We had the good fortune of connecting with Samuel James Queen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Samuel James, how does your business help the community?
Fam Botanicals is a line of face & body oils made with exquisitely fresh ingredients harvested by local farmers & wildcrafters. I started this company as a way of rebuilding our relationships with our plant relatives. Much of modern life has become incredibly abstract. The products we use and the food we eat often have ingredients that we can’t even pronounce and have no idea where they come from or how they are made. To be clear, that does not mean these ingredients are inherently bad. It simply means that there is a disconnect and a yearning for transparency and connection with a greater web of life. By telling the stories of the plants and their properties, the people who tend to them, the ecosystems they are apart of, and the historical context of how humans have interacted with these plants over time, Fam Botanicals aims to help people reconnect to the larger web of life we are all apart of and have been apart of since the beginning of time.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
There are a few common threads that unite my otherwise delightfully meandering creative journey: a love of nature, an entrepreneurial spirit, storytelling, travel, and social justice. I grew up in Colorado with Catholic parents who have a palpable awe of nature and whom homeschooled all six of their children. This allowed us ample time for splashing in creeks, climbing trees, and reading great books. We would then pile in the cherry red, 15-passenger, family airport shuttle van and explore the places we had learned about in the books. The most epic of these journeys was a 7-week road trip around New England visiting the places we read about in our American History books. When I wasn’t doing homework, I was hustling up cash shoveling sidewalks, mowing lawns, and doing any other work I could get my hands on under the name “Sam’s 10 Dollar Odd Jobs.” At 9 I used this extra cash to fly myself to Washington to visit a friend. When I was 15 I traveled internationally for the first time to Guatemala with a group of people from church to meet a young girl whose family I had been sponsoring for a year. This experience opened my eyes to the beauty of other cultures and the abundance with which I had the opportunity to share and positively impact others.
At 17 I moved to Los Angeles and studied film production at Loyola Marymount University. During that program I spent a semester in Germany making a short documentary about pickpocketing. This experience made me fall in love with documentary storytelling and living abroad. Upon my return, I was on the board of a community service organization at my university and interned in the documentary department at Participant Media, the studio behind hugely important social impact films such as An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc, Waiting for Superman, and dozens of other powerful documentary films that opened the eyes of the American public to pressing social and environmental justice issues.
I finished film school and went to Malawi to film a short documentary about a group of engineers building a water filtration system for a school for blind children and a women’s shelter. From there I moved to South Korea where I taught kindergarten and made a 24-hour-long, day-in-the-life documentary as part of a worldwide project called the Global Lives Project, which sought to share the unfiltered everyday experiences of our fellow humans around the globe. This project showed at the New York Film Festival, the Lincoln Center, the Google headquarters in NYC, and continues to tour internationally in classrooms and cultural institutions.
After Korea, I spent a year in Australia, during which time I spent 3 months as a photographer at a coal mine protest camp that was destroying aboriginal sacred sites, endangered woodlands and animal species, and worsening climate change through the excavation and use of fossil fuels. After Australia I moved to Toronto and then New Orleans where I made documercials for non-profits working to solve complex environmental and social justice issues in their region.
I eventually returned to LA where I found myself producing shoots for beauty brands. After a couple years in the city, I needed to reconnect with nature and moved to the forests of Humboldt for a season to trim pot and live in the forest. It was during this time that Rosemary Gladstar came to me in the form of one of her books and I felt the forest beckoning me to return to Colorado and deepen my relationship with the plant queendom through the study of herbalism.
My path continues to unfold in front of me and quite honestly most days it feels like it makes no sense at all and I get all caught up being worried and confused about what I’m doing and where I’m going. It really isn’t until I take moments like this to reflect on my path to recognize the common threads and sink into the trust that I am exactly where I am meant to be along the journey, which right now is making exquisite botanical face & body oils, which reconnect people with the ancient magical relationships we have with the botanical beings that are all around us! As long as I’m leaving the world and its complex communities a little better than I found them and spreading some joy along the way, I’d say I’m happy to continue letting the path unfold.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I live in the Baker neighborhood of Denver and absolutely adore its whimsical old architecture and delightfully eclectic mixture of subcultures. You’ve got your goths, your punks, your queers, your young professionals, young families, elders, immigrants, artists, unhoused, your club goers and church goers, small business owners and medical professionals, you name it! Because it’s summer, we’d go to Sweet Action and get a scoop, eating it on the way to the Fairmont community garden to water my plot and the community plots. After that, we’d stop at the most popping thrifstore this side of the Mississippi, the Goodwill on Broadway and Archer. I have furnished the majority of my apartment with scores from there. We’d then meander along the Platte, stopping at the Denver Art Museum to catch the latest exhibit. I went to a fantastic exhibition recently on the fashion of Gregory Peck & Veronique. We’d take a gander at the gorgeous architecture of Union Station on the way to RiNO to peep some incredible street art and grab a drink at Honey Elixir Bar, Our Mutual Friend, and Mister Oso. On the way home we’d catch an arthouse flick at the Mayan and then finish the night with a slice of za at Pie Hole after a nightcap at Sputnik, Dougherty’s, and/or Badgers. The next day we’d say hello to the plants at Rosehouse Botanicals then pop over to Apothecary Tinctura to vibe out with our witchy crew there and get some amazing herbs. Then we’d head for the hills and go for a hike at Brainard Lake.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First shoutout goes to Rosemary Gladstar. She is an icon in the herbal world and has spent her career gracefully and effectively enchanting others with the magic of plants and ensuring this ancient wisdom gets passed down in our modern world. Second shoutout goes to the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism and Lisa Ganora who was the director of the school during my tutelage. Under Lisa’s direction, the school grounded the enchanting magic of plants in rigorous education around anatomy, physiology, botany, and phytochemistry. Third shoutout goes to Colorado Lending Source and Adam Melnick who host the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program each summer. This program gave me the fire I needed to officially launch my own business. Fourth shoutout goes to Apothecary Tinctura and Bethany Stamey, a legendary institution that has been reconnecting the Denver community with our ancient herbal traditions for over 20 years. Under the management of Bethany Stamey, Apothecary Tinctura was the first retailer to get behind my products and sell them in store.
Photography by Samuel James Queen, Kelsey Fugere, Leonardo Hayward James McEwen, and Veronica Wood