More Inspiring Minds
Tempt your tastebuds
These Ohio University alumni and students are producting quite a variety of products. Here are some highlights:
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Premium salsas, produced year-round, include house mild, house hot, salsa verde, chipotle and habanero. Seasonal salsas, called Limited Harvest, incorporate locally produced ingredients and include such blends as apple verde and blackberry chipotle. Other products include peach jam; tomato sauce; pickled pepper strips, asparagus and cucumbers; and roasted tomatoes.
Mushroom Harvest sells chemical-free shiitake, maitake, oyster and lion's mane mushrooms.
The Herbal Sage Tea Co.
Blends include organic peppermint and spearmint, Womyn Spirit, Morning Meditation, Calming Cough, Siesta Shake-up and Pure Bliss.
The Dotty Baker
Dotty Baker offers chocolate chip, ginger crystal, pecan chocolate nougat, walnut chocolate chip and almond pecan crisp cookie varieties.
Local entrepreneurs have another opportunity to sell their products, right at Ohio University, in fact. A new store, called Food We Love, opened in February in the Nelson Mini Mall. Food We Love is a retail store that exclusively sells locally made items, including food, clothing and dry goods. It is managed by ACEnet.
By Joan Slattery Wall
George Vaughan, BS '93, was within a year of earning a bachelor's degree in biochemistry at the University of Houston when he made his first trip to southeastern Ohio for a summer biointensive gardening class at Ohio University. He liked the area so much that he transferred here and changed his focus to botany.
Little did he know that an upcoming biology of fungi course would so profoundly change his life. Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology James Cavender taught class members to inoculate logs to grow shiitake mushrooms. By 1996, Vaughan had started his own company, Mushroom Harvest.
"I really like the hardwood forests in this area," he says. "And the hardwood logs, like oak, are the best to grow shiitake mushrooms on."
His company has two facets: He supplies spawn, the starting material for growing mushrooms, to other growers in Ohio and across the country. And he sells the mushrooms he produces himself to restaurants throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley.
Vaughan uses the ACEnet kitchen to dry and store his mushrooms, which saves him the money and effort he'd have to put into building his own kitchen and purchasing coolers. He's hoping to expand his market to Charleston, W.Va., a move he believes would allow him to hire some help.
"I've been doing 80-hour weeks for about four years now," he says, "so I'm ready to give some of that to somebody else."
Couple that with his work on a master's degree in plant biology that he hopes to earn this spring and his time at home with his wife, Kerry, who teaches Spanish at the University, and their 8-month-old son, and you've got to wonder when he sleeps.
Maureen Burns' path to ACEnet and her herb business started with a tragedy. She had operated a vintage clothing store in Cleveland for 20 years, but things hadn't been the same since flames burned it to the ground in 1990.
"I got back into it, but once I had such a loss," she says, "my heart wasn't in it."
After the fire, she needed some time away, so she took classes at an herb school in Newark, Ohio. Intrigued with the process, she decided to incorporate herbs into the store when she reopened it, and she made brews for teas. Soon a coffee shop that opened next door asked to carry her teas, giving her another customer base.
Still, she couldn't shake the attraction of southeastern Ohio. In 1994, she bought land in Rutland, Ohio, about 30 miles south of Athens. Five years later, she sold her Cleveland company and settled there to grow her herb business.
Burns makes nearly 50 blends of tea -- many formulated especially for customers seeking certain remedies. Her business, The Herbal Sage Tea Co., sells 15 varieties to stores in Hawaii, Washington, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio, and she also ships tea to individuals who find her on the Internet. The company uses all-natural and organic herbs, flowers and spices to make its special blends.
Ohio University gave her a hand through its Lifelong Learning classes, where she learned to develop and market her Web site. ACEnet also played a role in Burns' business growth, providing information on legal matters, insurance requirements and labeling needs. The networking opportunity even gained her a new client: She produces the house blend tea for Casa Nueva.
Burns recently bought a house in Athens and moved her business here. And she's been admitted to Ohio University for the fall, when she plans to study to become a registered dietician.
"Herbalism isn't the silver bullet. Even though some are very powerful and can work very quickly, that's not the basis of the healing (power) of herbs," Burns says. "I thought if I had a degree in nutrition behind me, I'd be much more of an asset to the community. Then I'll have the science as well as the intuitive and the hands-on."
When Kim Gregg, BFA '86 and MFA '91, and her husband, Dennis Cornell, BFA '85 and MFA '88, began talking about starting a business after 10 years teaching dance and performing in southeastern Ohio, they had one, simple goal in mind.
"We wanted to make a cookie that we liked to eat," Gregg says. "Dennis and I had always loved food. I liked the idea of having my own business and earning a livelihood running something we had built together."
The name of the company, The Dotty Baker, is a story all its own. Gregg and Cornell were thumbing through a thesaurus, looking for something catchy, when the word "dotty" caught their eye -- or rather, their ear.
"It sounded good. Then we looked at the definition: eccentric or daft and silly," she says. "Most people think that I'm Dotty. Every once in a while we come across somebody who actually knows the word and gets a kick out of the name."
So far, Gregg is selling the cookies -- made with organic flour and no preservatives -- in Ohio and Virginia.
"Every single thing in there is not cheap, except the flour, and that's less cheap because it's organic," she says. "There are people who are willing to spend a little more for something that's really good. They're not just gourmet cookies and not health food cookies. They're somewhere in the middle."
Like her alumni counterparts, she sought support from ACEnet, which helped her with nutritional listings, labeling and marketing, and she's developed relationships to help with distribution. She's even partnered with Burns to make gift baskets featuring cookies and tea.
"When you're a small business like this," she says, "it is important to have those connections and not feel like you're just out there swimming by yourself."
Joan Slattery Wall is assistant editor of Ohio Today.