Monday, January 27, 2014

Letter to Shire City Herbals: Fire Cider Trademark

Dear Shire City Herbals(Brian, Dana and Amy)

This is an exceptionally painful letter to write to you all.  I love seeing small herb companies get successful.  I love seeing herbal remedies spread around to various shelves.  I love Fire Cider.  I love your labels.  I love that you all seem to be conscious enough to want to market such a great kitchen remedy.  I would normally wish you the greatest of successes.  Unfortunately, you have chosen to do something, (maybe from getting bad advice or maybe just ignorance on the issue) that is bad for the herbal community, and could create a negative effect on future popular remedies and placing "ownership" legally over something that is thought of as part of our herbal "commons" so to say.  It may be that you had no idea there really was a lot of people making Fire Cider for generations and selling it.  You seem to be a rather new company and sometimes growing pains can be big.  I want to start by saying I think that you could still be very successful and be supported even more right now if you all take the path that maybe your lawyers would have advised against.  I ask you to dig deep and really think about this not as business people, but as herbalists, and caring individuals-- as people who love Fire Cider.  
Herbal Medicine's tradition is one of being by the people and for the people.  Herbalists such as Nicholas Culpepper, and more recently Rosemary Gladstar, have led a long battle to keep herbs in the hands of the general populace, not an elite group, or medical group.  Fire Cider is an exciting and popular remedy that many of my students and friends have wanted me to either mass market or they themselves have been pushed in this direction. I have taught 100s of people to make it.  Many now sell it in their own neighborhoods and communities. Its delicious.  I first learned about it in Eugene, Oregon in the late 90s and have been making it ever since.  I read about your German grandmother making a similiar concoction.  Yes, my Hungarian grandmother  in Budapest does as well.  It is common.  The name is as well in this country.
We all know it takes very hard work, as your responses have defended, to get products marketed well.  Most herbalists never do it very well, choosing more of a craft than a product.  You obviously have done the time and put energy in, which can be done to popularize just about any remedy.  Its the same way some brands of Echinacea became stars, or products like Dr Singhas Mustard Bath that got into big retail establishments. Now, you may have never heard of one of these items or known that they were popular, or who else knows about them, but that means nothing.  They are.  I do not think whomever did the research when deciding on the Trademark with Fire Cider did it with due diligence.  I really think consulting with an established and knowledgeable herbalist right now would be of help to you.  
I really hope you all consider your decision in this matter carefully and with a full heart.  Most people are expressing their distaste for your actions, not your company, so please know that if you decide to do what is ethically right, and courageous to protect Traditional, popular herbalism, I will personally support your decision, as a Practicing Herbalist, Director of a Herb School, Activist--oh and human.
I know you probably have some canned responses to this type of letter, and nothing is more distasteful to me right now.  I have already read your form letter responses.  I ask for a human response.  If you need to talk this out, I believe Rosemary Gladstar(who has already tried communicating about this and gotten what I saw as a generic and thoughtless response), is most likely available to you.  I know it may be really hard to get yourselves out of where you are at right now, but I think we can figure this out.  I really dont want to see you completely lose all of your business after all of the hard work you have done.
Currently, 2500 people have petitioned against you in 24 hours.
People are now contacting retail establishments and returning your product and asking to have your product pulled.
I personally just spoke to the buyer of our local coop and am beginning the process of boycotting if you are unable to change your position.
I would much rather be spending time on companies like Monsanto and other monsters, but with the direction you are taking this you are acting in the same thoughtless way they are, and putting money and the idea that you need to "protect your business" before people's health.  I love seeing multiple brands of herbals on the shelf.  I love that several of my students have their own versions of Fire Cider, and I hope you can begin to reevaluate whether you can come to this situation from a place being part of a larger, and long tradtiion and community that operates with passion and respect.  I want to respect you. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you figure out your next step.  Wouldnt it be great if we started a campaign and promoted it helping you to change the name?  I really like the idea of Shire Cider that one person put forth.  Just remember that whatever your decision, it will echo, and many people are watching(including my new class of 35 herbalists)


--Nicole Telkes


  1. response from Dana Hi Nicole,

    Thanks for reaching out and staying cool. We just started hearing about this in the last week, and it blew up over the weekend, much to our shock. We trademarked the name to protect the business we have spent years building, not to damage other herbalists or persecute folks who make home remedies. We after all, are a small business that started as a home remedy in a mason jar. We're going to consult with our lawyer about our options and see if we can figure out a way to both protect our investment and keep the peace. We definitely are hearing that people are upset, but also need to talk to our lawyer about what our options are, as we are far from experts in trademark law and need guidance.

    I'm a little scared about how fast this has gone from zero to threats of having an angry mob attempt to destroy us by harassing other small businesses. That seems to be what a lot of folks in the herbal community are advocating.

    We are attempting to address people's concerns but cannot carry on hundreds of conversations at once. So, email is a better way to contact us than FB posts.


  2. I think Dana, that you need to stop looking to your lawyers for the answer, and look to your heart.

  3. Dana,

    Asking businesses not to sell products that customers find problematic is not harassment. It is a way for customers to assert their preferences to have product choices that reflect their ethical values.

  4. Dana, you can voluntarily withdraw the trademark. No need to pay a lawyer.