Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Exciting Changes at the Milkweed Mercantile

It has been almost two years since I've posted anything here. I was very overwhelmed, and my mother's voice, saying "if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all" was running through my head.  Perhaps I should have listened to Dorothy Parker, who quipped "if you can't say anything nice, come sit next to me."

Anyway, here we are.

Today is a cold blustery day - the wind is whipping outside, our dog Virgil is snoring softly in his bed here beside my desk (there is something very cute about a snoring dog!), and we are warm and cozy in our strawbale home. Our woodshed is full, our pantry is stocked with dozens of jars canned with summer's abundance, and we have some great soup simmering for lunch.

This is Virgil W. Milkweed, who wandered into Dancing Rabbit in March of 2016. We're so happy he did!

But what I really want to talk about is the new Milkweed Mercantile Cooperative.

In February of 2016 we had an Economic Summit here at Dancing Rabbit. Dozens of ideas were being brainstormed - how to bring more business to DR? At the same time, Kurt and I were at the absolute end of our proverbial ropes - we were exhausted, and worn out, and extremely overwhelmed. When we mentioned that we were considering closing the Mercantile because we could no longer do it ourselves, the cry went up: "Save the Mercantile!"

Somehow, when we weren't watching, the stars had aligned and the right people with the right skills had arrived and made a home at Dancing Rabbit. And after almost a full year of weekly meetings, lots of paperwork, conference calls with non-profit groups supporting cooperatives, a few tears (mine), a fund-raising video/prospectus and lots of new systems, a new business was born.

We now have a Board of Directors, all members of the Milkweed Mercantile Cooperative, and all of whom make their homes here at Dancing Rabbit. Kurt and I are two of the ten members of the board. We are maintaining ownership of the Mercantile building but have sold the business to the Cooperative. This is tremendously exciting for us - we are each hoping to find the "simple country life" we had been looking for when we first came to DR 18 long years ago. In retrospect, I can see where the time went - the first eight years were spent launching the village of Dancing Rabbit. We took two years off to help my parents before they passed away, and then spent three years constructing the Mercantile building.

The last seven years have been a wonderful whirlwind of guests, seminars, great meals, great friends, entertaining and hard-working work exchangers, and many great memories. We are looking forward to many more!

Next week Kurt and I embark on the first vacation we've been able to take together in three years. We'll rest easy while lounging in the sun, knowing that there is a full team of skilled and enthusiastic folks running the place in our absence. And between April and October we'll be right here in Rutledge, welcoming you to the new and improved Milkweed Mercantile. We feel quite sure that if you liked us before, you'll love us now!

Below is a list of our founding board. I apologize for the lack of photos - we'll have to work on that. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know (alline at milkweedmercantile dot com).

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you all this summer/fall at the Mercantile!

Founding Board

Alline Anderson
An early arrival at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, Alline has spent the last 17 years building a home, a village, and a life. Combining her experience in customer service & retail management; knowledge about keeping travelers satisfied & happy gleaned over 30 years as a volunteer Sierra Club trip leader; and interaction with hundreds of DR visitors, Alline developed the systems, policies and menus that have earned the Mercantile its top-notch reputation. Alline created the Mercantile's Artist-in-Residence program to bring more art to the village, and DOGtoberfest to raise much-needed funds for shelters in our area. She is the unofficial birthday cake queen at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, as well as the culinary powerhouse behind the growing and ever-popular Mrs. Milkweed’s line of jams and pickles. Alline will continue in her roles as baker, merchandise buyer, special events coordinator and schmoozer.

Lucas Berard
Workshop coordinator, tour guide, and jack-of-all-trades, Lucas is a former Military Policeman (Marine Corps and Army), and an active member of Veterans For Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Lucas brings lots of experience to the table, having worked in healthcare accounting and program support for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a combined four years of experience in food service management. Both friendly and professional with every guest, he often leaves them with a strong impression - especially when they ask him about how he came to live at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage! In February 2015, he was featured in a viral video (over 2.9 million views on Facebook) produced by AJ+, a popular social media news source. He has also shown aptitude for online marketing and outreach, having designed and executed a successful crowdfunding campaign to build a labyrinth for the community in 2015.

David (Cob) Carleton
Cob has been maintaining the storefront aspect of the business, observing what products customers do (and don’t) want, and looking for new products which align with our values as a business. Cob also restocks the shelves and tends bar, and serves as our Treasurer.  A long-time member of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, Cob also developed and runs our local public market and bulk grocery store, currently serves on the Village Council, and handles the bookkeeping for several organizations.  Cob previously spent nearly 30 years serving as the Executive Director for multiple not-for-profit professional and trade organizations.  Cob also has experience raising and tracking active children, baking, and brewing great beer.

Nik Garvoille
Chef, webmaster, and graphic designer, Nik has spent years developing innovative menus and elegant presentations. Nik excels at taking what is in season, and delivering delicious meals which meet diverse dietary restrictions and budgets. Nik originally came to the Mercantile as a work exchanger, and also spent ten days as a Mercantile Artist in Residence, using his time to create painting pigments from natural materials found on Dancing Rabbit land. Nik is the designer behind the Mercantile website and Mrs. Milkweed's labels.

Katherine Hanson
Pizza bella, kitchen wrangler, and co of all trades, K-star pitches in wherever needed, and keeps us on our toes.  No stranger to good cooking, Katherine is a former vegan caterer and has since expanded her skillset to include gluten free delicacies and seasonal veggies from her garden.  As a trained facilitator, she guides our decision-making meetings with humor, compassion, and focus, always helping us to bridge any differences in our opinions and perspectives.  Katherine has served on the Dancing Rabbit Village Council, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for The Center of Sustainable and Cooperative Culture, the non-profit arm of the community.  Cheerleader, friend, and all around ray of sunshine, she puts smiles on everyone’s faces.

Kurt Kessner
Owner of the eponymous building firm Kessner Construction, Kurt built the Milkweed Mercantile, incorporating Alline’s design ideas, to showcase natural building techniques and alternative energy solutions in a comfortable setting. “Uncle Kurt” has been the ever-friendly and helpful person behind the bar for the past seven years, while also seeing to the physical maintenance and upkeep of the building.  Kurt’s background includes over forty years of experience in the building trades and a stint in the Peace Corps teaching building mathematics & carpentry practicals. Kurt has a degree in counseling, picks a mean guitar, and can back up a truck and trailer like nobody's business.

Rae Machado
Innkeeper and detail tracker, Rae ensures all guests have a 5 star experience during their stay at the Inn.  As our President, she makes sure everything keeps running smoothly and that we’re planning and scheduling far enough ahead to meet the demands and expectations of all our customers.  Rae’s background includes 17 years working in the hospitality industry, building her own natural green home, Video Production and Voice Over and working on educational outreach for the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

Aaron Murphy
Television professional and videographer, Aaron is working on improving our social media presence and presentation, customer research, identification of expanded opportunities and markets, and overall promotion of the business in our region.  A creative thinker and idea generator, Aaron ensures we don’t get stuck in any box.  He also has a passion for supporting social justice and environmental activism.

Bob Rouse
Bob keeps the welcome mat clean, cleaning and polishing with the attention to detail you might expect from a professional sailmaker.  Bob was a key member of the construction crew when the Mercantile was first built, and has intimate knowledge of all of its systems and idiosyncrasies.  In addition to keeping things ship shape, Bob has developed solid relationships with many of our local neighbors and landowners, and serves as an unofficial envoy to the larger community, keeping us up-to-date on local news and concerns.

Brent Whistler
Serial entrepreneur, software developer, and general problem solver, Brent’s analytical skills have been helpful for developing internal policies and procedures, determining what issue to tackle next, and what to pass off to a professional.  Brent implemented the new point-of-sale system currently in use at the Mercantile, and has been helping us create procedural documentation to improve our flexibility in staffing as well as our group knowledge.  Brent has previous experience managing the customer service experience for Fortune 500 customers of a major software company. He’s also started and continues to operate a small web-based service business.