Rachel’s bungalow in the woods outside of Nevada City imbues all the qualities of warmth, tranquility and the sweet, woody, welcoming smell that we long for in home. Fat and the Moon, is rich with story, from her Slovenian heritage of herbal healers to her new California roots. On a warm Autumn day we sat and chatted with Rachel and her four-legged friend about the beauty of healing, the art of creating from the natural world, and the inspiration of travel… Take a journey with us from the woods of Slovenia to the mountains of California.
Nativen: First off, can you tell me about where you're from?
Rachel: Sure. I'm from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I lived there up until the time I was 18 and I moved to New York at that point. It's interesting because it’s the Midwest and I actually learned so much from growing up there. I’ve always been really different than my family, so eventually going to the coast made a lot of sense for me just because that's where I really found myself. But when I think about the Midwestern ethic—hardworking and trustworthy—I have come fully around in my adulthood to really value that kind of upbringing actually.
Nativen: Do you think the environment or anything else about Milwaukee inspired you to create Fat and the Moon.
Rachel: My mom's side is Slovenian and my grandmother was a big part of my upbringing because she helped raise my sister and I. We went back to Slovenia a lot. Both the connection to the garden and the connection to nature was there because of her influence. But also living in the suburbs I really felt it's lack. I had a strong desire to connect with something more, or to connect with a different way to be in the world, so living in the suburbs was influential by contrast. Then I went to a high school for the arts in Milwaukee and that was huge because that was a total shift from just living in the suburbs and being a weirdo, and to being in a den of weirdos.
Nativen: I don't quite know how to define you as a creator, but would you call yourself an herbalist? And was there a moment when you really realized that you wanted to pursue herbalism as a career? Was there a epiphany moment or something that happened in life specifically to tip you in this direction?
Rachel: Yes, well I'm an artist. I think that's the way I would describe myself, an artist and an herbalist. I was going to art school in New York, and that's what brought me there. The work that I was doing was always influenced by mythology. I was super interested in Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. So I would ask, “What is mythology about?” It's about how people orient themselves in the place that they're living. It’s about their connection to the plants, their connection to the animals, to the landscape, to the weather patterns. I was living in New York City and had no relationship to those things. At the same time, I was doing a permaculture course, and I heard this idea that really that changed my life: weeds that grow in urban landscapes have a direct correlation with the illnesses that people suffer from in those same landscapes.
All of a sudden, I noticed these places where a dandelion would be coming out of the concrete or burdock or mugwort. This thing that seemed ugly or derelict became alive and full of magic. That cultivation with those plants was like a remembering of my own Slovenian heritage and I realized that the way that my family has used plants I had taken for granted. It was a real coming back to the idea of what being an artist is. For me it's been a pursuit in understanding compositions, understanding relationships, how things come together and what the bigger picture is in that. It really changed my life. At that time it felt like herbalism, feminism, and my life as an artist had converged in Fat and the Moon. It was this perfect organic synchronistic series of events that just put me in that direction. I realized we are nature. The relationship is continued even in the middle of a concrete jungle.
Nativen: You’re in Nevada City now. What do you love most about it? Do you think being there is integral to your work in any way?
Rachel: There's so many things I love about this place. I think coming here also felt like a magical journey. There's just something special about the people, the landscape, and this sense of community. There's so many makers here, it's amazing. There's brilliant people all around here. That both Fat and the Moon could be held here, but it could also give back, it just felt like a perfect place to do this work.
Then just personally when I'm traveling and I think about coming home, I feel so excited. It just feels like a little haven.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite restaurant in Nevada City?
Rachel: There's a couple of good places. I like Three Forks—that's a good spot. I love the co-op. I'm a health food store connoisseur. The co-op is really my jam. Then Sushi in the Raw, but you have to get reservations five days in advance.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite home goods or clothing store?
Rachel: Kitkitdizzi. It's run by really incredible people. Really cool ladies.
Nativen: We're surrounded by it, but do you have a favorite outdoor space in and around Nevada City?
Rachel: I mean everybody in Nevada City says this probably, but the Yuba River was a big part of me moving here. The influence of that amazing river. My time on the Mendocino Coast by the Pacific, which is such a powerful, formidable body of water, was very much that: crashing, vast, rich. Here, the river is much sweeter. Powerful still, but a little more nourishing.
Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work here?
Rachel: A sense of community and seeing other people's creativity. I'm really blown away by the people here and I feel really lucky to be in the midst of these folks.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite product or something that you produce?
Rachel: Every product is for a pretty important purpose. But the deodorants have been the huge thing. I get to meet the people that my potions armpits are in, it's so intimate, and there's something that I creepily like about that. That I get to be invited into that space in a small way is really cool. When I came up with that recipe I felt really good about it. It was like a divinely inspired recipe. I'm very grateful for all that's come my way because of deodorant.
Nativen: What part of your process brings you the most joy?
Rachel: That's a tough question. It's thinking about the greater life of this business. I like seeing where the direction goes, imagining where and how I can tell the story of the plants through this business. I think that brings me a lot of joy. This business feels like a vehicle for a bigger message of self-care, self-love. Connecting to the plants, connecting to the fact that you're nature and that it's joyful and fun and humorous. I think the story of Fat and the Moon is what I take a lot of pleasure in. That looks different sometimes: sometimes it's writing about products, sometimes it's teaching workshops, sometimes it's coming up with a recipe, or asking people what they think about the recipes.
Nativen: What part of the process is the greatest struggle for you?
Rachel: I think the business side of things. I’m not a “business woman.” In terms of numbers and profit, it’s all very alienating language for me. I can't say enough about my employees and I think one thing that I've really learned is to surround myself with people who have skills that I don't have. There's so many skills I don't have. To see that people take joy in things that I find really tedious, like accounting or spreadsheets, has been an epiphany.
Nativen: What's one thing you've always wanted to do, but haven't done yet?
Rachel: I want a farm. I want Fat and the moon to have a farm and that's my goal.
Nativen: If you weren't an artist and herbalist, what do you think you would be?
Rachel: I can't even imagine myself not being an artist, that's just such a core part of the way I look at the world.
Nativen: That’s a good sign you’re on the right path. What’s a destination you want to travel to and do you think it might inspire or alter your work in any way?
Rachel: There are places in South America that I'd really like to go. I think I'm really interested in cultures and in places where the connection with the plants is still very strong. That's something that’s really dying out for a lot of different reasons. I would love to go to Peru, I would love to go to Brazil, I would love to go to parts of Japan. There's so many places.
Nativen: Do you have a song or music that you listen to or that's really inspiring to you?
Rachel: I just went to the Beyonce concert. It was so amazing, and I just love Beyonce. I feel like that's my new goal. If Fat and the Moon can be part of Beyonce's toiletries, I would die feeling complete. The song I like is “Girls”. There’s been a lot of power behind Fat and the Moon from that song.
Nativen: What are 3 words that sum up your work?
Rachel: “Relationship”. That's really what this is all about in the end. Reconnecting with relationship, the relationship with ourselves, our bodies. Both the plants and with where things come from. I think that's a really big one. Another word is “nature”. We have this idea that nature is somehow this separate thing from culture, from who we are. I always try to take an opportunity to break that down a little bit more. That we are nature and the decisions that we make are connected to nature. We know that humans are having a really negative impact on the natural world. Then I think “self-care”. What that means in a much bigger sense around connecting back to what really feels good and what really nourishes. Often times there's a lot of this self-destructive loop. We think we want something because it'll make us happy, but if we really examined it, it would be because we think that there's something wrong with us that we need to fix. If we can be in a relationship with ourselves where we're really caring for ourselves, I think that we would act in such a different way. It would be fun to be around humans who are really caring for themselves.
Nativen: That's a beautiful way of describing that. Is there anything you do with your work to specifically connect with the community?
Rachel: Kitkitdizzi is the center of a lot of the worlds of the makers around here. We also collaborate with farms like First Rain Farms and work with different organizations in town. One is Women of Worth, which is a shelter and resource for women and children in domestic violence situations and also human trafficking situations. We’re also working with New Roots. They're in Sacramento and in Oakland, but they basically make farms and community gardens available to refugee populations who have had to flee their home countries and completely lost their way of life and their connection to the land. This is something that as we grow is a bigger piece of how I want Fat and the Moon to live in the world.
Essentially herbalism is about healing. So the question is how do I take that idea and make that the ethos of this business?
Nativen: What do you think is the most helpful advice you've received, or maybe advice that you would give to someone who's looking to pursue their own creative endeavor?
Rachel: That's a good question. I've gotten a lot of wisdom along the way. It's just one baby step after another. It's important to keep the big vision, to keep your eye on the prize, but let things evolve organically. Try not to get too ahead of yourself because then you can't enjoy the steps along the way.
Nativen: That's some solid advice because I think people get turned off by the having to do it all at once sometimes. Do you have a hero or maybe somebody who's helped influence your work in a big way?
Rachel: My Slovenian grandma—the difficulty of her having to leave where she was from, and her influence on me as a little kid, the love, but also just her connection with plants and with the natural world, and going back to Slovenia with her and seeing her there. I feel like she has been a guide in my life and I have followed her story backwards and it's been such a rich process for me to uncover her story, find out what happened, and understand what were the circumstances in which she had to leave Slovenia, what were her skills, who were her neighbors,w hat was the house that she lived in. That has given me the gifts and also the traumas. I've learned a lot about pain, about medicine and pain, about medicine and the wound. That's been my work in this world and it's really because of her.
Nativen: What a beautiful lineage. What are 3 things you can't live without?
Rachel: Chocolate. I'm fueled by my god, the cocoa plant. Connection to both humans and to the plants. I couldn't live without it, that's for sure. And I think curiosity. There's just so much in this world that is so fascinating and I feel like every day I'm learning so much. I couldn't be who I am without curiosity.
Interview by: Lily Hetzler
Photos by: Monica Semurgiu
Edited by: Mary Warner (This interview has been condensed & edited
all images copyright of Nativen