In October 2012, the American Botanical Council welcomed to its Board of Trustees Tom Newmark, a long-time, ardent environmentalist who is best known for his past role at the herbal supplements company New Chapter, Inc. Newmark was instrumental in helping New Chapter become the first dietary supplements company to have its entire line of vitamins certified as made with organic ingredients as well as verified by the Non-GMO Project, and he has remained a tireless activist for organic and non-GMO causes. He also is co-owner of Finca Luna Nueva, a biodynamic and organic herb farm in Costa Rica, and he co-founded Semillas Sagradas, a botanical sanctuary that preserves traditional and medicinal plants and the knowledge surrounding their important uses. Semillas Sagradas, which is on the Luna Nueva farm, was the first installment in what has grown into a worldwide network of approximately 16 similar projects under the nonprofit organization Sacred Seeds, of which Newmark is president and chair of the board.
In addition to his new position on ABC’s Board of Trustees, Newmark recently joined the natural products merchant banker 6Pacific as chairman, a role in which he will assist natural products companies in achieving greater commercial success. He also serves on the boards of Greenpeace, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s William L. Brown Center, and Friends of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
“My dad is, by definition, a passionate man,” said his daughter Sara Newmark, who is director of sustainability at New Chapter (oral communication, August 21, 2012). “No matter what he decides is his passion, you will not only hear about it, it will move you.”
A self-described “recovering attorney,” Newmark came to New Chapter in 1999 after serving as a legal consultant to his college friend and New Chapter co-founder Paul Schulick. Newmark started off at the company as president, and, over the next 13 years, held several titles including co-CEO, CEO, and chairman. Newmark describes Schulick as his “first and most important teacher with respect to herbal medicine.” Together they co-authored Beyond Aspirin (Holm Press, 2000), The Life Bridge (Herbal Free Press, 2002), and created the current top-selling combination dietary supplement product in the United States, Zyflamend®, a multi-herbal extract formulation to promote healthy inflammation response that has been supported by laboratory studies and a Phase I clinical trial.
“Tommy was responsible for many, many roles,” said Schulick (oral communication, August 28, 2012). “He is a visionary. He’s able to look a little toward the future and see what trends might be most beneficial. And he also is very, very bright so he is able to wear many different hats at one time. He was able to communicate with scientists and regulators and staff in stores. He just has many skill sets.”
During his time at New Chapter, Newmark had a profound impact on the company, particularly its success in becoming the first-ever dietary supplements company to have its entire line of vitamins certified as made with organic ingredients.
“He really championed the cause that our company was based on from the very start,” said Schulick.
“He was the force behind going organic,” said his daughter Sara. “He was the force behind making sure that we were certified by the Non-GMO Project. That legacy will live on as long as New Chapter does, and beyond as more companies are able to step into our footsteps and take advantage of those opportunities. His personal stamp is the heart of who I think New Chapter is and will always be.”
Speaking to Newmark about organic foods and herbs, his passion for the cause is obvious. “I believe that organics are the only way to feed the planet,” he said (oral communication, August 28, 2012). “They are the only way to, on a humane level, enable people to sustain themselves without the use of the toxic, obnoxious chemistries. Organic farming is an absolutely indispensable component to addressing and remediating carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. I think that any discussion on global climate change and resolutions that we must begin to implement must embrace organic farming and conversion of conventional [farming] acreage to organic acreage.”
Shortly before retiring from New Chapter, Newmark and Sara spent weeks in India touring organic farms and the villages involved in farming the organic herbs used in some of New Chapter’s products. Many of the organic and sustainability passions shared by the father and daughter were united and realized on this trip.
“It was an epiphany,” said Newmark. “Seeing the villages that were dust in the wind and just down the road, organic communities that were not only producing brilliant and lively and healing botanicals for the Western world, but were also supporting the villages and supporting the people and reviving the ecosystems. Part of the responsibility of being a botanical company, being an herbal company, is knowing your farmers and knowing the supply chain and being confident that every step of your supply chain is in accordance with national law, with the needs of both humanity and the planet.”
During Newmark’s 13 years at New Chapter, he also made and maintained connections and financial arrangements between New Chapter and other members of the natural products industry. Newmark retired from the company after its purchase by Procter & Gamble in June of 2012 (though he is serving as a consultant during a short transition phase).
Now Newmark plans to spend half of his time in Costa Rica, working on Luna Nueva and Semillas Sagradas and expanding the network of Sacred Seeds sanctuaries around the world. Steven Farrell, who also co-founded Semillas Sagradas and is manager of Luna Nueva, said Newmark always has been the most enthusiastic supporter of these projects. From the beginning, Farrell said, “Tom was all over the idea. He was just, ‘Yes! Do that!’ His interest is always to stimulate us to improve and increase the plants. Tom’s call was always, ‘More, faster, quicker.’ He’s always been the best cheerleader and supporter of what we’ve been doing on the farm, including Semillas Sagradas. He stimulates others to do more, to learn more” (oral communication, September 7, 2012).
Semillas Sagradas started out with 68 plant species and has grown to feature about 300. Every day that Newmark is in Costa Rica, he strolls through the garden, which is only about 200 feet from his home. Sara describes Costa Rica as Newmark’s “happy place.”
“I have never seen him more at home and at peace than when he is walking through the rainforest of Costa Rica and dipping his head in the rivers of the jungle and hanging with the farmers and working on his important preservation work down there.”
When discussing the tiny Central American country that he first visited about 15 years ago, Newmark’s voice becomes giddy with excitement. “There is no place I’ve ever found on earth that is as beautiful in every direction, up and down, sideways, at once, with as much biodiversity as Costa Rica,” he said. “It’s a very lovely place and a place where I lose connection to a lot of the insanity of the world, and I gain connection to the things that are truly most precious. I’m thrilled that Costa Rica has welcomed these kind of starry-eyed gringos filled with dreams of green and peace.”
Newmark describes his interest in plants as “something that was imminent,” having been interested as a young boy inspired by his own father, whom he said was “an exquisite gardener who had an artistic and tender touch with respect to his gardens.” The young Newmark, who often accompanied his father on weekend garden trips, described himself as a budding boy-scientist who delighted in telling adults that he wanted to be a microbiologist when he grew up just to see their reaction.
“I certainly had my trading card collection of baseball players,” said Newmark. “But I also was collecting plants and doing taxonomies of plants.”
After high school, Newmark graduated from Washington University in 1973 and went on to Yale for a graduate degree in political science. Not much more than one semester passed when he left to study Transcendental Meditation and eventually became a teacher of meditation for several years. It was through meditation and his mentor Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the well-known guru to The Beatles, that Newmark connected his own love of plants to their healing potential.
“Through his teachings,” said Newmark, “I became more sensitized to the power of plants to heal and enlighten and it was through my studies of meditation that I first became aware of Ayurvedic medicine and the principles that had formed that exquisite, ancient, venerable healing system.”
Still, it was not at that point that Newmark began his official career with herbal medicine; instead he followed in his father and brother’s footsteps by obtaining a law degree. “It felt like the logical thing for me to do,” said Newmark. Though he carried on a family tradition, Newmark’s trial law practice was unconventional and representative of his true spirit. Among other clients, he represented the Animal Legal Defense Fund pro bono, seeking to have underwater trapping of Missouri river otters banned “as an offensive and painful suffocation that was wrong.” He also represented the Natural Law Party, which is based on the Maharishi’s teachings, and Ross Perot’s Reform Party, both of which sought to be included in the 1996 presidential debates, which Newmark described as an attempt “to break the stranglehold of the 2 dominating parties.”
Newmark said he hopes always to use his law experience in ways that “are of benefit to the world,” a goal he can strive toward through his nonprofit work. In addition to ABC and his roles on other boards, Newmark continues to champion the causes of organic farming and non-GMO foods and herbs — causes he describes as resonating “very deeply with my soul” — through public-speaking tours and editorial articles.
Newmark brings to the ABC Board of Trustees a deep devotion to environmentalism, conservation, and organic herb production, as well as a youthful energy and more than a decade of experience within the regulatory environments of the natural products industry.
“Tom Newmark is an extraordinarily talented individual,” said New York Botanical Garden ethnobotanist and fellow ABC Board member Michael Balick, PhD (email, September 14, 2012). “In addition to his experience with supplements, particularly botanicals, he is an organic spice farmer, conservationist, and author, with an international perspective shaped by his devotion to protecting nature, public health, and the well-being of generations that someday will inhabit Planet Earth. It is also just plain fun to walk through a tropical forest with Tom and see his overwhelming excitement about the plants, animals, and even the less-obvious microbes that are to be found. I am thankful that Tom enthusiastically accepted this new assignment as a colleague on the ABC Board of Trustees, and know that in the years to come, he will contribute significantly to the Board’s vital work in governing and expanding this important organization.”
Photographer, author, and Chairman of the ABC Board of Trustees, Steven Foster, said, “The Board of Trustees of the American Botanical Council was deeply honored when Tom Newmark accepted our invitation to serve on our Board. Tom brings a combination of exceptional nonprofit and for-profit board experience to ABC along with a deep personal and professional understanding of the natural products industry and the herb consumer.”
“The American Botanical Council,” said Newmark, “is an extraordinary organization populated by some of the most wonderful scholars, ethnobotanists, scientists, thinkers. I am exceptionally proud to be on the Board. To me, it is a career achievement.”
According to his daughter, Newmark also brings his intellect.
“He is a very smart guy,” said Sara. “I’ve actually never met anybody as smart as him and I think I’m not saying that just as his daughter. He thinks things through and has a unique ability to understand situations and direct business and organizations. I think he’s proven himself at that, and I think ABC will really benefit from it. I’ve never really seen him as excited and honored to be asked to serve in such a position.”
—Lindsay Stafford Mader