to me, “We have to keep making these toxic products for economic reasons. That’s just not true.”
A friend of mine – this falls into the times they are a changing department. A friend of mine was just telling me this morning his son works in the energy business and he said that what’s coming is that we’re not going to have centralized grid energy anymore. Everybody’s going to be off the grid because energy is going to get produced in ways that are extremely local instead of these big things. It’s going to happen in my lifetime.
It’s just almost there right now. In all the technology exists, it’s a matter of cost. And he said the energy companies are really worried they’re all going to go out of business. What’s more solid than the energy company that you think is going to be there?
My great aunts and uncles bought stock in energy companies because that was the most secure thing that they could think of to put their money in. And now they’re going to be gone.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: I would love to see more localized energy.
DEBRA: Me too.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: More solar panels and more windmills.
DEBRA: Oh, I love the windmills. Yeah. So we’re going in the right direction. We are.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Yeah. We’re trying to follow those models. We like the model of organic food and the local food movement and we’re trying to learn from their lessons because that’s been a very successful model of raising awareness about where your food comes from. So our challenge is to take their lessons and apply it to where your furniture and flooring comes from and all their forest products.
DEBRA: Yes. Yes. We’ve only got about a minute left. Are there any final words you’d like to say?
PEGGY FARABAUGH: Well, I would like to thank you very much for inviting me on the show. It’s been my pleasure to chat with you today.
DEBRA: I’m delighted as well. Thank you.
PEGGY FARABAUGH: And I would invite you and your listeners to come to Vermont. As I said, we would make it worth the trip.
We usually tell the customers to pack a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine so they can relax out in the backyard.
DEBRA: I think I should probably come in the fall because I have never seen the New England fall. I saw the edge of it one year we were in North Carolina and I saw it in Ashville. I saw the leaves. We don’t have that in California where I used to live or here in Florida. I’m going to see about coming to Vermont in the fall.
Thank you so much, Peggy. You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. You can go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com and find out more. Be well.
And we have more time. I’m sorry. I was looking at the wrong. I have this clock on my computer that has hours and minutes and seconds. The show is over at 12:56 and 30 seconds and I was watching the seconds, 12:56.
So go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com. What you can find there are archives of all the shows I’ve done. Some of them have transcripts. You can listen to today’s show again if you’d like. You can find out the rest of the guests that are coming up this week. There’s just so much information there, so many wonderful people who are doing wonderful things that are making the world less toxic. It’s a good place to get information.
Now, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. Be well.