Weiwei “Vivian” Fellman is on a mission.
A passionate advocate for healthy living, Vivian wants others to realize how to live their best lives as well. The straightforward and breezy way she talks about the importance of developing healthy habits indicates just how ingrained they are in her daily life, but also inspires you to want to join her on a long run or pop into one of the cycling classes she teaches at the YMCA.
A small business owner and entrepreneur, Vivian founded Kota Organics in late 2019 and recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of being North Dakota’s first retail store that sells premium organic CBD products, despite the challenging pandemic year of 2020.
Her passion for health has now also become her profession, and she couldn’t be happier about that.
Health and wellness has been a part of Vivian’s life since growing up in China where she had access to herbs and botanicals. In 2004, she wasn’t expecting to meet Jeff Fellman from Fargo, North Dakota in Beijing, but she did, and they soon fell in love. When Jeff realized he was missing home and his family thousands of miles away, they made the difficult decision together that Jeff would return to the United States and they’d continue dating at a distance.
“He’s a real family man,” Vivian explained. “The things you have to deal with in a long-distance relationship are tough, and then you add in different time zones; we just decided if this relationship was meant to work out, it would work out.”
In the days before Zoom meetings (if you can imagine that bygone time), Vivian and Jeff only had the option of Skype calling one another, which they did, every day. Vivian had a flexible schedule with her job, so she was able to come to Fargo to visit Jeff, and he visited Beijing as well. In the summer of 2008, he proposed and Vivian said yes.
Coming to America
Her answer also initiated an immigration process that would take months. Being engaged meant Vivian could apply for a type of immigrant visa — fiancé(e) visa, but the stipulation was that she had to enter into the U.S. within 90 days upon the approval of her visa. She and Jeff had to get married within 90 days from the date she entered the U.S., so she moved to Fargo at the end of 2009, and they married shortly after — in four different ceremonies, actually. Those celebrations covered the legal, spiritual, cultural and religious facets of their lives and allowed many family members to commemorate their special union.
Once married, the couple settled in Fargo and eventually welcomed two sons, Edward, who is now 6, and Patrick, who is 4. The family loves traveling, not just back to China to visit Vivian’s family, but anywhere else in the world that seems interesting and exciting. But traveling frequently planted an idea in Vivian’s heart that she had to contemplate for a long time before acting on it.
Traveling is another passion of Vivian’s, but whenever she did, she had to go through a different customs line at the airport to be processed and allowed back into the United States. Once she began traveling with her boys, she realized that she was considered different than the rest of her family. And that notion bothered her.
“I pulled the trigger eventually because I was tired of being treated differently,” she said. “I made the decision, but it was hard because China does not acknowledge dual citizenship; you have to give up your Chinese citizenship forever if you decide to pursue other citizenships.”
Vivian initiated her American citizenship process in 2017, prompting paperwork and background checks and interviews and studying and fingerprints. About 18 months after starting the process, she passed her interview and was scheduled for a naturalization ceremony at Sanctuary Events Center in April of 2019.
“It was really cool,” she said about the ceremony. “There were about 400 people of all different races … and it was fascinating; why did they all choose to become a US citizen? I just wanted to soak it in.”
After celebrating the occasion, Vivian set her sights on actually practicing her newfound status through an important act: voting. No matter how divisive the last election season was, nothing could hamper Vivian’s excitement to exercise her right to vote. She put the date on her calendar and went in person to early voting. And she got that coveted sticker, which she saved and displayed proudly during the interview.
“I lived in China for 30 years, so I never voted because it’s a one-party system there; you don’t get to vote,” she said. “Americans are so privileged to be able to vote; the democratic system is not perfect but it’s there.”
Staying focused amid challenges
While voting in her first election as a US citizen was clearly a highlight of the past year, running a business during a global pandemic has been challenging, to say the least. Of course Vivian could never have known in December 2019 when she opened Kota Organics that a pandemic would take over the world just months later.
All Vivian wanted to do was run her health and wellness store because a couple of years ago, she found a great solution to manage her panic attacks, and she wanted to share that solution with others.
“Patrick was born four and a half years ago with a heart condition and had to be operated on right away,” she explained. “We spent four weeks in the NICU of Masonic Children Hospital in Minneapolis after he was born.”
Even after Patrick came home, Vivian started noticing symptoms like shaky hands, shortness of breath, racing heart and more. She talked with her doctor, who suggested yoga or meditation, but Vivian’s Chinese heritage told her to seek out organic, herbal remedies instead. That’s when CBD oil came into the news and she realized she had an option not yet considered. In 2018, the federal farm bill legalized hemp under certain restrictions, so the North Dakota Legislature passed a law allowing CBD products to be sold, as long as they are derived from legally produced hemp, according to a June 19, 2019, Forum article.
“I was just doing research and CBD showed up in the news talking about how it could help manage stress, PTSD and panic attacks,” she said. “CBD is still so stigmatized though, because people think it’s marajuana.”
According to Healthline, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is psychoactive in cannabis but CBD is not psychoactive. CBD oil is extracted from the cannabis plant and diluted with another natural oil. As Vivian searched for options to buy quality products, she was disappointed with what she found. “I’m a mom, and I don’t want to be seen going into those smoke shops,” she explained. “Plus, the CBD information was overwhelming and saying it’s a magic pill to get rid of everything, but that’s not true.”
That’s what led her to open Kota Organics — to be a platform to advocate for consumers like mothers and seniors dealing with health issues and seeking preventative, not reactive treatment, she said. Plus, opening a store that could help people live healthier, happier lives just made sense to her.
“I hate to see people not have a healthy foundation,” she said. “If you don’t have health, you don’t get to enjoy life and live longer.”
That philosophy is why Kota Organics follows up with all clients to see how the products are working and gather feedback about the products and services. “We want to see people come back and be happy with the products,” she said. The focus on high-quality ingredients also led to the development of their own premium organic CBD product line called KOTA (Kota) Botanics that the company recently launched.
Living healthy at home
Vivian’s mission of living a healthy lifestyle and inspiring others to do so extends beyond her professional career; she and her husband encourage their sons to play sports, limit electronic devices and eat healthy food. “We pay attention to what we cook and try to prepare healthy food,” she explained. “We try to have them help in the kitchen to give them an incentive to eat the meal.”
Part of the healthy lifestyle Vivian lives means connecting with her Chinese upbringing as much as possible. She said the Fellman family celebrates traditional Chinese holidays and she has been teaching her sons Mandarin. The family is also working to connect with other Chinese community members to create another network for celebrating and recognizing their unique heritage.
The pandemic has made that challenging, but Vivian is focused on staying positive and looking toward the future when her family can travel again. Until that happens, Vivian finds adventure in helping people discover a healthy solution through the products at Kota Organics, being outside on a crisp winter day, or enjoying more time with her family at home, living life fully and happily together.