Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Great Plains Honey Farms on the Path to Sweet Success

I had a nice chat about honey this week with Rhoda Shurigar. Rhoda and Mike Lagsding are business partners in Great Plains Honey Farms in Grand Island, Nebraska. Not just business partners, they’re a couple and you can tell they are sweet on each other! Mike, a lifelong resident of Grand Island, attended a workshop on beekeeping through the University of Nebraska because he was curious about how to build beehives. His interest grew quickly and it soon became clear that he had developed a love and fascination for honey bees. In 2010 Mike started Great Plains Honey Farms and in 2013, Rhoda joined him as a partner.

Rhoda and Mike both have health issues which make using honey as a sweetener a far healthier alternative than sugar. They’ve become a “product of their product” and they’re happy to share all the many benefits of honey with anyone who has questions! Rhoda whole heartedly believes honey is a tasty, effective and natural way to help combat seasonal allergies since it contains small amounts of the pollen that the bees ingest. You’ll find lots more about honey on their new website http://www.greatplainshoneyfarms.com/ and you can keep up with all their latest buzzings on their Facebook page too!

Rhoda has fallen in love with bees herself and is never happier than when she is in the bee field. Their hives are thoughtfully placed near areas abundant with clover, alfalfa and wild flowers and kept away from corn and other crops that could have been treated with chemicals. Their honey is never treated with pesticides, it is simply filtered and never heat processed or so it retains all its wonderful therapeutic qualities at peak levels. And talk about a wide range of container sizes! The sweet amber honey is available in sizes from an adorable baby 2 ounce size bear up to a half gallon jug!

Rhoda says her favorite way to eat honey in on a peanut butter and honey sandwich and that sounds terrific, doesn’t it? Rhoda and Mike will be showing with GROW Nebraska at the Nebraska State Fair and will be sampling their wonderful product. Great Plains Honey Farms became proud members of GROW Nebraska this year and we think their story is going to be a sweet success!

If you can’t get to the State Fair, we’ll miss you but you can find Great Plains Honey in both GROW Nebraska stores, at the Hilltop Mall in Kearney and the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island! Or, here is some sweet news! You can jump online anytime 24/7/365 and order some today 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.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Pacha Soap of Hastings honored for economic development achievement

Pacha Soap Co. of Hastings is one of three Central Nebraska businesses awarded the 2016 3rd District Excellence in Economic Development Award by Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb.

Smith was in Hastings Thursday to present Andrew and Abi Vrbas, owners of Pacha Soap, the award.

Along with Pacha Soap, 24 Hour Tees in Kearney and Shanti Yoga of Kearney and Loup City were also honored with the award.

Read the full article here: Pacha Soap of Hastings Honored

Pacha Soap is a proud member of GROW Nebraska. You can shop for their great products online at BuyNebraska.com!

Promoting Lakota Businesses at the Oglala Nation Pow-Wow

Grow Nebraska partnered with Lakota Hope Ministry this month during the 31st Oglala Nation Pow-Wow on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Lakota Hope ran a booth in the inner circle around the arena. The booth was part of Lakota Hope’s program Grow2Gather an initiative to help artists build better businesses by connecting artists with new markets and teaching new business skills.

The booth housed over a dozen artists over the course of the four-day event. Artists presented a wide variety of products, ranging from beadwork and quill-work to watercolor paintings, and from traditional parfleche leatherwork to hand-painted vases. The purpose of the booth was to expose artists to a new, larger audience, and to boost artist’s sales.

The Pow-wow exceeded expectations! The artists made many new connections with people who came from all over the country to attend the Pow-wow. Artists exchanged information with visitors, and some talked with visitors about making custom pieces. A woman from the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose, Colorado bought pieces from several of our artists to display in the museum giving ongoing exposure to the artists in the Grow2Gather program.

Artists made great sales at the Pow-wow. Nearly five thousand dollars in sales were generated in the course of the four-day event. A credit card reader located at the information booth helped artists sell to customers who were not carrying cash making many large transactions possible. Free water, fans and Tanka sticks (made locally from buffalo meat) added an additional draw. Artists felt encouraged by the big boost to their businesses. Our artists began talking to one another about other big events, events they could do together in the future. Wilma Thin Elk, a Lakota artist and elder, expressed her eagerness for the next Grow2Gather meeting saying “We need to have more of these!”

Want to see some of the Artists' work? You can browse through some of the Lakota Crafters' products online anytime at BuyNebraska.com!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

These Goat Milk Soaps Stand Out From the Herd

It’s no secret that all of us who work in the GROW Nebraska stores have certain pet products they like especially well. I have several, and one of them is the beautiful molded goat milk soaps from Sandhills Goat Products. In my mind they are a lovely little piece of sculpture that just happens to be soap! I have given them as gifts myself. I love the cowboy designs and they made a perfect gift for a favorite aunt when we visited her in Cheyenne during Frontier Days. So unique!

I called Shelly Albrecht recently at her home in Dunning, Nebraska to find out a little more about her gorgeous soaps- oh, and about the goats! Shelly has been making soap from goat’s milk for over six years now and I quickly got the impression that her goats are more pets than they are livestock because they all have names. She has about 25 nanny goats right now and a whole bunch of baby goats called kids. Shelly hasn’t sold any of the (four legged) kids yet from her bumper crop of babies this year. It seems Shelly’s daddy goat must be a super billy because almost all the births were twins and even triplets!

Shelly wanted to do something unique with her soaps so she hit on making beautiful molded soaps to make hers “stand out from the herd”. (Sorry- I couldn’t resist!) Another of my favorite designs is the graceful Sandhill cranes design. It is simply elegant and would be a lovely accent in the most sophisticated bath. The fragrances are subtle and inviting and her packaging makes the soaps perfect for gifting. Albrecht also offers light, quick absorbing goat milk lotion in some of the same fragrances.

Shelly’s goats are part of daily life on a good old-fashioned family farm where they keep company with cattle and chickens. The goat adventure began as 4H projects for her two legged kids! If you’ve ever had the opportunity to spend any time around goats, you will know that in addition to milk, goats add lots of entertainment value and comic relief! I think Albrecht’s goats are there to stay!

Shelly sells her beautiful soaps at craft fairs and a local specialty shop in Burwell. Albrecht became a proud member of GROW Nebraska in 2012 and we’re happy to let you know she will be showing her product with us in GROW Nebraska’s State Fair showcase where you can shop in air-conditioned comfort! Sandhills Goat Products are also available in both GROW Nebraska stores, at the Hilltop Mall in Kearney and the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island! Too busy to get out and shop? Jump online anytime 24/7/365 and order some today 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.

Monday, August 15, 2016

How Pacha Soap Turned its Social Mission into a Successful Business

Article by Ryan Pendell, featured on Silicon Prairie News

Pacha Soap proves you can change the world from anywhere.
In 2010, while a sophomore at Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska, Andrew Vrbas volunteered in Peru at a school, teaching sanitation skills to children.

“Living in a developing country after being in the U.S., it really changed my perspective,” said Vrbas.

He wanted to do something to help people in developing countries like Peru.

“I thought of this idea of a soap company that would make soap from local ingredients in those countries,” said Vrbas. He returned from Peru with the concept for Pacha, which means “earth” in Quechua, the native language of the people from the Central Andes.

He originally wanted to return to Peru to set up his business there, but he realized that he had no experience making soap and no business experience. So he spent the rest of his time in college researching how to launch his company. He told his friend Abi, an art and advertising student, who got really excited about it.

“She was one of the only people who didn’t think I was crazy,” said Vrbas.

Together they co-founded Pacha Soap. They also got married.

“We were able to go back [to Peru] when Abi graduated college, and I was able to show her what I experienced,” said Vrbas.

The social enterprise model
Pacha Soap is made in Hastings, but the raw materials are sourced from around the world, including Africa and South America.

“We’re just now beginning to form a partnership with an essential oil provider in Peru,” said Vrbas. “Although our journey has led us to East Africa, it’s been really cool to reforge that relationship.”

Pacha soaps are created using organic, fair trade, environmentally sustainable ingredients. They also come in unique scents like Pipe Tobacco & Coffee, Cinnamon Cedarwood and Dirty Hippie.

Vrbas has been influenced by other social enterprise entrepreneurs like Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes.

“We took his model and we refined and made it better, I think,” said Vrbas.

They’ve also looked to other successful players in the organic, sustainable, socially conscious consumer product space, like Dr. Bronner’s.

“They are the largest family owned soap company in the United States, so I’ve been excited to see what they’ve done from an organic sourcing standpoint,” said Vrbas.

Global impact from Central Nebraska
Vrbas is originally from Atwood, Kansas, population 1,000. His wife Abi is from McCook, Nebraska, population 8,000. That makes Hastings, a city of 25,000, a significantly larger community than they grew up in.

Now, as world travelers, it’s place that they love to come back to.

“It’s really wonderful to come to a small community after travelling internationally,” said Vrbas. “The community has been very receptive to us.”

Vrbas said he’s learned a lot from successful business owners in the community.

“The people here are very special,” said Vrbas.

Early Success
In the beginning Vrbas and his wife sold Pacha Soap at farmer’s markets and coffee shops.

“We would load up my Honda and hit the road, just walk into stores and tell our story,” said Vrbas. “It was definitely a learning experience. You have to have a thick skin.”

Pacha Soap is now available in 750 stores across the U.S. and Canada, including Whole Foods, and GROW Nebraska. Most of their sales come through retail. About 5% of sales come from online purchases, according to Vrbas.

Pacha Soap was officially incorporated in 2013. The company now has 20 full-time employees. In 2015 the company reached profitability, with 4% of its total revenue going to support its mission.

“It’s a sizeable number for us, but we’re still able to be profitable and grow,” said Vrbas.

Vrbas recently returned from Burundi where Pacha Soap supports three soap shops that will provide sanitation and jobs for the surrounding area.

“It’s so cool that our business can do that,” said Vrbas.

Pacha Soap has been a proud member of GROW Nebraska since 2015. To browse through their products and purchase some great soap, you can find Pacha Soap at BuyNebraska.com!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Repurposed Barn Wood Transformed Into Unique Wall Décor

Wendy Spencer is a fascinating young woman. She’s got her own private work shop, one that would make a lot of men turn absolutely green with envy. A walk through the shop at her home on the outskirts of rural Kearney, Nebraska would impress anyone. The building is filled with tools of her trade, a woodworkers dream come true. What impresses me most is that Wendy knows how to operate them all and does it like a boss! And what’s most charming about her is she acts like it’s perfectly normal and something any girl can do. (Not this one, you can bet it!) I am totally blown away! Eat your heart out, HGTV, we’ve got our own star right here in GROW Nebraska!

Wendy is a super active person and works full time in a very busy shop that sells all kinds of outdoor power equipment. It’s a job she does with ease and confidence and the customers love her! If that and her woodworking wasn’t enough to keep her on the fly, Wendy is also serves as a volunteer with the local fire and rescue team in Kearney. Whew! I recently caught up with Wendy and discovered more about the source of her unique talent and skill sets. Turns out her dad was the shop teacher in the small Kansas community where she grew up, so Wendy has been building and making things since she could see over the workbench. Her mom passed along her flair for color and design and to this day is a wonderful source of encouragement. It’s easy to see where her can-do and upbeat personality came from.

Wendy’s business is called Weathered Creations. It’s a perfect name for products that use reclaimed barn wood as the primary component! Wendy is spot-on-trend in today’s fascination with repurposing and upcycling materials. Instead of ending up bulldozed and burned or dumped in a landfill somewhere, Wendy crafts rustic wall and shelf décor from aged wood that has been weathered to soft greys and browns by time and nature.

No two pieces are alike. Some show nail marks and knots in the wood or grain etched by harsh winter winds and blazing hot sun. On others, bits of faded color hint at days of freckled and sun tanned boys brushing on a fresh coat of red paint over summer vacation. What stories each board could tell!

Wendy creates unique crosses using barn wood panels, fabric and medallions to create one of a kind wall art. She is continually experimenting with various materials to offer even more variety. Be sure and check out her Facebook page, too. Weathered Creations also sells mirrors, boxes, shelves and candle holders.

Wendy became a proud member of GROW Nebraska in 2016 and plans to exhibit with GROW at the Nebraska State Fair. You can find her products in both GROW Nebraska stores, the Hilltop Mall in Kearney and the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island. Now would be a great time to think about those hard-to-buy-for folks on your list! Hop online and take a look at her unique and one-of-a-kind designs. You can order her creations 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.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Economic innovators Meyer, Augustyn win acclaim from Smith

Article from Kearney Hub

WASHINGTON, D.C., — Chais Meyer of 24 Hour Tees and Jody Augustyn of Shanti Yoga are among the winners of the 2016 3rd District Excellence in Economic Development Award presented by Rep. Adrian Smith.

Smith’s award honors eight individuals and businesses that are helping to strengthen Nebraska communities through innovation, hard work and entrepreneurship.

Meyer co-owns 24 Hour Tees in Kearney. According to Smith’s award announcement, 24 Hour Tees is an innovative shirt shop known for its responsiveness to local customers while selling products across the country and around the world.

Meyer is an advocate for e-commerce as a way to grow rural economies. He also is a member of Kearney’s Downtown Improvement Board to help advance the future of retail and the community.

“All of the nominees for this year’s award have shown they are striving to ensure a strong economic future for Nebraskans,” Smith said.

Other 2016 winners are:
Jody Augustyn is the owner of Shanti Yoga by Jody Augustyn, ERYT, based in Loup City and Kearney. In her five years in business, Augustyn has become known by many as a committed and passionate teacher.

Other winners include:
- Aulick Industries in Scottsbluff, owned by the Aulick family for three generations, employs about 100 people in welding, fabrication, tire installation, laundry, auto body tech, decal design and administration.

- Brent Comstock of Auburn, who has owned BCom Solutions since middle school. His technology business has grown to include computer repairs, IT management, software development and web design.

- Bruning Grocery’s commitment to hard work, small-town values, and providing exceptional service and quality products has made the store a cornerstone of Bruning, a community of about 280 people.

- Landmark Snacks, founded in April 2016 by Nebraska natives Chad and Courtney Lottman, is a jerky and meat snacks production facility in Beatrice employing 50 people.

- Pacha Soap, headquartered in Hastings, is owned by Hastings College graduates Andrew and Abi Vrbas. Founded in 2012, Pacha Soap employs 16 people in the Hastings area and sells handcrafted products throughout the country.

- Sand Creek Post & Beam in Wayne is the leading manufacturer of custom-designed wood barn and barn home kits.

24 Hour Tees is a proud member of GROW Nebraska! You can always find their lovely products in both GROW Nebraska stores, at the Hilltop Mall in Kearney and the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island! If you’re in a hurry or can't make it to the stores, hop online anytime 24/7/365 and order some today at www.buynebraska.com!