Soap 101: Studies in self-reliance

Special to the Union Leader |
March 08. 2014 1:02AM

Michelle Rafalowski wears goggles and gloves while handling chemicals, including liquid lye, during a soap-making workshop. (LARISSA MULKERN)

WOLFEBORO - A combination of chemistry and cooking skills came in handy during a recent soap-making workshop held at the Kingswood Youth Center.

The workshop was the first in a series of 11 self-sufficiency-themed classes co-hosted by Global Awareness Local Action (GALA) of Ossipee and the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School of Masardis, Maine.

The series of workshops, all taught by local instructors, highlights homesteading, sustainable living and wildnerness skills, focusing on topics such as campfire cooking, fly fishing, sauna making, book binding, beer brewing and more.

Instructor Justin Martin, an experienced soap-maker who works as a math teacher at Waterville Valley Academy by day, led a group of 16 pupils during the soap-making class. Some students, including Jane McIlvaine of Epsom, traveled more than an hour to attend.

McIlvaine, recently retired, said she and her husband started organic farming out of an interest in health and the environment. The soap-making class would teach her how to use natural ingredients to make soaps she can use at home and give as gifts.

"I'm very interested in the local-food movement," said McIlvaine, adding that she and her husband recently joined the Northeast Organic Farmers Association.

For this class, she brought along some marigolds to add to the soap recipe, explaining that the flower has healing properties and is good to use on skin burns.

Fellow student Nadia Carpenter of Brookfield said the class taught a useful skill.

"You get a feeling of empowerment when you know how to take care of your life and you don't have to buy everything at the store," she added.

Carpenter, who helped create the Ossipee Community Garden last year, said she also is interested in making healing soaps she can sell to others.

During the class, students learned that a basic soap recipe includes mixing liquid lye with a combination of olive, coconut and palm oils; a small amount of essential oils that come in a variety of fragrances such as lavender and peppermint; and an exfoliant such as tea, nuts, oatmeal or spirulina. The combined ingredients are blended and poured into a safe cardboard or plastic container - just about anything other than aluminum - and cured for up to a month.

"It's a pretty simple process," said Martin, standing in front of an island cluttered with ingredients and containers.

As student Michelle Rafalowski heated ingredients in the adjoining kitchen, she talked about how the class is an example of practical chemistry that she can replicate in the advanced-placement biology and chemistry classes she teaches at Wolfeboro's Brewster Academy.

Upcoming workshops will be held monthly on the second Wednesday of each month from 5:30-8 p.m. Classes through April will be held at the Kingswood Youth Center on Route 28 and at the Barn at Moody Mountain Farm, 100 Pork Hill Road in Wolfeboro, from May to December.

"We wanted to highlight skills that people could utilize at home," said Emily Richey, a capacity-building officer with GALA and AmeriCorps VISTA who moderated the first workshop. "The goal of the series is to help people increase their skill sets while boosting personal and community resilience."

Richey said she was pleased with the turnout for the soap-making class. Most upcoming workshops will be capped at about 16 students to allow for ample hands-on learning time for each individual, she said.
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