World-Class Vinegar in a town of 150

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