A need for baby-care essentials planted the seeds of Melissa and Jamie Syken's Ashland business.
After a spring and summer in operation, their Growing Green Baby store is gaining ground with eco-conscious, sustainable, healthful, even locally made goods for the whole family.
"Gosh, these are perfect," says Patrice Lowes, browsing through the selection of stainless-steel lunchboxes, heavy-duty glass containers and bisphenol A-free plasticware.
"I don't want to use plastic bags and Saran wrap," explains the Ashland resident shopping for her 6-year-old son's school supplies.
Also mother to a 6-year-old son, Karsten Peterson says she appreciates the store's stock of Waldorf-approved art and craft supplies that otherwise she would find only online.
"It's really nice to have access to nontoxic materials ... wooden toys," she says, explaining that the German-made Stockmar brand crayons are pure beeswax. "There's something about the quality and the vividness of the colors," she says, adding that even her 3-year-old can make "gorgeous art."
The three boys zip by on a wooden tricycle and Wheely Bee and Wheely Bug ride-on toys as their moms shop. Growing Green Baby also has floor models of wooden, child-sized tables and chairs, rocking horses and stacking blocks to keep kids entertained in the 600-square-foot store across First Street from Ashland Food Co-op. Many more items can be purchased at www.growinggreenbaby.com or special-ordered from catalogs on file at the store.
"We can get car seats," says Melissa Syken, 34. "We sell cribs and everything ... strollers."
The Applegate couple's son, Jonathan, was the test case — first as an infant, now as a 3-year-old — for nearly all the products they sell. Six-month-old Theo Syken emerged as the second guinea pig five weeks after Growing Green Baby's March debut.
First and foremost among Growing Green Baby's product lines, says Syken, are cloth diapers in numerous brands, styles and materials.
"It's kind of a big investment," she says. "There's so many choices."
As a new mom, Syken says she assumed a local retail outlet existed for cloth diapers and reusable, organic and nontoxic versions of other baby necessities. Instead, she found that most Rogue Valley residents made their purchases in Portland, San Francisco or online. But Internet shopping didn't furnish enough up-front information, says Syken, a Rogue Valley native.
"I wanted to be able to see it in person," she says. "I wanted to feel the material."
Growing Green Baby allows for that and more. In addition to in-store diapering demonstrations, its website hosts detailed guides to choosing cloth diapers, several ways of folding them and even argues in favor of the question "Why cloth diaper?" with citations from more than 20 sources. Besides the obvious diversion of waste from landfills, cloth diapers — unlike disposable — are free from several chemicals thought to be harmful to humans and the environment, according to the website, and they promote infants' health and development in other ways.
Syken is so serious about promoting cloth diapering that she is instituting a diaper buy-back program and rentals of newborn-sized diapers — usually needed for just six weeks — that would conclude with a personalized consultation for purchasing that next type of diaper that grows with babies until they no longer need them.
She also plans to rent carrier systems, in deference not only to the wide variety and a range of parental preferences but individual babies' comfort, says Syken. Slings are suitable for some babies while others like more support, she adds.
"We really want to be a place that people can bring their questions."
A forthcoming lending library will be another resource to complement Growing Green Baby's selection of new books for parents and children. Syken says she also strives to connect customers who may want to swap or pass along used items. She's already plugged into the local network of moms' groups, practitioners and Southern Oregon Birth Connections, a collective of care providers and other health-related businesses that hosts lectures and events.
Growing Green Baby encourages families' planning with a registry service that can be created and accessed online. Syken also saves customers' shipping fees by holding items purchased through registries for pickup in the store at a later date. About 50 families have registered since Growing Green Baby opened, she says.
In-store shoppers find an ambiance of sky blue and natural wood that displays the Skyens' eco- and health-consciousness. The couple say they selected paint low in volatile organic compounds and trim, shelving and flooring certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Energy-efficient insulation and light-emitting diode fixtures were installed. And positive energy emanates from several crystals embedded in the walls, including a large rose quartz above the entrance, says Melissa Syken.
"It's our labor of love to some extent."
Located at 260 N. First St., Ashland, Growing Green Baby is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 541-488-0511.