Barb produces elegant fragrances from the world’s trouble spots

Barb StegemannIt was at Barb Stegemann’s kitchen table that Trevor Greene decided to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces. Ms. Stegemann wanted to join Mr. Greene, her best friend, but a mild hearing impairment made it impossible.

In 2006, Greene, who had been part of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, returned home severely wounded. During a peaceful discussion with village elders he had removed his helmet as a sign of respect. A teenager, influenced by the Taliban, had brought an ax down on his head. Doctors weren’t optimistic.

Stegemann was devastated.

But she was also determined that Greene would get better and that she would, as she promised him, “carry on his mission to make up for not being there.” She hadn’t a clue, however, how she was going to do this.

Then, thanks to a 2008 public radio story, she learned of Abdullah Arsala, a farmer in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, who was growing orange blossoms and roses instead of illegal poppies – and encouraging other farmers to do the same.

The process of distilling essential oils from flowers is similar to the way heroin is made from poppies. Creating fragrances from flowers can be lucrative, but Mr. Arsala was struggling.

“The same people who attacked my best friend were knocking over [Arsala’s] distillery,” Stegemann says.

She made him an offer. She would purchase his orange blossom oil and use it to make a high-quality fragrance under the brand The 7 Virtues, the name of her self-published book.

When her bank refused to grant her a loan, she charged $2,000 on her Visa card to purchase one cup of Arsala’s oil. From that, she produced 1,000 bottles of Afghanistan Orange Blossom, which she launched on International Women’s Day in 2010, selling it out of her garage.

In four weeks, she broke even.

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