Barronett Bob (AKA Corn Man)

This past month I was reminded about the power of social media and journalism 101. While perusing Facebook, I saw a post that was being shared with hundreds about one of my favorite farmers in the world — Barronett Bob. Or, just the Corn Man. The rumor was he wasn’t going to be selling this year due to heart issues. The post going round seemed legit and I was sad to think I wouldn’t get to enjoy the greatest sweet corn of all time so I shared it on my facebook page. The next day, much to my surprise, I learned the Facebook post had bad information. Barronett Bob was in fact healthy and was just days away from heading up to Ashland to sell hundreds the sweet taste of summer. I was relieved to hear he was ok and happy the information was false. But, I got to thinking and what I found interesting is the person who cracked the facebook rumor did so by something so old fashion–they picked up a phone and called him to confirm the story, only to discover it was false. It seems so simple, yet, it was a great reminder about the benefits of speaking to the source for information.

Next week, I’m excited to stock up on Bob’s treats when he rolls into Ashland with his truck of gold. I’m even hopeful for one of his watermelon. In the meantime, if you’ve ever wondering more about the man behind the corn, check out Julie Buckles and her post: The Secret of Bob’s Super Sweet Corn. Julie is a great author and I think you’ll find the story about Bob almost as good as his corn….

Hot Enough?

Moon Lake summers are awesome… right up to those few days where temperatures surpass 80 degrees. It isn’t the heat but instead the humidity that drives me crazy. Crazy enough that after years of debate, my husband finally realized that if we didn’t get central air, our marriage might not survive. (It helped that I was also 8-months pregnant and on bed rest when he finally caved).

This past weekend, we ran it 24/7. It was pretty much heaven. But, I couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty about the energy I was consuming. Not enough to turn it off but more like the guilt you get when you sneak a piece of cake when nobody is looking.

I’d like to say my hubby and I are conservative environmentalists. We burn wood when we can, recycle, reuse and steer clear of gas-guzzling vehicles as much as possible. We try to support local businesses. But, I also shop at Wal-Mart and have even contemplated sneaking ketchup packets into the Duluth Grill to avoid using their homemade stuff. It is about balance folks.

That said, I really respect people who walk the talk. In June, I had the opportunity to tour Bailey’s Greenhouse outside of Bayfield. It is a wholesale greenhouse that isn’t open to the public but has gained local attention for its commitment to renewable energy. Driving up, I wasn’t surprised to see the rows of solar panels around the property. But, there definition of renewable energy is so much more than that.

Joe Bailey and Gail Chatfield

Joe Bailey and Gail Chatfield utilize a variety of renewable energies to power their home and business. And, they can truly quantify the savings they are experiencing while doing their part to help the planet. If you’re interested in the numbers, you can read the article I wrote for this month’s Business North here.

This in itself would be impressive. But what really inspired me was their commitment to giving back. They are busy sharing their knowledge and resources with others through a regional website. And, they are investing time and energy into bringing local foods and education to area schools. I only spent an hour or so interviewing and learning more about the operation so I’m no expert on what they have accomplished. But, what I do know is they are passionate about renewable energy and living proof that where there’s a will there’s a way.

Community solar is slowly making its way to Iron River. My husband I were quick to sign up for a few panels. But, after hearing their story and learning more about the potential community solar has for a community, we’ve committed to doubling down on our investment should the initiative move forward. I’m hopeful it will, not only because it is the right thing to do but because it helps me run my AC completely guilt free on those hot, sunny, summer days.

The World’s Oldest Table

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Kahiki Table. Made from Kauri wood. Priced at $100,000. Photo credit: http://www.ancientwood.com

I must admit, I’ve become somewhat of a wood working snob over the years. In part, this is because my husband turns bowls and other treasures. Often times, the wood is local and has a story behind it. Or, not local with a story behind it… like the time we had to call TSA to see if we could bring a stump on the plane since there was no way our luggage would make the weight limit otherwise. Turns out, while you cannot bring a rolling pin on an airplane, they have no problem with you bringing a 50 pound stump that you found discarded near Gettysburg. But I digress.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet Robert Teisberg. Teisberg is the owner of Ancientwood, Ltd. in Ashland. He also happens to be a craftsman and distributor of Kauri wood. What makes Kauri wood cool? Well its claim to fame is that it is in fact the oldest wood in the world. To me, while this is an interesting tidbit, the unique grain is what I love most about this wood. Photos don’t do it justice. But, if you’ve ever seen a finished Kauri wood product up close, you cannot help but be drawn in by the enchanting reflection that occurs when the light hits it. I can only compare it to that of a gentle wave rolling off of Lake Superior.

While I am mesmerized by this wood and even bought my hubby some for his birthday, I haven’t thought much about it lately because the oldest wood in the world costs quite the premium. But, that’s part of what makes the email I got this past week pretty amazing.

Teisberg just finished a work table. Not just any table, but a table made out of 50,000 year old Kauri wood that is listed for a mere $100,000. I, unfortunately, won’t be buying this artistic masterpiece anytime soon. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t salivate over amazing art… that was crafted right here in northwest Wisconsin.

Kahiko_Table_1_for_Print-1
Kahiki Table. Made from Kauri wood. Priced at $100,000. Photo credit: http://www.ancientwood.com

If you are interested in learning more about Anceintwood, LLC, visit their website. Also, here’s a bit more on the company in the story I wrote for Business North in late 2012.

 

 

 

 

Ashland Company Monopolizes Oldest Wood Market in the World

(first ran in Business North Magazine in late 2012)
Sitting at a desk in the depths of the Ashland Area Enterprise Building, Robert Teisberg is never quite sure what to expect to hear when his phone rings.

“I was sitting at my desk yesterday and this guy from Beirut called me interested in my product,” Teisberg explains. “After talking for a while, it turns out their climate isn’t that much different than ours. It’s pretty neat, actually.”

These types of calls might seem unusual, but then again, Teisberg’s product isn’t exactly mainstream. You see Teisberg is the only licensed distributor of Kauri wood in North America and one of a handful of sellers in the world. For those wondering what Kauri wood is, its claim to fame is it holds the title of the world’s oldest wood.

In a “Splintered History of Wood” Spike Carlsen explains that Kauri wood comes from New Zealand’s North Island. Carbon dating indicates the wood was buried in a peat swamp about 50,000 year ago and has remained perfectly preserved since. So, how does 50,000-year old wood go from being in a New Zealand peat moss to being manufactured into impressive finished products in Ashland, Wisconsin?

Teisberg, who used to spend a lot of time sailing, learned about the wood during a visit to the region during the Millennium. Teisberg says this “was about this time, Timeless Timber in Ashland was getting a lot of recognition. They were being featured on CNN and their wood wasn’t nearly as old.” Recognizing the product’s market potential, he started doing some research only to discover a huge void in the North American market. He had the skillset (he’s a trained woodworker) and the ambition to make a deal as the sole distributor in North America. By 2004, Ancientwood Ltd. was up and running.

Fast forward to today and Ancientwood, Ltd. employs 5 employees in Ashland. The company’s reach has expanded beyond North America with sales in 27 countries worldwide and sales approaching $500,000 a year. Their most recent sale—two tables from a single, 40 foot piece of wood that when attached will make a table 40 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 5 inches thick. It’s destination—Colorado. The price tag on a finished table of this magnitude is approximately $100,000.

Part of the appeal to Kauri wood is its mammoth size. Many of the trees grew for more than 1,000 years creating massive pieces of wood that can grow to be 40 feet around and 200 feet high. Teisberg says the wood also has an “active grain” that in some pieces creates an impressive shimmering white effect off the wood. In addition, Teisberg says as the oldest workable timber, there is also a finite quantity making it comparable to liquid gold. Currently, the only way the trees can be harvested is by extracting them from below the ground—often times in farm fields. The Kauri tree does still grow in parts of New Zealand but these trees are protected.

The combined appeal makes Kauri wood a natural fit for woodworkers looking for something different. Teisberg compares the wood loosely to Basswood but says each piece varies greatly. From a wood workers perspective, it is worth noting the wood is not petrified, allowing for the wood to finished with normal techniques.

Despite the appeal, the wood has yet to catch-on with major distributors. Part of the issue is major distributors aren’t necessarily comfortable with how the wood will react. Skeptics have questioned the authenticity of the wood’s age, even with the carbon dating conducted by independent organizations. This combined with the recent recession have made times tough for Ancientwood Ltd. but Teisberg remains committed to making this company work.

“We have several routes we’re looking at right now,” Teisberg says. The product seems to be a hit with guitar players that has resulted in one national guitar maker expressing interest in buying their wood. There’s also the potential of making something for the Smithsonian.

The company has yet to make a profit in part because he needs a private investor to help boost his buying power. In a perfect world, Teisberg says a “$2.5 million investment would allow for pre-purchasing 10-year supply of wood, driving the overall price of the wood down and turning a profit.”

In the meantime, Teisberg will continue selling finished and unfinished pieces of wood, never knowing what the next phone call might bring.

The Intersection of Healthcare and Technology: My Firsthand Experience

Greetings from northern Wisconsin! This weekend I’m heading outside to enjoy what is sure to be fall peak in my neck of the woods. I couldn’t be more excited in part because this comes after a nearly a month of my entire family being sick. And, knock on wood, but right now we are all healthy and ready to get outside and enjoy fall.

I won’t go into the gory details but needless to say, in the past month we’ve visited our local Community Health Clinic 11 times. We’ve spent one morning in Urgent Care. I utilized my employee health plan and Urgent Care during work one day. And, I got to experience Westfield Hospital’s Wal-Mart set-up over Labor Day weekend.

It has been an interesting ride. I work at a hospital. I serve on the board for our Community Health Clinic. I’m passionate about health disparities and have written several articles about the impact of the affordable care act in northwest Wisconsin. But, I’ve experienced all of this from a relatively healthy perspective and as someone with health insurance.

As I watch the medical bills roll in from what started as a simple round of Pink Eye, I am reminded of how fortunate I am to have health insurance. I’m also grateful that despite living in what many folks would refer to as Hicksville, I have access to amazing providers in both an Urgent Care and Clinic setting. Our public health system is strong, despite continuously having funding cut. As frustrating as the system can be, this last month reminded me of the positives including the quality care my family received.

This comes on the heels of me writing several health related articles that will come out in MN Business Magazine the next few months. The first, came out in September and focuses around a software system focused on reducing medical errors. Ambient Clinical Analytics is currently being test at the Mayo Clinic. Someday, should you find yourself in an ER, it may become part of your patient experience. Read the full article here.

As someone who just recently got around to downloading the Kindle Ap on my IPad so I could read my first e-book, I tend to be slow when it comes to technology. But, I’m all for outside the box solutions that allow providers to focus on care and not charting or attempting to read charts. Kudos to this organization for taking that step. And, I hope many others follow.

Meet Hannah

My first memory of Hannah Stonehouse Hudson is of a newspaper ad I saw many moons ago. It was an ad for her business that featured a wedding shot where the bride’s face was in focus and her dress was blurred from spinning in circles. Now knowing Hannah, it seems appropriate. Somehow, despite her entire world being in utter chaos, she continues to succeed in life while inspiring thousands along the way.

My first real encounter with Hannah was back in 2011. We asked this up and coming photographer to take our adoption portfolio photos. Keep in mind, my husband and I hate having our photos taken. Turns out our dog refuses to make eye contact with a camera as well. (This may be PTSD from an overzealous home photographer when she was a baby. I’m curious to see if Jake has this problem as well as he gets older). But somehow, Hannah made us appear normal—even like a happy glowing couple—despite our distaste for professional shots. The entire shoot took about 30-minutes. I think the reason, in addition to her being a fabulous photographer, is she gets people and pets. Capturing someone’s spirit means you must engage with them enough to understand who they are as people and how to best represent that in a single image. This is a pretty hefty task but Hannah always seems to deliver.

Over the years, our paths have intersected on occasion. I always leave a conversation with her energized about life and inspired about what happens when one sets their mind to something. This past month, I had the opportunity to delve a little deeper into what makes Hannah successful as a business person. The article ran in the July issue of Business North and can be found here.

While this article certainly cannot capture the spirit and adventure of one of the neatest people I’ve had the chance encounter to meet, it is a start. Be sure to check out her blog as well if you want to learn more about her story and her work.

Finding a Place in Duluth

This month I had a multitude of articles come out including my first blog post for Midwest Living and an article about talent recruitment in northeast Minnesota for Minnesota Business Magazine. The topics are wildly different but they both focus in one a special place in my heart – Duluth.

As a new mom, I am finding it difficult to get quality information on family friendly locations in the area. I find myself asking other moms, sticking to what I know, or occasionally winging it and hoping I don’t ruin too many people’s lives. That said, Jake goes down at 6:15 so dinner dates are a distant memory in my life. If you find yourself in the same boat as me, be sure to check out my piece on 10-family friendly spots to hang in Duluth.

As for my piece in Minnesota Business Magazine about talent recruitment in northeast Minnesota, I enjoyed writing this piece because I distinctly remember a time when I was an ambitious Duluthian who for a variety of reasons needed to leave television news. I had a solid resume and great education but my connections to the business community in Duluth were weak. At the time (2004), I genuinely believed the only place to find a job was via the Duluth News Tribune. I actually did end up finding my job this way – but it was in Ashland at Northland College. This of course, sparked a whole new life for me including meeting Steve and eventually ending up on the shores on Moon Lake (which is frankly awesome). But, there will always be a part of me that dreams of returning to the Twin Ports.

In the mid-2000s, I seized an opportunity to return to Duluth for work (even though I lived in Washburn, WI at the time). Up until 2011, I worked at the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. One of my tasks at the Foundation was working on an initiative to attract and retain young adults in Duluth. It was an interesting project and an interesting time to be a part of the solution. I had the opportunity to participate in Fuse – the young professional arm of the Chamber of Commerce; participate (and be honored one year) in the 20 Under 40 awards; lead initial efforts with the Young Leaders Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, and work one a portal for young adults which included being a John S. and James L. Knight Community Information Fellow via a grant from the Knight Foundation.

Today, many of these efforts have evolved and/or changed. But, it is exciting to learn that it continues to be a focus in the area. It is cool to know that recent grads or those at a turning point in their career have tools like NORTHFORCE and TwinPortsConnex to help them transition without having to leave the state.

(But if you do have to leave the area, consider northern Wisconsin. It is pretty awesome as well. And, we still have an awesome home in Herbster for sale…)

That’s it from Moon Lake today. This weekend I’m heading to Cable to make my first succulent wreath. I hope to share that experience along with some photos from my garden soon.

The Perfect Marketing Storm

The calendar says April 4 but if I look out my window, I have the joys of seeing a fresh foot of snow. As someone who is training for a half-marathon, this is extremely annoying. Muster up a conversation with anyone in the tri-county or possibly tri-state area, and the conversation will likely turn to this unseasonably miserable winter. As a life long northlander, I get winter. I get miserable weather but honestly, enough is enough. On a side note, this winter will go down in the history books for more than just the longest winter ever. Around here it’ll always be remembered as the year the Sea Caves went viral. The social media, marketing, story teller in me couldn’t help but attempt to explore why this happened in this month’s Business North.

Of course, I didn’t draw any incredible conclusion. But, it was a fun, powerful lesson and reminder about the fact that television news isn’t dead, social media matters, people love selfies of themselves in front of cool things (which will cause others to long for said selfie), and there’s nothing like a Hail Mary Polar Vortex on your side to boost tourism in the northwoods. Here’s a link to the article.

If you stumble across any other recaps about the Sea Caves or want to share a post about your experience at the caves, send them my way. I’d love to share them here. In the meantime, here were a few of my favorites. Some make this list for incredible writing. Some make this list for great photos. And some make this list for over-the-top reporting that makes it sound like the Sea Caves are either a new thing or that hiking on Lake Superior (in the winter) is something incredibly unusual. I’ll let you be the judge…

The Surreal Apostle Islands May Only Be Visitable For Another Few Weeks: Huffington Post

Almost Otherworldly: The Sea Caves of Lake Superior, On Ice: NPR

Lake Superior Freezes, Revealing Ice Caves Blocked for Five Years: Esquire

Winter Gives Access to Dramatic Ice Caves Along Lake Superior: Pioneer Press

Our Morning at the Ice Caves: The Cookery Maven

Sea Caves Shrowded In Ice Open to Explorers: NBC News (local affiliate reporter)

Lake Sueprior’s Ice Caves Offer Glimpse of Nature’s Fleeting Beauty: CBS Evening News

Rare Frozen Path on Lake Superior Opens Dazzling Ice Caves to Hikers: LA Times

Guest Shots: The Sea Caves of Cornucopia: frankjhutton.blogspot.com

Exploring the Frozen Caves of Lake Superior: The Baltimore Sun

The Beautiful Ice Caves of Northern Wisconsin: Stonehouse Photo Blog

Extreme Weather Exposes Rare Ice Caves in US: Aljazeera

 

 

Impact Articles Galore

I haven’t had much time to post articles in a while, in part because I’ve been writing up a storm offline. The past few months I’ve focused my writing on a variety of impact stories–many of which center around economics. It is always interesting to question a business or nonprofit to understand why they do what they do, and learn about their regional impact. In the February/March issue of Positively Superior, I did a feature on Catholic Charities. In the upcoming issue, I looked at how Mac Sport and Marine seized an opportunity to provide power sports to NW Wisconsin and NE Minnesota during the recession. Access to these articles can be found here. Meantime, on the Duluth side, features about Great Harvest Bread and Johnson, Killen and Seiler are in the current issue of the Duluthian with pieces about the Northland Foundation and Ace Hardware in east Duluth coming soon. These business and non-profit features are a great reminder of people contributing to society in a variety of interesting ways.

Meantime, In the past couple months I’ve wrote a couple of impact stories for Business North. They’ve revolved around the economic impact the arts has on northwest Wisconsin, how Northland College contributes to Chequamegon Bay and how a family owned business in Iron River is making waves in the logging industry. I’ll post my Northland College piece today and hopefully some of the others soon.

An article I just completed that I’m pretty excited about is a feature for Minnesota Business Magazine that’ll run early summer about efforts in northeast Minnesota to attract and retain talent – both young and old – and how these tactics play a huge role in economic development. They’ve just added me to their line-up of contributing writers, which includes a brief bio page on their website. I’ll be sure to share that one, once it is in print.

Meantime, a few weeks back I was notified of a publication I occasionally contributed to was folding. Duluth Superior Magazine was a great publication to write to. I still have their inaugural issue from 6-years ago where I penned a fashion piece of all things. It was also because of them that I won my first statewide award in the magazine industry. I am sad to see them fold because they were a great addition to Twin Ports media. I wish everyone on staff nothing but the best.

As I mentioned, I hope to post more content soon but in the meantime, here’s a link to a piece about my old stomping grounds Northland College. I was their director of communications for 2-years and to this day, I can honestly say I’ve never worked for a place quite as unique and environmental as this environmental liberal arts college in Ashland. Enjoy!

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When Northland College’s founding fathers established the college in 1906 as an offspring of North Wisconsin Academy, it is unlikely they anticipated how vital the College would become to the region’s economy.

Today, the Ashland Wisconsin environmental liberal arts college is home to 600 students from 32 states and 5 countries including Canada, Ghana, Great Britain, New Zealand, South Korea and Sweden.

But, what does this mean to the Chequamegon Bay region? The Fiscal and Economic Research Center of UW-Whitewater recently completed an economic impact analysis of Northland College. The goal of the study was to determine the economic impact Northland College has on the local economy.

Northland College President Michael Miller says these types of studies are typical in higher education. “It is not unusual for a college to conduct this kind of study every five to 10 years. The advantage of it is it helps the community understand the value we bring to the area.”

The study found that Northland College supported 421 jobs in the region with 236 of them being direct jobs at the College. While this number may not seem substantial, given Northland’s rural location, this accounts for 1% of all employment in the area. The total income for these 421 jobs tops $12 million.

In terms of overall impact, when you factor in spending both for the college and student spending, Northland’s overall impact approaches $33 million.

Miller says these numbers are not surprising. “They always come out bigger than you imagine but we weren’t surprised by how much we contribute to the local economy.”

Ashland Chamber Director Mary McPhetridge says Ashland is vital to the region’s economy, not just in economic impact but also in cultural and environmental.

“Ashland is fortunate to have a quality leader in sustainability and liberal arts, thanks to Northland College. We have always had a culture of sustainability simply by the diverse business sectors that can be found with the city limits. Having a quality four-year private college in the mix is essential to maintain our successful sustainable heritage.”

McPhedtridge goes on to say the more the College makes the community aware of this impact, the better.

“Since President Miller took this position, he has had a focus on creating relationships within the business and social community of Ashland and the Chequamegon Bay and increasing awareness of the College throughout the entire region which is beneficial to both the College and our community.”

Miller says these conversations and connections are key. In fact, Miller says given the unique nature of Northland College, these numbers might not paint the whole picture. “We are doing what others aren’t,” he says. “Given the uniqueness of our situation, this study might underestimate our total impact.”

For example, Northland College has made a strong commitment to purchasing local foods. According to Regional Sustainability Coordinator Nathan Engstrom, the college purchased $77.827 in local food within 100 miles and an additional $14,843 within 250 miles. This number jumped substantially during the current school year with totals at $111,368 within 100 miles and an additional $,6,798 within 250 miles. This is about 42% of their total food purchase.

Miller says this commitment to local food is important to the overall mission of the College. “We’ve set a goal of increasing the local business we use, whether it is in construction and support services or as part of our commitment to using food from local growers.”

Looking ahead, Miller hopes to build on this initial study by looking at some of the direct and indirect benefits of utilizing local foods. He also wants to follow-up with graduates of Northland College to better understand where they live and their impact to this region.

Institutional Research Specialist Petra Hofstedt estimates that of the 1,606 graduates since 2002, 319 of them live within the Chequamegon Bay region. This accounts for 20% of the graduates and is tracked by tracking graduates permanent address. Later this year, Miller plans to expand this data by gathering supplemental information about their success in terms of employment.

Ultimately, this information will provide a baseline metric for the College to build on. In the meantime, the study triggered a community wide conversation. In March, the data was presented at a well-attended public forum at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.

“Anytime you can bring students, faculty, staff and the community together, we’re achieving our goal of immersing ourselves within the community.”

Bulk Foods in the Woods… Why not?

This article first appeared in the December issue of Business North. I couldn’t help but sharing for the simple fact that it is folks like Kitten that make living in northwest Wisconsin so awesome. Plus, where else in the U.S will you find a massive Bulk Food Store in the middle of nowhere… Definitely off the beaten path but worth driving to any chance you get!

What comes first – the chicken or the egg? This is a common conundrum among new business owners trying to determine how fast to grow their business. Kitten and Eric Dymesich are no exception. But, the Mason Wisconsin couple isn’t letting that stand in the way of their dream to own and operate a local bulk food store.

kittenThe Bulk Food Store, LLC was something Kitten dreamed of opening since moving away from her childhood home in southern Wisconsin. “I grew up shopping at Amish stores,” she says. “After I moved up here, every time we would go visit my family, we’d stock up on supplies at those stores.”

It was after one of these trips that Kitten casually mentioned how great it’d be to have an Amish bulk food store in northwest Wisconsin since the closest one is hours away. Eric, who is always up for a challenge, took that comment to heart and decided to make her dream come true.

To accomplish this, Eric spent many hours in an Internet Café researching the industry. While this process is similar to many other entrepreneurs, Eric’s situation was slightly different due to the fact that the Internet Café was in Iraq. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Eric was also a combat medic who was deployed to Iraq in 2010.

While the time difference and location made business planning difficult, the couple never gave up. Upon returning home in 2011, Eric used his leave to set-up shop at their home in the outskirts of Mason. Doing so, accomplished several things.

“I always planned to be a stay at home mom,” Dysemich says. “This allowed me to run the store, while taking care of our two children.” The couple also had the space since they had built their home with extra space built in for a potential small business.

“We own this building and live here. When we were starting out we got some advice which was start small and build yourself up, and this was a way we could do that.” In July 2011, their doors were open.

Since then, business has steadily grown. But, their location has continued to be troublesome. Located on a country road outside of Mason, Wisconsin and at least 5-miles away from U.S. Highway 2, customer acquisition is difficult. Kitten says putting a covered wagon on Highway 2 has drawn a lot of attention. But, they are continuously looking for creative ways to market themselves in hopes of bringing new customers to their shop.

“We keep experimenting to see what makes a difference for us,” Dymesich explains. To date, they’ve advertised in local newspapers and radio, managed a blog, crafted articles for a free newspaper, managed a Facebook page and have a web presence. They’ve also started selling some of their foods online.

products Today, their marketing and hard work appears to be paying off. On any given week, they can see between 40 and 60 customers shopping the endless shelves of bulk beans, grains, flour, rice, pasta, nuts, dip mixes, candies, seasoning, dried fruits, drink and dip mixes and various local products such as honey and meat. At first glance, it might sound like a long drive to visit a grocery store but Dymesich says they are different.

“We are different because we provide our products with less packaging which allows you to get more for your money. It also allows you to choose different sizes.” She goes on to explain that the couple is also focused on bringing a better quality product to the consumer.

Some of their best selling items include unbleached, unbromated all purpose flour, Australian licorice, black cocoa, cheddar cheese powder, chick soup base and a variety of seasoning and spices.

A combination of unique, premium products at a bargain price has convinced customers it is worth the trek to Mason to shop. But, to be sustainable, they know they need to keep growing if they want to create a long-term sustainable business.

Most recently, the couple has expanded into a new market. For over the past year, they had been purchasing and selling Northwestern Coffee Mills beans out of Washburn, Wisconsin. When they learned former owner Harry Demorest has passed away, they began a conversation with his daughter Kate about the future of Northwestern Coffee Mills to ensure the long-time legacy of the locally roasted coffee continued. When it became clear Kate wasn’t going to keep the business going, they decided to acquire the business. Demorest had a long-time, robust customer base that he shipped coffee to in more than 40-states across the U.S. Today, the Dymesich’s hope to regain that customer base and build on it.

As for what the future holds, Kitten says they hope to continue building business in their current location to prove the business model and need for a bulk food store in northwest Wisconsin. Once that happens, they hope to move their store but continuing to live their dream of owning and operating a local business providing quality food to their customers.

Goat Cheese Anyone?

In this month’s Business North, I have several articles covering a wide range of topics from a local goat cheese maker, to an off the beaten path bulk food store and an in-depth look at the man behind the Evergreen Country Shopper. I thought I’d share the goat cheese story first, because well, who doesn’t love pics of cute little goats? I haven’t had a chance to spend time on the actual farm. But, the diligent reporter in me did find time to test the product. Good stuff Maynard. The cheese is awesome. And, I love that the farm is in Herbster–a personal favorite spot of mine, especially since my hubby and I keep buying land over in that neck of Bayfield County.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy the article. And, the next time you are in the area, you consider picking up some of this artisan goat cheese that you just won’t find in the aisles of any big chain. Happy eating!

Local Cheese Makers Partner Up to Provide Artisan Cheeses from the North Woods

Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty
Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty

47-year cook Michael Stanitis knew he didn’t want to be a chef forever.  But, he wasn’t exactly sure what he did want to do with his life. He knew he loved goats. And, he knew he loved goat cheese. So, eight years ago he began a journey on his Herbster homestead that today has resulted in a successful artisan cheese line.

“It just kind of happened,” he explains of his Sassy Nanny cheese line. “While I was still working, I got a few goats and started messing around with making cheese.”

It is a huge leap to go from making cheese in your backyard to becoming a licensed cheese producer. In the State of Wisconsin, you need at least three licenses including a cheese maker license, a dairy producer license and last but not least a cheese plant license. While Stanitis was confident about the first achieving the first two licenses, building a state certified cheese plant just wasn’t in his budget.

“It would have cost more than my house to build the cheese plant on my own,” he explains.

It was about this time that he met nearby farmer Fred Faye, who was also interested in making cheese—only using sheep’s milk. Faye, who lives on an old dairy farm, had the barn structure that could be converted for the facility. He also had the desire to make the investment. After much debate, the two decided to share costs on the facility but operate their businesses separately. This was three years ago.

University of Wisconsin-Extension Bayfield and Ashland Counties Agriculture Agent Jason Fischbach says these types of partnerships aren’t uncommon among farmers in northwest Wisconsin. “One of the goals of our agricultural development efforts in the Chequamegon Bay area is to foster networking and collaboration among our agricultural entrepreneurs.  By working together, these entrepreneurs are able to share resources, lower production costs, and access markets more effectively.” He goes on to say, “Our region has a long history of farmers working together and today is no different.”

So far, this partnership seems to be one more success story of two farmers working together to create a value-added product. Today, Stanitis says his business is doing well. This year he’s on track to produce and sell about 4,000 pounds of goat cheese. He focuses on the local market—and by local he means within about 100-miles of his Herbster farm. He extends a bit further south into Eau Claire. And, while he’s been asked to provide goat cheese in the Twin Cities, he’s hesitant to break into that market.

“I’m a strong believer in the local food movement,” he explains. “There are goat cheese producers closer to the Twin Cities than I that should really be in that market versus me.”

Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty
Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty

He currently focuses on distribution in regional food co-ops including Whole Foods in Duluth and the Chequamegon Food Co-Op in Ashland, along with various local markets. You’ll also find him at local Farmer’s Markets on the weekends. Right now, he’s selling everything he makes minus a small winter stash that ensures his regulars can purchase in the off months.

He sells a variety of cheeses that are primarily fresh pasturized cheeses. Lake Effect, which is a fresh spreadable cheese and Cabra Fresco, which is similar to queso fresco, are his most popular.

“I think people like the Lake Effect because it is fresh, soft and versatile,” he says. “It has  great flavor but not so much the aged goaty flavor that people associate with goat cheese.”

He’s also slowly entering the aged, raw cheese world with a variety of cheeses including a red wine washed rind Winey Kid and Finit Su La Paille which is a classic French-style moldy rind aged soft cheese.

The herd, which is 35 goats strong, is a herd he’s built from the ground up. In terms of what makes a good goat, Stanitis says he has a different breeding program that some farmers. “My goats don’t have to set world records in production. They just need to provide a steady production during  the lactation season and be in good body condition.”

As the goats reproduce, he keeps back the kids from the mom’s who have served him well while placing other goats with families in the region that want a couple quarter of milk for their family.

Despite his success, Stanitis recognizes he needs to make some changes to enjoy long-term sustainability. He currently produces the cheese and milks his herd of 35 goats daily, entirely on his own. Long term, he hopes to grow his herd to 45 goats to have a little more cushion in his day-to-day business operations.

“I always knew this would be hard work but this is really not sustainable,” he says. At 47-years old, he knows he can’t keep up the 12-hour work day, 7-days per week forever.

In a perfect world, Stanitis dreams of a couple that is interested in starting a goat dairy farm in the area that he could buy direct from.  “I would be all behind that,” he says. “I’d help them get set-up. But unfortunately, it is not that easy to find people in that.”

So for now, Stanitis continues to milk goats, make cheese and distribute it. Despite the hard work, he says he wouldn’t trade it for anything. “I still can’t believe how great this has been. I’m fortunate because people want to support me and I produce a great product.”

To learn more about Sassy Nanny or find additional locations you can purchase Sassy Nanny cheese, please visit their website.