Soap for Sale! Student gets first-hand experience running a business
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 577 hits
“If you asked me two years ago, I would have said, ‘No, I don’t want to be called a farmer. I don’t want anything to do with this farm.’ And now my grandfather is telling me he thinks I should move into the farmhouse!”
Jordan Futrick chuckles as she arranges items on the two tables in front of her. It’s a Thursday afternoon in early fall and she’s setting up under her tent at Penn State Altoona’s Farmer’s Market. There are a few bunches of Indian corn, some produce, some lovely arranged flowers, but mostly, there’s soap. Wonderfully scented goat’s milk soap made by Futrick’s own hands at her own family farm.
The business major from Tipton, PA, is enrolled at Penn State Altoona once again. After taking a break from college to really give her career some thought, Futrick started back this fall with her sights set on a business degree with a marketing focus. Although classes are helping shape Futrick as a business woman, it’s her ventures with farm products that are showing her the real business world.
Cherry Hill Farms is family-run, passed down on Futrick’s mother’s side, beginning with her great-grandfather, making Jordan a fourth-generation farmer. Growing up, she had no interest in helping out with farm chores or helping her mom make soap. But “one day she just asked me if I wanted to help, and I said alright. And it was actually really fun.”
Shortly after, Futrick’s mom, Beth, became the manager of the college’s farmer’s market and suggested that they pair up and start a business to include in the vendor lineup. Jordan was excited about the idea. “It was perfect because that’s what I want to do with my degree anyway, have a business.” And so it began.
About fifteen Boer goats live on the farm. After they give birth and the babies are weaned, the Futricks collect the milk and freeze it. This is because there’s a lot of sugar in goat’s milk, and when lye is added in, the chemical reaction gets really hot. The milk will actually scorch and turn yellow, so they freeze it first, then pour the lye in slowly so as not to caramelize the milk. Natural fats and oils and high quality essential oils and fragrances are mixed in as well, then it’s all poured into a mold and voila!
“It only takes about a half hour to actually make the soap, but it’s still a chemical process and sometimes it can get messed up, especially if you’re using a new fragrance oil that might make the soap clumpy or a different color than you wanted,” explains Jordan. Once the soap is made, it can’t be sold for four weeks because the lye is still active and could burn skin.
Of all that she makes to sell at the farmer’s market, Jordan prefers making the soap to planting and tending produce. “Once you get down to the nitty gritty and you have to go to the garden every day to weed or you have to make sure it’s all fertilized or the watering system doesn’t work – that’s whenever I’m like ‘Okay, I’m done with this,’” she laughs. Even so, Jordan does want to expand the produce part of the business, to offer perfectly-grown items as well as a wider selection. She also hopes the farmer’s market continues to grow. This is the first year for the market on campus, which offers all kinds of items including baked goods, produce, candles, and fresh-cut flowers. Beth is quite pleased with how the market is going so far. “I feel like the customers here really care about this farmer’s market. They’re invested in it. And we’re building really nice relationships with those people.” Jordan agrees, saying she’s met a lot of people and made some new friends. “It’s a good learning experience, and the customers are really nice. I love talking with them. I think it’s different when you’re selling something you love and put your own time and effort into.” Jordan says she especially enjoys seeing repeat customers.
She has some time ahead of her to decide what she’d like to do for her career as she finishes out her first semester as a business major. “I’m still exploring. I do like the idea of me going off into some other business, but I really like the idea of staying home, too, perfecting this soap-making business, and being able to take orders online.” She hopes that as she continues her classes, she will be able to bring what she learns to her business and from her business to the classroom. She does have some advice for other students looking to start up their own business ventures. “Things are going to get very hard. You’re going to want to quit, but you have to keep pushing, keep pushing, keep pushing. For me, it’s so worth it when a customer says, ‘Hey, I really love your soap, give me four more bars. And I really love when people ask what I do. I answer, ‘Well, I’m a farmer.’ I make food that people can eat and soap they can use. It’s really interesting, and I’m so glad I decided to do this.”