Thursday, May 18, 2017

Serious about corn, Gibbon business owner now pops 125 flavors

By Sydnee Bartruff, Kearney Hub GIBBON — Brightly colored popcorn lines the shelves of HR Poppin’ Snacks in Gibbon.

The popcorn business opened by Cheryl Hughes about 17 years ago in Shelton began with 25 flavors. Her experiments and creativity have allowed her business to continue growing, and she now offers more than 125 popcorn flavors at a downtown Gibbon storefront.

“I just dabbled in it for a couple of years, and it grew enough that I had to decide if I wanted to do it as a hobby or get serious about it. That’s when I moved here,” Hughes said.

In addition to being known for its numerous flavors, Hughes’ wholesale gourmet popcorn company tries to be an example of community involvement.

After she and her husband, Gary, bought a popper and a cooker from a popcorn company that went out of business, she decided to learn to make caramel corn. Hughes’ goal was to see if she could make it a wholesale business, primarily because there was no caramel corn popper or anything similar in the area.

“I employ five different people, sometimes six. We don’t have a lot of walk-in traffic, we manufacture and ship out for other people to sell,” Hughes said.

A native of Grand Junction, Colo., Hughes has been a member of GROW Nebraska since 2000. GROW Nebraska works with businesses of all sizes across Nebraska and offers a variety of products and services.

“I really enjoy being a member of the organization,” Hughes said.

She sells her snacks at GROW retail stores at Conestoga Mall in Grand Island and Omaha’s Eppley Airfield. She also sells to Cash-Wa Distributing Co., which is her largest distributor. Using special pink popcorn, Hughes has also sold to toy producer Mattel for Barbie’s 53rd birthday in 2012.

Hughes helps small stores by not having a minimum order requirement. She allows them to mix the flavors and wants them to buy something in the quantity that they have a chance to sell.

“We do a lot of work with organizations and schools for fundraising,” Hughes said.

Ten percent of all proceeds go to local charities and fundraisers, including USMC Wounded Warrior Regiment and Melanoma Research Foundation.

In addition, sitting on one of the shelves is a custom-made popcorn bag titled “Team Izzy.” Every year HR Poppin’ Snacks has a fundraiser for a 10-year-old Izzy Warrington, who is battling kidney failure.

“She is like my granddaughter,” Hughes said.

Hughes’ popcorn is so popular it was awarded first in the Annual Best Nebraska Foods Contest for the Exclusive Cashew Almond Toffee popcorn.

HR Poppin’ Snacks offers popcorn for graduations, weddings, baby showers and other special occasions. Given a color swatch, Hughes can custom make popcorn to accompany any occasion.

HR Poppin’ Snacks is open 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and 8 a.m.-noon Thursdays.

GROW Nebraska is a nonprofit membership organization, serving over 400 Nebraska small businesses. The organization provides market access, education, and training to launch and connect Nebraska businesses to the global marketplace. GROW Nebraska’s educational programs and scholarship opportunities are funded in part by federal and state funding, along with generous support from foundations and individual donors. For more information, please visit  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Whole Foods Market Recognizes Pacha Soap Company as an Outstanding Innovator

HASTINGS, Neb., May 2, 2017 – PRNewswire

Pacha Soap Company paves the way for innovation and development for its retailers and customers. Whole Foods Market presented Pacha Soap Co. with the Supplier Award for Outstanding Innovation for 2016.

Cofounders, Andrew and Abi Vrbas, accepted the award at the Whole Foods Market Supplier Banquet held in Austin, TX. Pacha Soap Co. released an exclusive product called Froth Bombs, a new frothy style bath bomb that comes in fun shapes, scents and colors, with Whole Foods in October of 2016. The product utilizes only natural, safe ingredients and is handcrafted in Hastings, NE.

"It is the amazing, hard work of the entire Pacha team that earned us this prestigious award. They are so willing to always be flexible, creative and thinking outside the box," Abi Vrbas said.

The partnership with Whole Foods Market allows Pacha Soap Co. the ability to expand its efforts to support its mission "Buy to Give". The Pacha Soap Co. mission provides opportunities for the purchases of everyday products to make a global impact. Buy to Give supports sustainable entrepreneurship efforts; Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene education and, most recently, clean water projects.

"In an ever-increasing competitive landscape, partnerships, like the one we have with Whole Foods Market, truly create the best in both product quality and mission," Andrew Vrbas said.

Continue to look for future product innovations from Pacha Soap Co. at Whole Foods Market or at

Founded in 2012 by Andrew and Abi Vrbas, Pacha Soap Co. creates natural bath products in pursuit of a global mission to promote W.A.S.H. (Clean Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) efforts and provide opportunities through entrepreneurship in developing nations. Pacha employs more than 40 individuals focused on manufacturing handcrafted, premium soap products sold in 750 stores across the U.S. and Canada.

To date, the company's "Buy to Give" model has given more than one million bars of soap, provided 75,000 children with handwashing education, and established more than 105 careers for men and women in country. To learn more about Pacha Soap Co.'s beautifully, handcrafted products or how to get involved in its mission, visit

Pacha Soap Company has been a proud member of GROW Nebraska since 2012! You can shop their wonderful products online at, or stop in one of our retail stores at the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island Nebraska, or the Hilltop Mall in Kearney, Nebraska.

About GROW Nebraska:
GROW Nebraska is a not-for-profit organization based in rural Nebraska. Serving over 400 Nebraska small businesses, the organization provides market access, education and training to launch and connect Nebraska
businesses to the global marketplace. GROW Nebraska's educational programs receive federal and state funding, along with generous support from foundations and individual donors. For more information, please visit

Monday, May 1, 2017

Congratulations Sholdit, on Being Featured on View Your Deal!

Congratulations, Sholdit!

On May 1, 2017 at 10 a.m. CST, Sholdit was featured on ABC The View's View Your Deal segment! Their amazing deal is only available while supplies last and it closes completely at midnight on May 2, 2017. So save now! Get it just in time for Mother's Day!

Have you ever tried a Sholdit? Their infinity scarves are stylish AND practical! Each one has a hidden pocket where you can store your wallet, phone, keys, passport, or cash. It also converts into a clutch purse! Check out the picture to the right; can you tell there is a wallet hidden in there? This is a convenient travel must-have! It's perfect to wear during a night on the town, air travel, concerts, football games, hikes, and more. Sholdit also makes fashionable neck gaiters, convertible nursing scarves, and cell phone wallets, so you have tons of options. Not sure how to wear it? Check out their Style Guide.

Everyone adores Sholdit! They have been featured on Good Morning America's Deals and Steals, in Forbes, on the Today show, and so many other places. They're also available on

Personally, I own three of the infinity scarves. I have one in green, one in blue, and, as seen in my #selfie, one in white. The white one is definitely the most versatile - I pair it with a Nebraska shirt for Husker game days, but it also looks classy with my favorite black jacket. The blue and green ones compliment other outfits and give them a pop of color! (I'm a little biased because these are GROW Nebraska colors, but I love them!) As an avid geocacher, I also love being able to carry my geocaching tools hands-free! Angela and her staff are always coming out with new colors, patterns, and styles to keep customers looking fresh. Get your Sholdit today!

Want to learn more about the Sholdit story? Angela Lee Diaz presented about her business at GROW Nebraska's 2017 MarkeTech Conference. Watch the video here:

About the author: 
Heidi Garvin, GROW Nebraska's Training Services Coordinator, started at GROW Nebraska as an intern in 2009 and has been blessed to work with hundreds of members over the years in training, social media, eCommerce, and retail roles. Heidi holds a Bachelor of Journalism in Advertising from the University of
Nebraska - Lincoln, and she is currently working on her MBA at the University of Nebraska - Omaha.
Heidi is passionate about serving and supporting Nebraska businesses, and she prides herself on trying as many Nebraska products and services as possible. You can follow her adventures in shopping, eating, and living local by following her on Instagram @TheNebraskaGoodLife.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 launched to help reach new markets for Whiteclay residents

Apr 18, 2017 – GROW Nebraska

GROW Nebraska and partners Lakota Hope Ministry and Nebraska Extension recently launched to support new and existing Native-owned businesses on and off the Pine Ridge Reservation. The goal is to restore human dignity and cultural pride through economic development.
“We have already sold several pieces to consumers in New York.  If we can increase the market reach and receive a higher price than what the Native artist would receive locally – it is a win for everyone,” stated Heidi High, GROW Nebraska coordinator of special projects.

The idea is simple and powerful – to get area entrepreneurs to network and help each other become an organization recognized nationally for its marketing of Native American Art and crafts and use the same principal of networking and training to develop the secondary businesses that come with economic development.

GROW Nebraska and partners are delivering bi-weekly business training sessions and are assisting program participants in every aspect of marketing, from purchasing raw materials to selling the finished products both locally and globally. Key objectives in this innovative, entrepreneur-focused program include entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur networking, focused training and assisted marketing through GROW Nebraska retail and Internet outlets.

The program’s goal is to create a group of entrepreneurs who work together and support each other as they build scalable small businesses that will generate a livable income for the business owners and their family, create jobs and have a positive impact on reservation residents. Currently, works from 25 Native artists are feature on

“What makes this website so important is that the people will now have a direct connection to the authentic, creative source of what they’re purchasing. It is very important to know and understand the artist behind the work.  There will now be a face and a name behind their work, not just a generic idea of Native American product,” stated Bruce BonFluer, director of Lakota Hope. “Consumers will be able to see their faces, hear their voices, and understand the significance and individuality behind their designs and concepts.”

More artwork and products along with success stories are to come, so keep checking out on a regular basis.

This project is made possible by funding from the SBA NAMEBS grant and USDA Rural Development. To find out more about the GROW Nebraska Native project call GROW Nebraska at 308-962-6767, or e-mail

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Organic Grains are the Stars at Grain Place Foods

Article by Betty Sayers, Nebraska Rural Living

March brought chill winds and gray skies, but the Rural Foodies wrapped up in fleece and headed down the road to Marquette, Nebraska, to glean facts about organic grains at Grain Place Foods. The north wind pushed us through the door and into the corporate office located at the Vetter farm, south of Marquette. Our senses were bombarded with the homespun smell of fresh grains. We were standing near the grain processing machines where tons of grain pour through cleaning, sorting and packaging machines in preparation for shipping to national and international markets. The warehouse smelled like a bread basket.

David Vetter, the executive director of Grain Place Foods, Inc. was solving a packaging problem in the warehouse when we arrived, and I noticed a print-out of the Grain Place Foods mission statement on the entry wall: The Grain Place provides ecologically sustainable grain products that benefit the long-term health of our clients and our planet because how your food is produced does matter!

The Rural Foodies whole heartedly agree with this statement because we pursue pinnacle experiences regarding food grown in rural Nebraska by chefs who smoke, grill, pickle, stew, sauté, bake and serve Nebraskans’ favorite foods or invent value-added food businesses like Grain Place Foods.
Organic growers are relatively few in number in the Corn Belt so when our friends Tom and Linda Schwarz, organic growers near Bertrand , Nebraska, mentioned meeting Vetter at an organic conference, we knew a Rural Foodies story was in the making.

I first spotted Grain Place products in 2007 at The Back Alley Bakery in Hastings, where chefs prepare fresh, locally grown and always full of flavor lunches often incorporating Grain Place organic grains into their breads and salads. Learning more about these grains, cooking with them and meeting the principals behind Grain Place Foods were on my wish list.

Farming the organic way
Vetter built Grain Place Foods into an international business for buying, cleaning, sorting, testing, marketing, and shipping organic grains as well as securing organic certification for his 280-acre family farm. On the farm, his family grows organic grains, beef and pigs for local, national and international wholesale markets. The Grain Place also offers products direct to the consumer via their online store.

Organic grains cleaned, tested, packaged and sold at Grain Place Foods include barley, flaxseed, wheat, millet, rolled oats, white and yellow popcorn, long grain brown rice, quinoa and spelt. Check out their website for a complete listing of their products and photos showing the grains and flours.

Vetter, the scientist, farmer, marketing and mechanical mastermind who leads this prospering company holds a degree in Agronomy and Soil Science from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and a Master of Divinity from the United Theological Center in Dayton, Ohio. I expected the Agronomy and Soil Science degree for an organic grain grower, but I asked why a Master’s of Divinity.

“We practice stewardship of the soil, water, land, plants and animals here, and our farming and theology are related in all ways,” Vetter said with certainty.

Science and farming work together organically
Vetter’s conversation about farming the organic way was sprinkled with the words “relationship” and “association” like sugar on gingersnap cookies. They go together. The science and practice of organic farming is intimately associated with the microbial and insect life in healthy soils.

“We apply our best methods of renewal and resilience to manage soil fertility,” he said. “We pay attention to the associations between the soil microbial community and the plants because information is exchanged between microbes in the soil and the roots of a growing plant that helps the plant.”

“The relationships of the pollinators and the birds and wildlife on the farm also improve the fertility of the soils and the growing condition for plants,” he added.

The Vetter farm pastures cattle, and the varieties of grasses and legumes growing in the Grain Place Foods pasture indicate a well-managed prairie grassland for the cattle and another benefit to farming the organic way. He also introduced us to his healthy herd of pigs that eat the leftover grains swept up from the floor of the cleaning room. All things in Vetter’s world seem to be speaking to one another and in association.

In addition, the Vetter family values its associations over the years with organic farmers, leading agronomists in the burgeoning organic industry, and the value-added organic food makers and distributers across North America and worldwide.

“The worldwide demand for organic grains and other organic produce outpaces the supply,” Vetter said.

Vetter and Grain Place Foods were featured in the December 2016 issue of Acres, a monthly magazine publishing real-world sustainable and organic farming news and facts.

So now we cook 
Why cook with whole organic grains? They require time to prepare and who has the time? I agree, preparing and cooking Kamut wheat, barley, oats, quinoa, farro, millet and others take time, and we want our food fast and ready-to-eat. Culinary grains fit the slow-food movement.
I justify the time because number one, the results taste fabulous. They also feel good in my stomach and satisfy my hunger because they pack a lot of flavor and fiber. Being well and feeling good are my second, third and fourth reasons for cooking and eating organic whole grains. Medical research on wellness advises us to include whole grains in our weekly menu plans. See this 2017 study by the American Medical Association.

So now we cook, and we recommend the recipes on the Grain Place Foods website, as well as a recipe from my mother’s recipe box for whole grain bread — easy to make and a beautiful canvas for the kamut wheat to show its flavor of the earth and sky.

We hope you will try a few of these recipes and learn to love organic whole grains as much as we do. Grain Place Foods is all about introducing more of us to the wonders of organic whole grains and the people who produce them.

Grain Place Foods has been a member of GROW Nebraska for many years and continues to set a great example for other members. Visit to shop their great product, and check out their website to learn more about this wonderful company.

About GROW Nebraska:
GROW Nebraska is a not-for-profit organization based in rural Nebraska.Serving over 400 Nebraska small businesses, the organization provides market access, education and training to launch and connect Nebraska businesses to the global marketplace. GROW Nebraska's educational programs receive federal and state funding, along with generous support from foundations and individual donors. For more information, please visit

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Our Story | GROW Nebraska Member, Simply Sunflower

Article by Sierra Forrest, Direct of Marketing & Sales, Simply Sunflower

So many people ask, "how did Simply Sunflower begin?" That has to be one of my favorite questions to answer. I am extremely proud of our excellent product, but that doesn't compare to the pride I feel for my family - the roots which grew this company! We're a family business and family is right where our Simply Sunflower story began.

From a humble beginning, my dad, Alan Koelling or Farmer Al as some people call him, started driving a tractor as soon as his feet could reach the pedals. His dad owned a farm and ranch near Ord, Nebraska that had been passed down from his father. The Koellings had come as immigrants from Germany and settled in Nebraska thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862. The original land and farming business has been in the Koelling family for the past 120 years! The soil is rich in history and heritage and our family has always been filled with pioneers and innovators.

My dad, his brothers, and sister grew up in the same beautiful farmhouse that my Grandma Elinor still lives in today. My dad helped my Grandpa Orel on the farm and ranch sunup to sundown....with taking some breaks to attend Ord High School. After graduation, Farmer Al moved to the big city of Lincoln, Nebraska where he received his Agriculture Education Degree from the University of Nebraska. That's also where he and my mom Jeanette fell in love. They got married, moved back to Ord and began life together on the Koelling farm.

Fast forward several years, my sister Carissa and I were born. We lived the typical farm girl life, filled with 4H projects, bucket calves, and new baby kittens each summer. Living life in Mira Valley was a lot like Little House on the Prairie...only with electricity and ATVs. My favorite part of growing up on the farm was summer afternoons riding on the back of my dad's 4-wheeler. We would get absolutely soaked driving underneath the pivot as it shoots out water onto the cornfield. That was playtime amidst the work. My dad was always working and researching new ways of productive farming.

To be a better steward of the environment, Al began using sunflowers as a renewable energy source on our farm and ranch. He started in 2010 with a small crop of sunflowers growing outside his kitchen window. The sunflowers were extremely healthy for the soil in his crop rotation. Through research, my dad discovered the many health benefits of sunflowers - rich in Vitamin E and antioxidants, high in beneficial fats, and cholesterol & trans-fat free. He decided to also use his crop as a direct source for sunflower cooking oil. Thus, Simply Sunflower All-Natural Oil was born.

Our company now includes a large farm operation, two production plants in Chambers and North Loup, Nebraska, and offers products across America. Today, Simply Sunflower is one of the only farm-to-table sunflower oil producers in the United States. What began as a simple environmental friendly idea continues to grow and expand – enabling customers daily to make a wise choice for their health.

When I was younger, I dreamed of living in town, close to my friends and wished my dad had a normal 8-5 job. Then, we wouldn't have to drop our Sunday afternoon plans to go get the cows in and we'd be able to enjoy fall weekday family dinners instead of reheating food for dad after he'd come in late from harvesting into the night.

Now, I'm thankful. I'm thankful for my upbringing and life on the Koelling Farm.

My dad was born to be a farmer and rancher. His wisdom has led our family through peaks and valleys. His ingenuity amazes me as I watch a farmer in rustler jeans with a handkerchief in his back pocket hand-design a manufacturing plant filled with state-of-the-art mechanical engineering. There is so much more than meets the eye when you look at Farmer Al.

I'm tickled pink to work for my dad and contribute to Simply Sunflower - our entire family is! It's our family business and we're so thankful that this is our story.

Simply Sunflower has been a member of GROW Nebraska for many years and continues to set a great example for other members. Visit to shop their great product, and check out their website to learn more about this awesome company. 

About GROW Nebraska:
GROW Nebraska is a not-for-profit organization based in rural Nebraska.Serving over 400 Nebraska small businesses, the organization provides market access, education and training to launch and connect Nebraska businesses to the global marketplace. GROW Nebraska's educational programs receive federal and state funding, along with generous support from foundations and individual donors. For more information, please visit

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Top Good-For-You Brands You Should Know

GROW Nebraska member, Pacha Soap, from Hastings, Nebraska was recently featured in an article in the Huffington Post on February 25, 2017. Pacha Soap was started in a college apartment and has steadily grown from there. Pacha's main goal is to raise awareness of handmade goods, especially cold-process soap made with all natural ingredients. They have designed and built most of their equipment used in the production process. The name ''Pacha'' means ''earth'' in the quechua language native to the Andean people of South America. The inspiration for handmade, natural products was taken from them. Pacha Soap has been a member of GROW Nebraska since 2009. Help us in congratulating Pacha Soap for the wonderful promotion!

Huffington Post article –
In 2017, good-for-you brands are becoming a dime a dozen. But which one's are actually good-for-you? We wanted to find out. We looked through ingredient lists, compared products and found the best ones that you should have in your bathrooms.

Pacha Soap products are created and driven with a mission in mind, provide clean soap worldwide to those in need. Their bar soaps are the real deal with scents that will stay with you for hours. With organic and ethically sourced ingredients, you can believe in Pacha Soap to clean.

Follow this link for the full article –>

Shop online 24/7/365 for Pacha Soap at, or visit one of GROW Nebraska's retail stores and pick your favorite scent at the Hilltop Mall in Kearney, or the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island.