Megan Schnitker is a lifelong learner and is sharing the knowledge she accumulated from family and Lakota elders as a traditional Indigenous herbalist.
She’s made a business, Lakota Made, selling salves, tinctures and teas made from locally harvested plants and has been selling them online and at vendor markets the past few years. The business is expanding and now has a permanent home in the Frost Plaza Building in Old Town Mankato.
The space is a small eclectic store with dried herbs and plants hanging on the walls. Products are displayed on wood tables and shelves of various shapes and sizes that were purchased at local thrift shops and garage sales. Signs show the plants used to make different products and include the Lakota, scientific and English names of the plant.
The store opened recently and its hours are 1-6 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday and 10-4 p.m. Saturdays. An opening celebration will be held July 16 with music and local vendors operating booths outside the store. The Wooden Spoon is creating a special menu item for the occasion.
Schnitker grew up in the community of Milks Camp in South Dakota. She first began accumulating traditional Indigenous knowledge of plants as a child when her uncle would point out various plant species and tell her how they could help with bee stings and other ailments.
As an adult, Schnitker wanted to continue learning and was taught by Lakota elders in South Dakota. Schnitker began making salves for friends and family using this knowledge. She would create new salves based on the ailments of her family and friends.
Her husband, Ethan, encouraged her to start selling the items a couple of years ago to help make money while Schnitker was taking care of their eight children as a stay-at-home mom.
“I didn’t think anybody would buy it,” Schnitker said. “I didn’t think they would know what it is.”
She began selling salves on her Facebook page and quickly sold out. She then shared a vendor booth with her mom at the Mahkato Wacipi powwow and quickly ran out of products. She created a Facebook page and a website to streamline the process. Schnitker began traveling and operating booths at local vendor markets.
“It just kept growing and kept growing,” she said.
Schnitker and colleagues would find local plants to harvest, working with farmers and the Department of Natural Resources to determine where they could harvest and which areas weren’t sprayed with pesticides and insecticides, a practice they still do today.
Schnitker ran the business out of her home and used the former duplex’s second kitchen to make the products. The dining room became the shipping center and was full of boxes, products and labels that would be sent to customers.
Production eventually outgrew the Schnitker household, and she moved the shipping and product creation to a space in the basement of the Frost Plaza Building. The store still solely operated online and at vendor markets, but last September Schnitker began thinking about giving Lakota Made a permanent home.
She learned a space in the Frost Plaza Building that had housed Kato Project Three was available a few months ago. The space was just upstairs from the production facility.
“It was all perfect,” Schnitker said.
The business is a team effort and about five people keep it running, helping with production, shipping, inventory and even child care so Megan and Ethan can focus on the business.
They are still doing out-of-town vendor markets, along with the store.
The business tries to be sustainable and reduce waste accumulated. Customers return product and shipping containers so they can be reused. Some local businesses also save their packaging, bubble wrap and plastic foam and donate it to Lakota Made.
“We keep it out of landfills and try to reuse it until there’s nothing left,” she said.
A classroom is also being created in the space that will house cultural classes and workshops.
Schnitker said she’s the first Lakota woman to own a store in Old Town Mankato, something she is proud of. Her store is about four blocks from the site where the 38 Dakota men were hanged following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
“It’s just a small corner of the world where we can grow and have a presence,” she said.