Windham produced 'Skeeter Skidaddler keeps bugs at bay by Leah Hoenen
From Maine’s North Woods to the Amazon jungle, the planet’s most feared swarms of biting insects have met their match. What’s stopping them is ‘Skeeter Skidaddler, a pleasant-smelling blend of herbal extracts developed and made in Windham.
In 2007, Windham resident Allen Pollock, co-founded the Lakes Region Farmers Market, where he planned to sell organic produce. “When you do market gardening, it’s all the time. You’ve got to be out there,” said Pollock, who is allergic to insect bites.
Ready to grow produce for the market and wary of the bugs, he started looking for an effective insect repellant with a nice fragrance, but couldn’t find one he liked. He wanted to avoid DEET, and had questions about some commonly-used herbal oils. For example, rosemary oil is mildly toxic, Pollock said, and citronella is relatively ineffective.
So, Pollock did some research and started to create his own product, which he decided to sell at the market alongside his produce. “Some essential oils that seemed to be benign were not being used,” he said. One such oil was eucalyptus.
Pollock had recalled a bit of information his father, a veteran of the Second World War in Asia, shared with him years before when he was growing up in San Jose, California. “He knew I was allergic to bugs. He was a subtle man. At the time, I liked the smell of eucalyptus and would put it in my hair. He said to me, ‘You’ll notice there are not a lot of mosquitoes in a eucalyptus grove.’ I remembered that,” Pollock said.
The first year ‘Skeeter Skidaddler was offered for sale, he pasted photocopied labels on purchased bottles. “I sold 85 bottles the first year and realized people are coming back to buy this. It’s not just a one-time thing,” he said.
Pollock used the spray, and sent some to his brother who lives in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. “He said it was good stuff,” said Pollock.
Sales went up the second year ‘Skeeter Skidaddler was at the farmers’ market. Pollock describes himself as conservative when it comes to risk, so he developed his business slowly. In 2009, he sold 180 bottles at the market. “I’m making far more money selling this at the market than I am selling radishes or lettuce,” he said. At the end of that year, Pollock quit the market because he couldn’t produce and sell the bug spray and grow and sell vegetables.
Since then, he’s begun selling wholesale to retailers and has purchased some used processing equipment. Pollock built his own filler, and mixes the batches and labels the bottles by hand. It can make for a long day, since Pollock also works with computers at Maine Medical Center. Logging the hours necessary to build a business is what makes an entrepreneur successful, he said. Recently, he and his wife, Elaine, traveled to Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina promoting ‘Skeeter Skidaddler.
“It’s not just a product for northern species. I’ve had people use it in Haiti, the Amazon jungle, Bali, Vietnam, and it works just as well there as in northern areas like Minnesota or Maine,” said Pollock.‘Skeeter Skidaddler is made of essential oils mixed with organic sunflower oil. Pollock is careful to buy from suppliers that name the sources of their oils and buys nothing from China*** (see below). “The Chinese have a culture of having (less) responsibility for what they’re selling. They (may) think that’s your problem, not their problem,” said Pollock.
Oils in ‘Skeeter Skidaddler come from Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia. The cedarwood oil is sourced in the United States. “None are organic as in the sense of being labeled organic, but they’re steam distilled. There’s no hexane used,” said Pollock.
He noted that there are no genetically-engineered sunflowers, and that the sunflower oil he uses is processed in Denmark from Romanian seeds. “One of the good things about E.U. is they generally have to play safe. I wouldn’t use anything from Ukraine*** (see below) because of the radioactivity. Concentrates can have much more toxicity per unit, because it’s concentrated. Why expose anybody to that?” said Pollock.
In the formulation of ‘Skeeter Skidaddler, Pollock has put his concern for safety first and foremost. “I didn’t want to assume it’s all good until somebody proves otherwise,” said Pollock. That’s why he avoided oils, such as rosemary, which are known to be toxic and to accumulate in fatty tissue.
And, because people like to spend time with their dogs outside, Pollock formulated a dog version of ‘Skeeter Skidaddler which does not include cedarwood oil which can irritate dogs’ skin. “I was concerned that people would use the human product on dogs and it would cause dermatitis,” he said. ‘Skeeter Skidaddler is available in its original formulation, in the pet-friendly version or without patchouli.
“It’s in a small bottle and it’s concentrated essential oils. There is no water and no propellant, so you get the maximum benefit of the oils,” said Pollock.
Look for the small silver bottles for sale in stores around the lakes region. Further information and a list of retailers may be found online at http://www.tremblingleaf.com .
*** NOTE: I want to clarify that due to the fact that I have no testing lab to assure ingredients are what they are labeled, or to test for things like toxins (there have been increasing concerns about raw ingredients shipped from China) or radio-isotope contamination (some parts of Ukraine are contaminated by the fallout from the nuclear accident which occurred at Chernobyl), that I chose to err on the side of caution with regard to these regions as sources.
With regard to doing business with China (or any country whose culture is significantly different than the USA), directly or indirectly, one must be concerned about how they perceive the relationships of business.
The Chinese practice a strong form of "Caveat Emptor" , ie - let the buyer beware. Because of this tendency to put the responsibility on the buyer to assure they are getting what they want, rather than the seller being responsible for what they are selling, there is a large room for error and, even, misrepresentation. Thus the spate of recent news reports about some product shipments from China which we would consider substandard, contaminated, or even toxic.
The Chinese make a lot of things. There is a broad range of producers and products. Most Chinese producers make a fine product, but some do not. How to tell the difference is of concern to me.
As a buyer of concentrated essential oils I choose to rely on my suppliers' quality assurance processes (I buy from US distributors who have demonstrated a positive, responsible ethic), as well as generally choosing source nations whose businesses have a record for delivering premium quality essential oils. Combining these two 'filters' I believe is wise, and will reduce the possibility of importing problems.