Farm-to-spa movement gains traction across U.S.

By JACOB ADELMAN

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- There's a new trend in the locally grown food movement.

Following in the footsteps of upscale restaurants, spas are starting to put produce from nearby family farms on their menus. They're incorporating the fruits and herbs in skin treatments and massage therapies.

Southern California's Ojai Valley Inn offers a $145 treatment that uses halves of tangerines from a nearby farm as applicators for a sugar-based exfoliant. A treatment at Spa Hotel Healdsburg in Northern California features a salve of wine and honey from a local vineyard.

And the Aspira Spa in eastern Wisconsin uses local elderberries in facials and other offerings.

Atlanta-based spa consultant Mark Wuttke says demand for such treatments is driven by a desire for authentic experiences tied to spa locations.

"People are looking for a more authentic experience," he said. "People don't necessarily want to have the same experience in Florida as they have in New York as they have in California as they have in Dubai." He cautioned, however, that spas using locally grown ingredients risk disappointing guests who expect to get the same services year-round. Most crops grow only part of the year.

"There are seasonal variations," Wuttke said. "I can offer it today, but if you come back in six months' time, you might not be able to have that because it's no longer available."

Emily Walker, who manages the Spa Hotel Healdsburg in California's Sonoma County, said using local ingredients fits with the ethos already embraced by many wine country visitors.

One of her spa's treatments features a salve of wine and honey from the nearby Quivara Vineyards. Another uses a massage oil made with the same locally grown Meyer lemons found on the spa restaurant's menu.

"We sort of carried it over because the climate here in wine country is 'farm-to-table,'" Walker said. "So now it's 'farm-to-spa.'"

The Aspira Spa in western Wisconsin, meanwhile, designed some of its treatments around the elderberries that grow naturally on the surrounding plains, but not in great enough quantity to make all the ointments and creams slathered on guests. The spa had been importing elderberries from a farm in the Pacific Northwest, but recently contracted with the nearby Stoney Meadow organic farm to grow the berries, along with lavender, rosemary and other herbs, said Lola Roeh, general manager of the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, which houses the spa. A 65-minute Elderberry Facial there costs $190.

"In the restaurant, our pork comes from a farm that's 10 miles away. Our beef comes from another nearby organic farm," Roeh said. "This is really part of the whole resort."

Stoney Meadow owner Andrea Levsen said spa sales are helping her business, which she otherwise runs on a community supported agriculture model, in which consumers pay upfront for regular shipments of produce during the growing season.

"I think it does aid the CSA mission," Levsen said. "The mission of the CSA was to help families be healthier, to help families have access to healthier food. (The spa business) allows us to put more money into the farm here."

At Friend's Ranches in Ojai, which began selling Pixie tangerines to the Ojai Valley Inn this spring, the owners were surprised to find their fruit was being used in spa treatments.

"I thought it was kind of silly," said Emily Ayala, who owns the farm with her family. "As a farmer, you're growing food and sometimes you think it's wasteful when people don't use your food to eat. I didn't know that people rub themselves with a tangerine."

But that skepticism turned to delight when online orders for the Pixies spiked.

"It gave us another level of exposure with customers who otherwise might not have tried the tangerine," Ayala said.

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