George Johnson makes world class vinegar in the small town of Cody, Neb. George’s story is a powerful example of how the values that our work stands on can lead to vibrant small towns.
I was lucky enough to visit George and his wife Karen on a recent trip through the Nebraska Sandhills. I stopped over for conversation and lunch in the community of 150 people they call home.
When I arrived, George was in the vinegary behind their house, a strawbale building that he built in 2007. An aroma of fruit and vinegar wafted through the building where George, with the help of his daughter Emily, has been perfecting the craft of making vinegar following old world traditions.
While commercial vinegar can be made in a span of a few hours, George’s vinegar takes months to make. Only when Emily, the resident quality controller, approves a batch, is it bottled for sale. Handcrafted 3-ounce bottles sell for between $10 and $45 each.
They have never spent a dollar on advertising. The product sells itself, and word of mouth from satisfied customers means George now ships vinegar daily to points from coast to coast. Customers tell them the product rivals the best traditional vinegars from Italy.
Key to their success was an entrepreneurial spirit, appreciation for an artisan craft, and patience. Along the way, George applied for and received a Value Added Producer Grant. That’s a program the Center for Rural Affairs helped to write and win.
The story illustrates why the Center works at the nexus of entrepreneurism, policy and community. The Johnson family’s entrepreneurial spirit, supported by public policy, led to a new enterprise in a very small community, enabling more families to remain on the land and in the community.
It’s no surprise that the entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family. Their daughter works in the vinegar business and also runs her own letterpress and design shop. One son owns and operates the family ranch north of town. Their other son is leading an effort to develop wind energy in the state.
If the Johnson family can make a world class, hand-crafted product in a central Nebraska town of 150 residents, you can do it anywhere.
Embrace your inner entrepreneur; look around for community, state and federal support; and get to work today creating new enterprises that can help your small town thrive for future generations.
To learn more, or to order vinegar, visit georgepaulvinegar.com.
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