June 17, 2017 – Big Cedar Lake, WI – The door slams behind me as I carry the last load of soap from the house to the waiting van. Geese honk overhead as the dawn light slowly creeps into the indigo sky, and the very slight chill in the air is a welcome respite from the warmth expected later. This is a Market Saturday in June, one of the last times I will sell soap at a Farmers’ Market and it is bittersweet.
Our very first booth at the West Bend Market in 2001 featured an old green and yellow table a neighbor gave me and helped carry up the alley to our house on Tenth Avenue because she didn’t want to put it in the trash, my grandmother’s white soap-cutting table lugged out of what is now our log house basement, a low gold-painted chair made by the West Bend Chair Company, and galvanized buckets decorated with lace doilies.
Fruit crates from my other grandmother’s 1930s North Street grocery store provided structure to the display, handmade quilts covered a table and cushioned a chair, and the soaps were wrapped in cellophane tied with raffia or were bare and touchable in those metal buckets. That booth had style!
Oh the memories!
- One young gentleman of about 8 commenting to his mother, “Buy the Wild Mint and Maple Syrup Soap. It tastes the best.”
- Being told to “keep the change” – and the change was a handful of Australian coins.
- Clearly marked soap samples being eaten only by men. Women read the signs…
- Our white canopy being picked up by the wind and blown straight down the middle of Main Street even with weights on it. It had to be chased.
- That wind blowing the canopy forward and tipping the entire display completely over; glass and soap everywhere, flower vases tipped into soap buckets, and the need for a “flood sale.”
- The West Bend customer who moved to Colorado, but who returned every summer for a bicycling trip and stopped for a few bars of his favorite Lemongrass Safari Soap.
- The teenager who spent time picking out just the right bar of soap for his mother early in the morning, and his mother stopping just as we closed to say that they had had an argument the night before and the soap was an I’m Sorry gift from her son. She had never used our soaps before and had come for more.
- The soap we made right at the market with contributions from every vendor: chicken feathers, dog biscuits, and corn silk among them.
Some things have changed at the West Bend Farmers’ Market in the past 16 years. It has gotten bigger, there are fewer dogs prancing about the street, and the crowds attest to the fact that markets are grand places to meet neighbors and exchange the news of the day, much as our forebears would do over the back fence. The vendors offer beautiful produce and foods we would never have imagined at a farmers’ market years ago. It is no wonder that West Bend’s Farmers’ Market is one of the very best in Wisconsin.
So time goes on. I will set up my canopy and counter to sell soap just three times this summer, but nothing will keep me away from the engaging energy of the Saturday morning market experience. I’ll still buy my eggs from the farmer who was my Saturday neighbor, I’ll still chat with the 4-Hers about their County Fair projects, and I’ll still shop for my summer groceries in the beautiful space we call Main Street. But soap? I’ll still find that at home.
Century Farmhouse will have a booth at the West Bend Farmers’ Market on just three Saturdays this summer: June 17, July 1, and July 29. See you there!
Our booth at the West Bend Farmers’ Market in 2001 sparked the beginning of Century Farmhouse as a business. Even with the appallingly low sales figures during that time, the fact that interest grew and sales increased excited me and made me wonder what I could do with such a venture. From the very beginning of my soap making adventures I kept a journal of recipes, failures, fun, and experiences.
Here are notes from 2001:
June 3, 2001: First Day of the W.B. Farmers’ Market! It poured all morning. It was cold! Sold 11 out of 12 dozen of Mom’s yummy eggs and sold some soap & some potted herbs. Total take for the day was about $45. Had to keep the soap covered with plastic garbage bags. Gave away about 75 samples.
June 10, 2001: Beautiful day! I’m next to Simon’s Café and across the street from Beechwood Cheese. The cheese vendor commented that my samples looked like her cheese samples. She was right.
Two older men did attempt to eat peppermint samples. I quickly made signs saying “Soap.” Jenny Kieckhafer, the owner of Ruth Anne’s Gourmet shop, stopped and took some samples. She would like to sell soap at Christmas and her cupboard is the perfect foil for my rustic soaps. I’ll check back with her in a few weeks if she doesn’t contact me. Sold about $80 worth today. Gave Simon’s Café my few leftover cut herbs. Got a bag of yummy bakery in return.
June 17, 2001: Beautiful day. Sold about $89, mostly soaps. Lots of people coming back and requesting English Fantasy. Lots of interest in soaps. Gave away 120+ samples.
August 25, 2001: All summer soap sales at the Market have been great. People seem to like the soap-lots of compliments. It is funny. I make natural soaps – no dyes or artificial fragrances. The soaps are the color of the essential oils plus botanicals and the base oils I use. People think the samples look like cheese. I’m so close in proximity to the organic cheese vendor, so I suppose it is a natural assumption. All the samples are labeled in large letters as “Soap;” it is curious that only men seem to be the ones who put the soap into their mouths….
Curious – even though I’m only “doing business as” Century Farmhouse Soaps & Herbs, people assume I’ve got a shop. “Where IS your shop in Cedarburg?” they say. Or, “Where can I find your soap in a store?” I met with Mark Hauser about steps I’d need to take to become a business… next step – see Jim Spella for legal advice.
December 10, 2001: This has been an exciting time. At the end of October – the end of the Farmers’ Market – I was bringing home about $200 each Saturday… As of December 15, 2001, I will be officially incorporated as a one-member LLC and will use that date as the official start of my business. I will have to change all my paperwork and design letterhead, but that’s a good job for after Christmas…
Many, many thanks to the people of West Bend who encouraged my crazy and creative spirit, and who used my soaps and came back for more. -Ann Marie Craig