Katy Marsh, ‘badass’ founder of Copper Moon Apothecary, magician, community catalyst, we love you

Katy Marsh started Copper Moon Apothecary and has advocated for women-owned businesses and farmers markets for decades.
(Via Garth Taylor)

Katy Marsh Thompson, 53, founder of Copper Moon Apothecary, beloved community volunteer, animal lover and farmers market advocate, learned in August that she had stage 4 ovarian cancer. She is now under hospice care at home. Her partner, Garth Taylor, had a vision to celebrate and honor her with the written word. Nicole Zahm, a friend and colleague, brings that to life here. Katy, your impacts are big and we are grateful for them, she writes. This is a love note to you.

Sometimes words aren’t enough to capture the magic of a person.

This is the case for Katy Marsh Thompson — a wild, heart-on-the-sleeve woman who has made a lasting impression on so many of us in Santa Cruz County. You might know her as the creator and owner of Copper Moon Apothecary — a high-integrity company employing women and making healing skin care products offered at our farmers markets and sold in boutique stores across California. You might know Katy because she saved your horse or pig from the CZU fires, when she hauled ass through the Santa Cruz Mountains in her work van, “Pearl,” for days. Perhaps you met Katy during her years volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center or Equine Evacuation, or over a shared meal around a large table of friends.

I was drawn to her sparkling eyes and infectious smile at the Live Oak farmers market in 2013, while sifting through her soaps and asking her questions about her company. Over the past decade, I have had many easy, meaningful conversations with Katy in the market aisles, gift after gift.

“Full of life” describes her well. Easy to laugh. Badass entrepreneur. Animal lover. Veggie eater. Adventurer. Friend. Catalyzer. Maker. Katy’s way in the world is big, giving and motivated. Daily she works to manifest the things she believes in.

She loves hard and we love her.

Katy Marsh is a tireless supporter of farmers markets.
Katy Marsh is a tireless supporter of farmers markets.
(Via Garth Taylor)

In August 2022, Katy began to experience gastrointestinal issues and went to the emergency room thinking she was stressed from her business. She ended up diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic ovarian cancer, and her projects — really everything — came to a halt.

She and her partner, Garth Taylor, have been riding the waves of this reality, and it’s been hard and heartbreaking. Amazingly, there has been laughter and sass and gratitude — even under these circumstances.

She is home now, in hospice care, surrounded by family and friends and her Great Pyrenees dog, Quinn; her cat, Pippin; and her horse, Billy. Her family has set up a GoFundMe site to support this unexpected hardship.

Here, we celebrate all that she is and has made manifest in our shared county.

Katy was a wild child pulled by the wild landscapes, the tide pools and native plants of her daily life, where she grew up walking and riding horseback along the coastal lands of Southern California.

The spark for Copper Moon Apothecary came from those early days and the foliage around her. She moved to Chico for college, majored in English and imagined becoming a technical writer, but was uninspired. Meanwhile, she did find a growing interest in the hours she spent — pushed by economic restraints and curiosity — making her own skin and hair products, allergy formulas and balms.

Moving to Santa Cruz in 1994 after graduation, Katy entered the restaurant industry to cover the cost of living and returned to school to earn her master’s in acupuncture and Eastern medicine.

Though this work aligned with her values, it still lacked the creativity she was seeking.

Katy is an animal lover and currently has a dog (Quinn, pictured as a puppy), a cat (Pippin) and horse (Billy).
Katy is an animal lover and currently has a dog (Quinn, pictured as a puppy), a cat (Pippin) and horse (Billy).
(Via Garth Taylor)

She began interning with Christopher Hobbs, studying Western herbalism and here, Katy’s interest in Eastern medicine and love for herbs synthesized. After months studying, the seed for Copper Moon Apothecary slowly growing, she made a giant leap.

Snowed in in a Boston hotel for two weeks, she used the time to put together her recipes, order permits, design labels, buy jars and launch her business, which she started in 2010.

Katy sold her first bar of soap for $3 at a farmers market. Over the years, she joined many markets, valuing the community, the reciprocity with farms and residents, watching children grow up among the stands. She joined the Live Oak and Westside markets over a decade ago and has chosen to stay small and maintain control over her product and what it stands for.

In fall of 2020, Katy also took on recruitment and management of local makers for the Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets, bringing in new apothecary, pottery, woodwork and other fine household items.

Supporting women in business is a central value for Katy.

She relates to the experience of coming up against barriers and pushing through. Katy was adopted and faced a lot of barriers in building her business, including sexism at many points. Empowering women to believe in themselves, pursue their visions for work and to succeed is a strong thread throughout her life, and at Copper Moon Apothecary, she primarily employs women.

Her partner of seven years, Garth Taylor, describes her as a champion for people, always putting people first, sometimes to her detriment.

Katy Marsh Thompson and Garth Taylor.
(Via Garth Taylor)

She was absolutely a champion for him and his business. “Katy really forced me to grow up as a businessperson,” he says. “At the time (I met Katy), we were doing fairly well, but she taught me to believe more in myself and expect more from my business.”

With Katy’s support, Garth says he began to value himself more and pursued his own business, Garth Taylor Jiu-Jitsu, where he’s experiencing tremendous success. This is Katy’s way, to see people for who they are, “love on them,” get real and lift them up.

Now time is of the essence for Katy. And isn’t that true for all of us mortal ones.

Katy turned 53 on Feb. 5 and celebrated her birthday at Home restaurant, surrounded by her family and farmers market friends, including Nesh Dhillon, farmers market director, and restaurant owners Linda Ritten and Brad Briske. In classic style, Katy ordered for everyone. The meal came family style, with waves of plates arriving.

Katy Marsh celebrated her 53rd birthday at Home restaurant on Feb. 5 with "waves" of food among friends.
Katy Marsh celebrated her 53rd birthday at Home restaurant on Feb. 5 with “waves” of food among friends.
(Via Garth Taylor)

Garth says she was “in her element” — surrounded by family and friends eating local produce, in charge of it all and celebrating our community.

Katy has had the wisdom to pursue a full and honest life for herself that the community as a whole benefits from.

Kay ordered food for the table for her birthday celebration on Feb. 5.
Kay ordered food for the table for her birthday celebration on Feb. 5.
(Via Garth Taylor)

Her way in the world is a way that makes a house a home. Thank you, Katy, a million times.

Nicole Zahm coordinates community outreach, education and event programming for Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets and spends time managing markets and providing administrative support. Born and raised in Santa Cruz, she got a bachelor’s degree from UCSC and a dual master’s degree in social work and public health from the University of Michigan. She has focused professionally on health in various capacities including HIV prevention, hospice care and eventually food systems. She loves to dance, get silly with her daughter, make art and jump in cold water. She wrote this piece in conversation with Katy Marsh Thompson, Garth Taylor and Nesh Dhillon.

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