Monday, December 5, 2016

Handmade Nebraska Product, Ogallala Bay Rum, featured in Parade

Ogallala Bay Rum started when John Marquis (a long-time Bay Rum fan) found it increasingly difficult to find bay rum that had the scent he remembered as a kid going to the barbershop. After receiving what was reported to be among the best bay rums for Christmas 2005, and becoming disappointed in the scent after opening the bottle, it became clear there was a need for a bay rum on the market that had the familiar scent of yesteryear. What started as a company with one product in early 2006 has turned into a company with a variety of products.

GROW Nebraska member, Ogallala Bay Rum, was recently featured in Parade's article Made in America: Gifts From Each of the 50 States

This holiday season, Parade has compiled unique gifts from every state to celebrate the artisans in our local communities. Continue the article here to see the top picks from each of the 50 states.

That refreshing scent from yesteryear is back with the largest selection of Bay Rum fragrance products you'll find anywhere! You can shop for Ogallala Bay Rum products in GROW Nebraska stores at the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island, or at the Hilltop Mall in Kearney. You can also shop online 24/7 at BuyNebraska.com!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Top 10 Reasons You Should Shop Local This Holiday Season

Become part of a movement!

10. Keep our dollars circulating in our local economy where it has a multiplier effect. Research has repeatedly proved money spent with a local business has three times the impact as the dollars spent on a national retailer.

9. Strengthens the local labor force. Local businesses often enjoy family-like relationships with their employees. It’s a unique advantage that creates loyalty in their employees and can make this type of job very attractive.

8. Small local businesses have more specialized product knowledge.

7. Smaller carbon footprint. Less long distance shipping cuts costs and emissions.

6. You know the people you’re dealing with. A warm throwback to simpler times.

5. Feeds our longing for quality hand crafted items that demonstrate the flavor of our local culture.

4. The Maker Movement, Google it! A perfect remedy for consumers numbed by generic, mass-produced, made-in-China merchandise. It lifts our spirits!

3. The stories! Small Nebraska businesses are breathed into existence by entrepreneurs like the members of GROW Nebraska. They are passionate, creative and often exceedingly philanthropic!

2. You can be a locavore! (It was the 2007 Word of the Year for the Oxford American Dictionary! Look it up!) It’s someone who eats primarily foods raised or made within 100 miles of home. Very on-trend.

1. The majority of Millennials have a highly developed social consciousness and prefer to buy local. We love you, Millenials.

And plus, it’s just cool. It’s hip. Admit it, we all want to be cool, right? Be a part of the Shop Local movement! Come see us at both GROW stores; in Kearney at the Hilltop Mall and in Grand Island at Conestoga Mall. Bonus: you can be hip and cool plus comfy and savvy! Shop local in your jammies 24/7/365 at www.buynebraska.com.

About the Author: Betty Streff is the Coordinator of GROW Nebraska store in Kearney. You can read more about Betty here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Heartland Gourmet gives a whole new meaning to Flour Power

I had the nicest chat with a long-time acquaintance and colleague in the food and gift industry recently and it was a delightful trip down memory lane! I first met Susan Zink from Heartland Gourmet in the previous millennium when we were both young and “wet-behind-the-ears” Nebraska women in business. She and I served on the original Nebraska Home Based Business Advisory Board way back in about 1992 when the sleeping giant of marketing Nebraska-made products first began to wake up. It was an exciting time.

Susan has been a prominent voice promoting Nebraska products for many years. Back in the “big hair and shoulder pad” year of 1994, Susan and her husband Mark bought the company. It was called Raising Dough back then, a clever name for a company that sold mixes and food products for fund raising activities. In 1996, the Zinks began manufacturing and over the years, the business has evolved into large scale operation which supplies products for both wholesale distribution and private labeling.

The 54,000 square foot factory (yes, you read that right!) in Lincoln, Nebraska is a virtual bee hive this time of year, bursting at the seams with activity. The fifteen full time employees are joined by a host of seasonal workers to meet the holiday demand. The holidays call for lots of food for parties and for gift-giving! For Heartland Gourmet, it means full speed ahead, the machines are humming to fill the cupboards and shelves!

Heartland Gourmet joined GROW Nebraska in 1998 which gives them the distinction of being a tenured and highly valued member of GROW. It has been gratifying to watch the company grow, diversify, and prosper over the years! Today, the company has five unique divisions. The original Heartland Gourmet has been joined by Wanda’s Organic Mixes, Cobblestone Kitchen, Gluten Free Mama, and the newest member of the family is Cooper’s Best, Nebraska’s favorite pancake and waffle mixes!

I asked Susan about some of their best sellers and which areas have grown most quickly. Her gluten free products have seen huge increases in sales as awareness of gluten intolerance has increased. One of the most popular gluten free products is a red velvet cupcake mix! Yum! Heartland Gourmet is certified in organic and gluten free manufacture and will soon be adding a kosher certification.

The holidays are rushing toward us. Gifts of specialty foods are always a hit, always fit and are perfect for those people who leave you stumped every year. Products from the Heartland Gourmet family of goodies are available at both GROW stores; in Kearney at the Hilltop Mall and in Grand Island at Conestoga Mall. You can even buy them in your jammies, 24/7/365 at www.buynebraska.com. Don’t miss out!

About the Author: Betty Streff is the Coordinator of GROW Nebraska store in Kearney. You can read more about Betty here.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Delightful Hand-Painted Signs – Im's Has Something for Everyone on Your List!

There’s a certain display in the GROW Nebraska stores that never fails to attract attention and produce giggles. I can’t help but chuckle to myself every time I see people reading the signs out loud to each other and laughing. (I mean, don’t the others with them know how to read?) What are they looking at? The delightful signs, angels and snowmen from Im’s Countryside Painting. Many of her sayings are sassy and slightly snarky. For example, “Grandchildren are God’s Reward for Not Killing Your Kids”!

Each and every piece is skillfully hand made by an amazing lady, Ima Gene Mason from Tecumseh, Nebraska. Well, she admits, lately she has someone cut her boards for her but only after her third band saw gave up the ghost! Clearly, that seems reasonable. After all, she’s been painting for over 30 years now!

Ima Gene knocks my socks off. She is quick witted, incredibly prolific and a super savvy business woman. Ima Gene had a wholesale company for years and before that, she had busy, popular booths at large craft shows around the area. She and I reminisced a bit about the 1980’s when more was more and handcrafts were the hottest tickets around. As time went by, we saw many companies move production off shore and while the transition was understandable, it was a huge change for the industry.

After my delightful trip down memory lane with Ima Gene, something hit me. We often ask, “What’s in a name?” It dawned on me that Mason is a perfect name for someone who truly played a vital role in the very foundation of GROW Nebraska. Mason was one of the very first members of GROW. She joined in 1998, a year she remembers well because that was the year she lost her husband. Ima Gene is someone who regains her energy by rolling up her sleeves and getting to work, and work she did! Mason played a pivotal role in the early years of GROW. She worked in our Christmas stores, wholesale markets and helped with product evaluations for fledgling members.

What does Ima Gene do these days? Well, she’s not sitting around watching soap operas you can bet on that! Nope, she continues to hand paint every single sign herself, dozens and dozens of them! And if keeping the GROW Nebraska stores stocked with adorable gifts isn’t enough to keep her busy, she still does lots of custom orders for her pet customers and has a large display of her products in The Arch Monument gift shop near Kearney! Oh, and twice a year she send stacks of her wares to the huge Barn Festival in Hastings, Nebraska where they are snatched up by a whole new generation of buyers.

There are not enough words to thank Ima Gene for her many years of work and her contribution of both energy and wisdom to the cause! We celebrate her! Ima Gene was honored as a charter member in GROW Nebraska in 2015 before a large crowd. The award was presented at GROW Nebraska’s signature event, MarkeTech. It’s a jam-packed two day conference that brings in great presenters and provides a wealth of resources and up-to-the minute information about using technology and social media in marketing.

Im’s Countryside Painting has a wonderful product display in both GROW Nebraska stores, the Hilltop Mall in Kearney and the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island. A word to the wise; her snowmen practically melt off the rack so get yours early! Check out her Facebook page, too, where you can see more of her fun items! Some of Ima Gene’s most popular items are available online 24/7/65 at www.buynebraska.com!

About the Author: Betty Streff is the Coordinator of GROW Nebraska store in Kearney. You can read more about Betty here.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Small-town Alma's Hidden Gem with a Great Aroma

Highway 183 is Central Nebraska is a well-traveled straight shot north and south between the two main Interstate highways, I-70 and I-80. It's sometimes called a "ladder" between the two. As you travel 183, you'll see expansive skies, farmsteads, rolling cornfields and pastures punctuated with herds of cows knotted together near ponds or under the shelter of trees. About halfway between, 183 cuts right through the lakeside community of Alma, Nebraska.

No one would be surprised to find a grain elevator or an implement dealer in Alma. But just a short distance off the beaten path, tucked away on the north end of Lincoln Street you'll find Murcielago, a perfume company. Now that is a surprise! A perfume filler, as they are called, is as scarce in the Midwest as the Lamborghini model that inspired the business name! That uniqueness is part of the mystique that makes Murcielago stand out.

Michelle Caspersen, an Alma native, is now the sole owner and operator of Mucielago. It was originally a partnership with her entrepreneurial nephew Michael who is also from Alma. Michael was a marketing major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where he developed a fascination with the fragrance industry. He became completely smitten when he shadowed the process at Estee Lauder. About 13 years ago, Michelle and Michael joined forces to start their own company.

Michelle explained the secret to a high quality perfume like hers is the oils used. The components must be superb to create complex fragrances that linger long on the skin. The blending is done in laboratories specifically created for the purpose and the ingredients are skillfully combined by specially trained chemists. Murcielago's chemist words in Manhattan. New York. The Big Apple. A long way from Alma!

Michelle has worked with celebrities in the rodeo and country music industries to develop their signature fragrances, a huge trend in the industry. Michelle is a veteran of trade shows and has exhibited all across the country. She often zig zags back and forth from Alma to Manhattan, a city she loves. Still, she's always glad to be back home in Nebraska. She believes she has the most wonderful job in the world, allowing her to live and work in the best of both worlds.

Michelle had grown weary of some parts of the business and made a decision to get closer to her Nebraska roots in every way possible. Happily, her plan included joining GROW Nebraska earlier this year. Her gorgeous bottles and packaging immediately attracted customers and her colognes are among GROW's top sellers online. Men's fragrances include Nashville, Nashville Blue, and Nashville DB. For the ladies, she offers Donna Jean and Starlet.

You can find Michelle's fabulous fragrances in both of GROW Nebraska's stores, at the Hilltop Mall in Kearney or the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island! And if that's not handy, you can jump online anytime 24/7/365 and order some today at www.buynebraska.com! Don't forget to tell Santa, "Hey! I want Murcielago fragrances for Christmas!"

About the Author: Betty Streff is the Coordinator of GROW Nebraska store in Kearney. You can read more about Betty here.

Pumpkin Business grew out of FFA Project

The land just west of Sutton, along Nebraska 6, has been farmed by members of Brett Nunnenkamp’s family since his grandfather bought it in 1950. Although he’s the first generation to grow and harvest pumpkins, the rest of his family -- including his grandmother, mother, several aunts and his sister -- are now involved in his operation, too.

What started out as a Future Farmers of America project for Nunnenkamp when he was in seventh grade has grown into 10 acres of land devoted to producing 60 varieties of pumpkins and squash, the Country Pumpkin farm and farm store and a food production service called Pumpkin Valley Farms.

For his National FFA Organization's SAE (supervised agricultural experience), Nunnenkamp harvested pumpkins he’d grown, arranged them in a trailer along the highway and set out a bucket for collecting money, relying on the honor system to sell the pumpkins while he was in school. He was surprised by the reactions of the folks buying his pumpkins. They loved the idea and always left their money, and he and his siblings had to restock the trailer every single day after school. The pumpkins were a big hit.

Every year after that, his operation grew a bit more, and by the time Nunnenkamp graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in horticulture in 2006, he knew he had a pretty good business opportunity going. He continued planting new members of the cucurbitaceae family, which includes pumpkins, squash and gourds -- some edible and some ornamental.

He’s also expanded his business into the wholesale market, supplying all of the Earl May stores in Kearney, Hastings and Grand Island with pumpkins and gourds. In Lincoln, Leon’s Gourmet Grocer (2200 Winthrop Road) and Open Harvest (1618 South St.) carry his pumpkins and squash.

The food production business grew out of an idea a former professor of his had when Nunnenkamp wondered what to do with his surplus of pumpkins after the Halloween rush. He was trying to overcome the belief that many people have that pumpkins are fall decorations, not food.

His pure pumpkin puree has no additives or preservatives. It’s freshly baked pumpkin, processed until smooth, and frozen in 15-ounce and 30-ounce containers. To bake two pumpkin pies for your family’s Thanksgiving feast, you’ll need 30 ounces of pumpkin. Nunnenkamp sells the frozen pumpkin puree along with many varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds at the Old Cheney Road Farmers Market on Sundays, and that market runs from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. through Oct. 30.

Continue reading the article here.

Shop for The Country Pumpkin's frozen Pumpkin Puree in the GROW Nebraska stores in Kearney and Grand Island, and online at BuyNebraska.com!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

National Geographic Features Lincoln Photographer

Erik Johnson’s interest in photography started with an iPhone.

He a was junior college in 2012 when he persuaded his parents to give him one for Christmas to replace the Motorola flip phone he’d been using for the last four or five years.

“When I got the phone, I started taking pictures of everything,” Johnson said. “My friends were like ‘Why are you taking pictures of all this random stuff? Usually people just take pictures of going out, to the bar or something, and putting them on Facebook.’”

He told them it was fun to capture things that people don’t always see or pay attention to.

“You might come back and say, ‘Wow, did you see that sunset?’”, Johnson said. “With a photo you can actually prove you saw it.”

That was the case on a late summer evening in 2015.

A storm rumbled into the Denton area while Johnson, who by then had upgraded to a digital camera, was out taking sunset photos.

“Usually storms make for good light and dramatic pictures,” he said. “I had it in mind if I could capture lightning above this specific house, it would be awesome. I went there. Spent some time there and, sure enough, the lightning was perfect.”

National Geographic thought so, too.

The magazine published Johnson’s dramatic photo over two pages in this month’s edition as part of its “Visions” photography section found at the front of the magazine. The caption reads:
“Above an abandoned house near Denton, Nebraska, a bruised summer sky crackles with atmospheric electricity. The phenomenon in this composite image -- four shots taken within 20 minutes -- is often called cloud-to-cloud lightning.”

Johnson, 25, said he’s still pinching himself over the spread. He’s a Lincoln East High School (2009) and University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2013) graduate, who works as a sales analyst at LI-COR Biosciences in Lincoln.

“It kind of doesn’t feel real,” he said. “It’s amazing and super humbling and honoring. As a photographer, it’s only something I’ve kind of dreamed about … I’m really thankful.”

Especially since Johnson hasn’t been shooting photos for very long.

His mother, Kathy, said her son, the youngest of her and husband Stan’s three children, never took photos a youngster -- not until he got the iPhone four years ago while in college -- but he had an inclination toward art.

“In grade school and middle school, he loved to draw,” she said, noting he especially liked sketching cars and horses.

When Johnson discovered he enjoyed taking photos, he again went to his parents -- this time persuading them to get him a digital camera, a Nikon D7000, as a belated college graduation gift. He and his brother stood in line on Thanksgiving night 2013 at Best Buy to take advantage of a Black Friday sale.

Read the full article at JournalStar.com

View more of Johnson's work when you subscribe to Nebraska Life Magazine. Nebraska Life Magazine has been a proud member of GROW Nebraska for over 16 years! Shop their products online at BuyNebraska.com.