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.

Herbster Home for Sale

Update: On Monday, October 27 we sold this home and thus this chapter in our lives. The new owners seem wonderful and I hope they enjoy the house in a way we were never got a chance to. While I am happy that it sold, I can’t help but wonder about all of the “what ifs” that went with the property.

The backstory behind how we ended up owning a 3-bedroom home near Lake Superior in Herbster, Wisconsin is a whole different story. But, today, it is with mixed emotions that we’ve decided to sell it.

The view from the road.
The view from the road.

I still remember that crisp fall day when we walked the property for the first time. The former hobby farmer in me was fascinated by the outbuildings and aged barn. Next to it, a spacious back yard, 30 acres of woods to explore and winding ATV trails that intersect with deer paths satisfied my curious side. While an artisan well watering the field out back with water from Lake Superior’s Basin reminded me just how close we were to the greatest of great lakes, Lake Superior.

A second story deck provides the perfect spot to read, write or dream.
A second story deck provides the perfect spot to read, write or dream.

Glancing upward, I notice a second story balcony overlooking the property providing the perfect writer’s nook and I couldn’t help but wonder if this unexpected purchase was a glimpse into my future. As we toured the home, the word character kept coming to mind. It was clear the previous owners had a vision for this renovated farmhouse. In the kitchen, new cabinets and flooring, along with new windows provided the floor plan for a modern day, functional kitchen. The gorgeously crafted tongue and groove ceilings, spacious family room and open floor plan provided plenty of room for a growing family to run around. Upstairs, the bedrooms were simple but large, with access to newly finished deck. Standing there, I could almost taste my morning coffee. There were snippets of wonder and vision as I toured the property. An unfinished loft space that was designated for a second story hot tub seemed to be more appropriate for a second bathroom. The previous owner’s love of blue, including blue carpets and a blue first story bathroom was a bit extreme for this gal’s love of neutral. But these cosmetic differences were easy fixes in the grand scheme of things.

As we left the house, Steve and I had a moment of pause. Could we leave our life in Iron River to start a new life in Herbster? Our immediate response was absolutely. I could already envision roasting coffee from the outbuilding, planting a pear orchard and having my own 1-acre vegetable garden. I could see our kids exploring the woods, chasing deer and harvesting mushrooms without ever having to leave our property. I could see our family biking the mere couple miles to the shores of Lake Superior to enjoy a summer filled with sand and sun. It could in fact be the perfect life. But, life is a bit more complicated than that. The realities of our jobs and the life we’ve built on Moon Lake topped our dreams of starting a new life in Herbster. We’ve sat on these dreams for a few years as we rented this property out. But, at this juncture in our life, we’ve decided to sell. So I write this post with mixed emotions. If you or someone you know of is looking to start a new life away from the rat race, near the shores of Lake Superior in some of the most gorgeous country around, this property is worth checking out. Here’s the nitty gritty details: Escape the rat race in this for sale by owner 3-bedroom, one bathroom home (1,900 sq. ft) just 2 miles from Lake Superior in Herbster on a beautiful 5-acre wooded lot. Option to buy an additional 30 acres of prime hunting land adjacent to the proerty. Highlights include Internet fiber optic wired to the home, new windows, newly remodeled kitchen, tongue and groove ceiling, second story deck off master bedroom, 4 car garage, maintained trails on backside of property, large yard, an outbuilding and an option to buy up to 30 additional acres of prime hunting land. Closing and title insurance will be professionally handled by Wisconsin Title. Priced to sell at $104,900 or $134,900 with the additional 30 acres. Private showings available starting in late-May. Call Steve at 218-269-6776 for additional information or to set-up a showing. At this price, this home won’t stay on the market long. I’ve also included the PDF of our poster for you to share as well. South Shore Property For Sale

My favorite Bayfield County Greenhouse Sales…

I’m a planner. I love pouring over gardening catalogs all winter long dreaming up raised garden bed plans, flowering combos, hardy perennials and edible shrubs. While I implement many of these plans, my black thumb and sandy soil cancels out many of my efforts. This annual kill-off provides the perfect opportunity to frequent some of my favorite Greenhouses each spring.

Some of my favorites include shopping for succulents at Big Brook Greenhouse in Cable. Each year I lovingly look at the turtle shaped plants thinking someday I’ll be responsible enough to keep one alive. For now, I just keep adding to my favorite succulents of all – Hens and Chicks.

When it comes to edible shrubs, Blue Vista Farm in Bayfield is an all-time favorite. I struggle to keep blueberries alive, even though I live in perfect soil conditions and wild blueberries grow all around me. Go figure. But wandering this farm provides a glimpse of sheer summer fruit perfection. I prefer picking wild blueberries but now with Jake in-tow, some summer picking sessions here might be a must do.

Peterson Greenhouse in Iron River is perfect for my vegetables and annuals, in part because of its proximity to my house. It never fails that you plan and plan but once you plant, you need just one more plant. After several rounds of this, I either run out of time or in many cases money to answer that call. Anyone who has gardened before knows what I’m talking about.

goodie boxWhile it is too early in the season to be shopping these favorite hot spots, this past weekend marked my favorite greenhouse experience. The annual perennial sale at Hauser’s in Bayfield generally starts on May 1 each year. Perennials are awesome in the sense that even the most frugal gardener (as in me), feels each plant is a worthwhile investment because of its ability to keep coming back. Perennials are like the energizer bunny, they just keep going and going until you need to divide them and double your investment. Sure, they might not have the sassy bloom that an annual brings to the table. They tend to be a bit subtle in their summer display, but I think that’s one of the things I love about them most.

Shopping the barn sale to me is like the Barney’s Warehouse Sale in NYC. Any perennial that has a chance of growing in the north woods is dug up and thrown in endless rows on display. Holding the bare root in your hand, it is hard to conjure up what joy this can bring to one’s life. My husband often shudders as the total is rung up. But by mid-June, many of these bare root plants are thriving in my sandy soil.

In addition to the barn sale, Hauser’s has provided me 3 apple trees, 2 pear trees and a beautiful cherry bush (at an amazing price) that continue to thrive despite multiple years of drought like conditions at my sandy hotspot in Iron River.

hausersThis year was extra special because I got to bring Jake along. He certainly had no clue what was going on. To him, the bare root plant served as a new and exciting chew toy. But, the mama in me knows he has a black thumb and gardening soul like me. I cannot wait for us to pour over the plants together as we plot out his garden. Plus, daddy will have a lot harder time cringing at the price tag when someone so cute is involved.

Afterwards, we hit up one more Greenhouse that I absolutely love but given it is 40-minutes from my house, I rarely stock up on annuals. I do however take advantage of their Mother’s Day basket sale. Tetzner’s Greenhouse (which is conveniently located down the road from Tetzner’s farm and my favorite ice cream sandwich), is several hoops and houses of beautifully blended flowers looking for the perfect home. They also have an awesome $10 Mother’s Day basket sale that we take advantage of annually. This year, I got to buy 2—one for my mother-in-law and one for me. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

If time and money weren’t an object, I’d spend countless days and dollars shopping. But for now, I limit myself to these few favorites (and an occasional drop-in at others when nobody is looking). To my gardening followers, happy spring!

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.”

Celebrating 36 My Way

Token Selfie at the Apostle Islands Sea Caves
Token Selfie at the Apostle Islands Sea Caves

I turned 36 today. As of this moment, I’ve been an adult longer than a kid. I officially feel old. I thought this might kick in when I turned 30 but that was a breeze compared to today. Perhaps it is because I’m a new mom. Perhaps it is because I have now fully accepted I cannot start my day without a cup of coffee and that just seems like such an old person issue. Or, perhaps it is because I keep nursing a multitude of aches and pains resulting from a combination of training for my next half-marathon and just everyday life. Either way, I feel old.

To celebrate 36, I opted for solitude. These past few years I’ve really come to terms that despite being a freelance writer and public relations guru by day, I am in fact the world’s largest introvert. I love interacting with people. I love connecting the dots between friends and colleagues. But there is nothing more I love than disconnecting from everyone and everything and just being lost in my thoughts. Better yet, stick me with those thoughts alone in the wilderness with a camera.

I’m not sure if you had heard but the Apostle Islands Sea Caves opened up for the first time in 5-years. (Yes I’m joking). I’ve walked these hidden gems in the past. My first time was while living in Duluth. I ventured over the bridge to the unknown “south shore”.  This magical place felt like it was days away versus 45 minutes from Duluth. I was instantly in love, not just with the caves but also the hidden gems along the way. It was Lake Superior in all her glory but without the people.  That frosty mid-week morning I was the only one wandering through these majestic, ice adorned caves.

At the time, I never thought I’d end up living in Wisconsin. What little I knew about my future. Several years later I ventured out to the caves again, this time with Steve. We were dating at the time and despite claiming he was the great outdoorsman, he had never bothered to visit the caves. It was a day filled with laughter, endless picture taking and another affirmation that I had found the man I wanted to live with forever.

And today, I returned to the Sea Caves again. I know I’m a bit late to the game but my goal was to enjoy the caves alone. As each day passed that they were open, the numbers of visitors grew exponentially. I couldn’t seem to find a moment to escape my day-to-day responsibilities to beat the morning, afternoon, and weekend crowds that were coming from all around the world to see this wonder.

When the notice came out that the caves were closing, I realized time had run out. It was now or never. I woke at 6 am to arrive at the Sea Cave parking lot around 7. As day’s first light broke, I made my way down to Lake Superior to discover I wasn’t alone. But, alone enough given 125,000 folks have visited the caves in a mere two months.

At midnight the caves close. My birthday passes. All things considered, it was an uneventful birthday. But, it follows an eventful year of buying new land, becoming a mom, growing my freelance and returning to the streets to prepare for my fourth Half-Marathon. I’ve learned lots and discovered I really know nothing. I’ve made new friends, found new hobbies and grown as a person. I look forward to all 36 has to offer and sharing it with those around me, while embracing my quiet moments alone.  In the meantime, one final look at today’s hike.

Apostle Islands Sea Cave Madness

Courtesy: National Park Service Photo
Courtesy: National Park Service Photo

This photo ran on the front page of the Ashland Daily Press today. To be frank, I’m a bit stunned. The National Park Services estimates that 6,000 people visited the mainland Sea Caves on Saturday alone. In big cities, this number might seem insignificant. But you have to remember that I live in a county with no stoplights and a TOTAL population of 15,000. In other words, this is insane.

The onslaught of people is being attributed to a media frenzy of coverage. I imagine given the never ending Polar Vortex story, outlets were looking for a new angle or something else to say other than, “man it is cold.” The end result, thousands flocking to my neck of the woods for something that most locals have seen dozens of times in the past 20-years. In other words, the Sea Caves have been around for centuries, folks but I’m happy that thousands of people now know about them thanks to social media and a boom in media coverage.

So, welcome to Bayfield County. It is a fabulous place to live. I hope you leave just a bit jealous. And, if you are planning to be one of the thousands expected to hit the Sea Caves in the next few weeks, let me offer a few suggestions. On President’s Day weekend, consider experiencing Lake Superior via Book Across the Bay. It is an entirely different way to see Lake Superior and all of her glory. Last year, a piece I wrote ran in the Pioneer Press about the race. Folks who are more into watching the action versus participating may want to head to Drummond, Wisconsin for a fabulous daytime experience of Bar Stool Racing. The 15th Annual Bar Stool Races get underway at noon. I had the chance to attend several years ago and here’s a bit more about the races if you are interested. In terms of dining, there are quite a few options in the Bayfield area. But, a little closer to my neck of the woods is the Delta Diner. This hidden hot spot in the middle-of-nowhere is pretty awesome and definitely worth a visit. On your way home, feel free to give some love to my favorite Iron River hotspot – White Winter Winery. A couple other places worth checking out if you end up near Iron River – Deep Lake Lodge, Hyde’s or The Spot if you are in the mood for a Supper Club Atmosphere. Those craving pizza will love Pizza Parlor or Round Up North in Brule.

I offered some tips in my last post about the Sea Caves but the only thing I can say now it be prepared for people. Plan to put on extra miles due to parking constraints. Empty your bladder or recognize you may be standing in line with limited access to restrooms. But, that’s the reality of visiting a true hidden gem that’s been around for centuries and will be here long after we’re gone. As someone who hasn’t tackled the crowds to visit this year, but has enjoyed the Sea Caves in solitude in the past, they are spectacular. Mother Nature has a way of putting on a show that can’t be manufactured, replicated or replaced. Perhaps that is what makes this majestic ice show so magnificent. While each person’s experience on this adventure is different, I hope you enjoy the show!

Apostle Islands Sea Caves Are Now Open to the Public

The Apostle Islands Sea Caves in 2009--the last time they were open to the public.
The Apostle Islands Sea Caves in 2009–the last time they were open to the public.

seacaves1 seacaves3 seacaves2The Apostle Islands Mainland Sea Caves are now open! If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. While lots of folks visit the Apostle Islands Sea Caves during the summer, winter is tricky because you never quite know if they are going to open. In fact, the last time they were safe to visit by foot was 2009. I highly urge you, before heading out, to be sure it is safe. The easiest way to do this is by calling the National Park Service at (715) 779-3397 Ext. 3. I’d call the morning of because conditions can change on Lake Superior in a heartbeat. And, while the Sea Caves are amazing, safety first folks.

This is the first time the caves have been since 2009. I imagine this weekend will be packed with locals and tourists alike. I’ve managed to make the trek a few times and this is what I’ve learned. Early morning/dawn is the best time to head out. In addition to beating some of the day crowds (and there can be lots of them/as in van loads), the way the sun shines on the caves creates some great photo options. It also has a bit more of a rustic feel to it. By mid-day, the single lane trail to the caves feels like an ice highway and getting a snapshot or enjoying any solitude among the caves is pretty much nada. Plus, parking is limited and you may find yourself parking down the street versus next to the beach in the small parking lot.

The hike is flat. You are hiking along the shores of Lake Superior and on Lake Superior. It is about 2-miles round trip. But, it is an easy 2-miles in terms of having interesting things to check out for a portion of that hike. Be sure to bundle up as the wind off the lake can be brutal. That said, the windier it has been prior to your visit, the cooler the ice formations will be hanging off the caves. Many times, you can actually see the curved ice that formed as the wind literally froze the run off coming off the caves. If you find yourself making the trek up to hike within the Sea Caves, only to learn conditions have changed and it is unsafe to visit the caves, consider taking the hike that runs along the shore on top of the sea caves. While views are limited, it is a great winter hike.

Afterwards, consider sharing some of your love with some of the smaller South Shore restaurants. They struggle a bit and frankly, it is the nice thing to do since you are taking over their normally quiet beach. A few of my favorites – enjoy super crunchy taters and hot burgers at Woody’s in Herbster. The hearty Fish Chowder at Village Inn in Cornucopia will warm you up after your morning hike. Or, if you aren’t staying for lunch, grab some smoked fish from Halvorson Fisheries in Cornucopia or Everett’s Fisheries at Johnson’s gas station in Port Wing.

To get there: Meyers Beach is located 5-miles east of Cornucopia, just off Highway 13. Look for the brown park service sign on Highway 13 directing you to Meyers Beach. This is a recreational fee area of the National Park Service so be sure to pay the couple bucks before enjoying one of the great wonders of Wisconsin.

For additional information about your hike, visit this National Park Service website page.

 

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.