When you think about Sanctuary Herbs, Christina Dedora wants health, comfort and community to come to mind. Sanctuary Herbs is the only locally grown tea company in RI, and it’s run by Christina and her sister, Sheryl. The company creates delicious herbal blends, called tisane, from herbs grown at Dedora’s Blue Skys Farm in Cranston, located on the Urban Edge Farm, which is 50 acres of land owned by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and leased to the Southside Community Land Trust, a non-profit whose mission is to help people grow food locally.
Sanctuary Herbs has a similar mission: Dedora focuses on supporting all local farmers. Her long-term goal is to give local people, specifically immigrants and refugees, employment opportunities outside of factory work. Dedora has contracts with the African Alliance, a non-profit group of five female farmers who immigrated to RI from Africa, with a few Hmong people from Lauss who were refugees in the 1970s after the Vietnam War, and also with World Farmers, a group of refugee people who farm on a large parcel of land in Lancaster, Massachusetts.
Dedora says that most herbs and herbal blends are imported from all over the world, but says of her offerings, “Our product is far superior, because we can go from cutting in the field to our drying room and have a fresh cup of tea in two weeks.” They also offer two RI-themed cooking blends: the French blend, Herbs de Providence, and their Italian blend, Herbs di Federal Hill.
In the fall, they will be collaborating with other local organizations on a number of events. The first will be at The Captain’s Table, a gourmet specialty shop in Wickford. “She sells homeware goods and also food goods… truffles, paté, local gourmet cheeses, and of course, our teas,” says Dedora. They will also be doing a monthly event with White Dog Distilling, starting in September and ending in December. There will be a table set up for customers to make their own tea bags using their freshly dried herbs, and White Dog Distilling will be muddling up some interesting craft cocktails using locally made spirits and herbs. Finally, there will be a tea party for children in September at the Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market.
When I asked Dedora why she started Sanctuary Herbs, her response was, “It was a natural offshoot from my farming. I wanted to try to simplify my farming business because I’m getting older.” She had always been growing great herbs, and that created the opportunity to produce a unique local product that no one else in RI could offer. Dedora still grows flowers and vegetables to supplement her income, but her goal is to be working solely with herbs, grow her company and hire more staff. “We hope to create jobs for Rhode Island, that’s our hope,” she says.
For now, all of the work in the fields and in their drying and packaging facility (RI’s first and only certified drying facility) is done by Christina, Sheryl and Manny Costa, a 78-year-old retired factory worker who volunteers his time to Sanctuary Herbs. Costa is from the Azores and met Dedora at the Farmer’s Market. He loves farming, herbs, being outdoors and staying busy, and he wanted to help them as a volunteer. Costa arrives at the drying facility every day at 4am, and does all of the garbling. Dedora says they could not do what they do without him.
Every month Sanctuary Herbs send out an email with a blurb called the “Farmer Highlight of the Month”. Dedora explained, “We try to tell other people’s stories because we think it’s important. I mean, everybody has a story but… most people don’t want to leave their countries; they have to. It’s serious stuff. So we try to help farmers. Even me as a farmer, for thirteen years or so I’ve worked my butt off. I can’t even figure out my hourly wage! Farming is a labor of love, not so much to get rich quick.”
This month they highlighted a woman named Charlotte Uwimpuhwe. Charlotte was the top grower of 2019 for Sanctuary Herbs and is an immigrant who came to the United States in 1994, fleeing Rwanda with her mother and her three children, after the genocide. She is becoming an American citizen this year and will be able to finally fly her two children who she was separated from, and who currently live in Uganda, to the United States. Sanctuary Herbs is “proud to be able to increase her farming revenue and continue (their) mission of directly supporting refugee farmers”. They include a small explanation of the Rwandan Genocide underneath Charlotte’s write-up. Health. Comfort. Community. Dedora is an inspiration and a positive, uplifting, and unpretentious force for not only refugee farmer’s in Rhode Island, but for humanity.
You can find their blends at any one of the 45 accounts they work with, as well as at the Pawtuxet Village Farmer’s Market every Saturday in the warmer months and at the indoor market at the Hope Artiste Building, November through April. Go to sanctuaryherbs.com for event information.