We had the good fortune of connecting with John Slattery and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi John, how did you come up with the idea for your business?
In short, it sprang from my experiences spending a great deal of time with plants in the wild, working with them energetically, gathering them to make medicine, and listening deeply as I went about this work. The path was something I found, or did it find me? I believe it’s at least 50% the latter, if not more. Many years ago, I stepped away from this world we live in, the US, and I walked into a great abyss…headed south. I was following an internal compass, but the directions weren’t specified as one would expect – North, East, South, West – but they morphed and changed fluidly causing me to hone in on my internal navigation system, to listen deeply and to follow my heart, even when the message stood against reason, my entire life’s experience, the views of others around me, or any other convention you could imagine. But the re-direction toward the internal was one directed by a theme of self-love and embracing who I am. This has been an ongoing challenge which continues to this day. I feel it is difficult to find one’s own unique way in a social atmosphere of severe judgement, rigid beliefs, or deeply entrenched fears. Some things have changed in our society, some have not, or perhaps morphed into different iterations of something similar. But it was this inward journey that brought me to the place internally where the conviction to start a business was a no-brainer. It was just step #73 in a very long series of steps that has continued to change and expand over time. That said, I was completely unprepared to start a business and my approach was entirely unconventional. Definitely not a way you’d learn in business school, or by the advice of anyone who knew better – including myself at this point. But that’s the thing with internal motivation: we do things that are completely irrational or would otherwise scare the hell out of us, but we’re able to do it with conviction nonetheless. I think it’s a beautiful thing and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I suffered greatly when I began but I embraced it as I relished each little half-inch forward step that I was able to take. “Each day do one thing” was my mantra early on. It kept me focused when I was all alone with no idea what I was doing, but I was building. That’s all I knew at the time, I was building. And if I stayed focused, no matter how many mistakes I made, I would continue to grow and learn. These experiences were seeded in me, my own soil, which gained fertility as I continued to apply myself, daily re-committing myself to my task. There was a good period of time, say around 5 years, that I navigated this early preparatory terrain until I stepped forward into the business. That is, I applied for a city business license and began doing business at the local farmer’s market. This was the very beginning. At this point, the business was simply an outpouring of what I had already committed my life to and the decision to start a business was out of absolute necessity. I was living hand-to-mouth, but loving it, because I was committed to my work and I loved learning each day, but I knew that I needed to secure more earnings so that I could eat. It was really that simple to begin with. I needed to eat! After a series of dreams, and a trip into the wilderness of Copper Canyon, in northern Mexico, I came up with the title and logo for the business. That’s another story, perhaps. But all along it was the plants that inspired, as well as the living landscape. I say “living” because I could feel the fluid, albeit transient, presence of something around me as I stepped out into Nature. It was alive and it recognized me as alive. In part, I wanted to help people reconnect with this. Early on, I knew this was part of my mission. Later, I would begin taking people into these landscapes to learn from the plants. Later still, I would make new relationships with indigenous elders who carried arcane plant knowledge that they wanted to pass along to those who would listen and care for this knowledge. Sadly, many of those elders have passed on now. I knew at the time that I was a bridge. I feel that I still have much work to do to share what I’ve received with others. In time. So, really, it was all of this together that helped create this business. It was truly “natural” in its birth and evolution in that Nature herself helped guide me to create this business so, at first, I could adequately provide for myself so I could continue to do the work, and, in turn, share this work with others, bring the herbs to the people who needed them.
What should our readers know about your business?
I believe I addressed some of this within the first part (for reference). No, it was not easy. I started with nothing. I scrounged for everything initially and built the business very slowly a bit at a time. I didn’t ask for money, never took out a loan, but instead chose to reinvest what I earned wisely in order to improve the integrity, efficiency, and presentation of the business. Overcoming the challenge of starting with nothing depended upon my determination, efficiency, good habits, and commitment to the work. Extended slow periods of little to no income only meant that I now had time to invest in improving the infrastructure, or get ahead on production so when sales picked up I would be ready. I didn’t believe in anything other than success. And success was measured in connecting with the people that I knew were looking for my products, or the *feel* of my products. That was just as important to many of my customers. Reflecting on my initial enthusiasm, I see now how much more productive (and financially successful) I could have been had I been more organized from the outset with a more comprehensive business plan. Nonetheless, I don’t regret how I started as it was completely authentic and legitimate. Very, very few businesses start this way, I believe. I feel it’s important that someone out there hear my story as it may resonate with them at a critical point along their path and inspire them to move forward despite the doubts, the adversity, the apparently overwhelming challenges before them. But that is all grist for the mill, as they say. The challenges are what we grow stronger by and what inspire us to greater achievements. I would like people to know and understand that Desert Tortoise Botanicals has truly grown *from the ground up* and it is an authentic company in a way that goes beyond the conventional view of “authentic” when it comes to retail companies. I would like people to know that the knowledge behind the creation of our products is unique. It is an amalgamation of my over 20 years experience as an herbalist, while influenced by generations of herbalists arising from this landscape. I would like to see DTB continue to grow in a way that inspires small businesses to “do it their own way” and bring more abundance and prosperity to the community by enhancing our awareness of and development of local resources – starting with the individual and moving out into the landscape from there. DTB began by creating something unique with what was immediately available and turning unrecognized resources into impactful, healing herbal remedies.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, things are different now…but let’s say it was pre-March, 2020 then we may head to a local grass-fed burger joint like Graze if that’s what we were in the mood for. On a weekend, if we felt like getting out early, we’d head to the TO swap meet and after checking out the stalls as they first opened we ‘d pick up some tacos or hot bowls of freshly made birria with loads of chopped onions and cilantro. This time of year, autumn, we’d maybe spend the afternoon by driving up Mt Lemmon to about 8,000’ where we could sit amidst the maples, walnuts, and box elders with their autumn foliage amidst the fresh scents emitted by the surrounding conifers after taking a hike through the canyon while looking for feral apples trees. An evening dinner at King Fisher if we hoped to enjoy some fresh seafood, perhaps oysters on the shell, and some fresh, wildcaught grilled salmon. Another favorite breakfast spot has been 5 Points. We also like Exo Roast Co for their chiltepin coffee or a Desert Forager sparkling prickly pear shrub drink on a hot afternoon. My friendships are often intimate and are centered around food, time in nature, and deep, long talks so that’s all we need right there!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Firstly, I will acknowledge *mo shinsir*, my ancestors who paved the way for me to come into this life with all the opportunities to actualize that I’ve been provided with – *go raibh maith agat* – I am grateful. Second, I want to acknowledge those people who reflected back to me, even in some small way, that I was meant to venture down this path. Whoever you were (they were numerous) you did so with humility and great honor, and I thank you. Amongst this group there are specific people I would like to acknowledge including Doña Olga Ruíz Cañez, a Pajarera herbalist from Sonora, Mexico who embraced me as one of her own. She and I shared a great love of plants and upon venturing out into the mountains together a great deal was passed between us, unspoken. Your influence kept me humble and grateful for the simple things in life. May your soul rest in peace with La Vírgen you so devoutly adored. I’d also like to acknowledge all those who lent a hand in some way, along the way, even though I may have made things difficult for them. Lastly, I’d like to thank all of those who doubted me in one way or another. You gave me great inspiration.
Other: http://www.johnjslattery.com/ https://www.instagram.com/johnjslatteryherbalist/?hl=en https://www.facebook.com/john.slattery.1656 https://www.instagram.com/desertforager/?hl=en https://www.desertforager.com/
All photos were taken by John Slattery except the portrait photo which was taken by Luka Barba Johnson.