Laura Gilmour has always lived a life connected to nature. Born in a rural farming area of Niagara Region, Laura developed an early love for plants. When she moved with her family to Muskoka at age eleven, Laura immediately fell in love with the landscape and native plants of the area. As the years passed, her fascination with wild plants and their connection to health and wellness continued to grow.
For over 15 years, Laura has been learning how to prepare wild foods and make her own medicines, finding a sense of empowerment in her ability to self-sustain from the land. Laura has extensive theoretical and field training in sustainable agriculture and herbalism, wild foods harvesting and herbal medicine preparation, as well as planting food forests, mushroom cultivation, and animal husbandry. After living and learning in a variety of places across Canada and the U.S., Laura returned to Muskoka to work for a summer and has never looked back.
“I connected with a lot of good people and realized that there is a strong community here that made it a natural place to settle. The land was also affordable so I was able to purchase a property with enough land to start my business.”
In 2014, Wild Muskoka Botanicals was born out of a Wild Spirit Permaculture Homestead on the western edge of Algonquin Park. Located near the community of Dwight in the Township of Lake of Bays, Wild Muskoka Botanicals is a producer of artisan wild foods and cocktail mixers, and traditional botanical medicines. Ingredients are locally foraged in a sustainable manner, and then hand-produced on a small scale in an effort to maintain the focus on creating high quality products made with ecological integrity. Laura Gilmour creates the products by developing her own original formulas or by modifying traditional recipes as she constantly experiments with new possibilities using plants from the Muskoka region.
Laura credits a strong local support network for its role in helping bring her business concept to fruition. “There are so many services available to me here in Northern Ontario, and I definitely wouldn’t have grown as fast or strategically without them.” Laura speaks fondly of her participation in YWCA Muskoka’s Women in Business Program for the guidance throughout business planning and for connecting her with a strong network of mentors. Laura has also successfully accessed numerous grants over the years to support various growth aspects for her business, including: Broadband for E-Business And Marketing (BEAM) grant (website and branding development), Northern Ontario Agri-Food Pavilion program (Royal Agricultural Winter Fair booth participation), Sustainable New Agri-Food Products & Productivity Program (SNAPP) grant (productivity improvements), and most recently, IION’s Youth Entrepreneurship Placement Program (YEPP) program (hiring a summer student; Muskoka Wild Botanical’s first employee!).
When asked how she was able to access so many support programs, Laura emphasizes that “It’s important to reach out to organizations and ask for help. As an entrepreneur, you have to be resourceful – the supports are here in Muskoka for a reason, because there are some unique challenges for small businesses in the North. Accessing available supports as well as being creative is what you need to be successful here.”
In terms of next steps for Wild Muskoka Botanicals, Laura is excited to be launching a new website in the coming weeks with a fully innovative online store to serve her growing clientele. Without a bricks and mortar location, Laura’s business relies on local retailers and a strong online presence to grow her unique brand. In addition, there are many exciting programs, workshops, and foraging hikes planned for 2018 so stay tuned to the website for details!
Laura’s dream for Wild Muskoka Botanicals and her work as a mentor is to help people to redevelop their connection to nature and the wildness within us all.
Wild Muskoka Botanicals