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Community support for Indiana entrepreneurs starts with each other

By Marshall V. King

GOSHEN, Indiana — A thriving downtown develops like a flower arrangement.

Piece by piece, flowers and greenery are put together, building to become a beautiful collection.

You could also say it’s like a loaf of bread, leavening overtime before it provides life for others.

In either case, having people part of a downtown who help do that work, in some cases literally offering bread or flowers, makes a downtown stronger.

In Goshen, a Midwestern city of about 30,000, the longtime jewellers, hardware store and travel agency have been joined by a collection of newer shops. Some of them are operated by immigrants, either from other Mennonite communities or from Latin America. Many of them have been opened by people who came to study at Goshen College and stayed after graduation.

Anna Mast owns Anna’s Bread in Goshen. She is one of a number of female entrepreneurs who support each other in the Midwestern community.Anna Mast owns Anna’s Bread in Goshen. She is one of a number of female entrepreneurs who support each other in the Midwestern community. - Photo by Marshall V. King

A growing number of them are owned by women who support and help each other navigate entrepreneurship. Phoebe Brubaker started Flowers by Phoebe. Anna Mast took over Rachel’s Bread and runs it as Anna’s Bread. Kate Friesen operates a flower Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture, offering weekly arrangements of flowers to those who subscribe, via Singletree Farm. Their very different paths keep crossing and coming together.

A number of them have been part of a Mastermind group meeting, a peer-to-peer mentoring concept, to talk through issues they encounter. Phoebe Brubaker, who had grown up on Village Acres, a vegetable and flower farm in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania, started making flower arrangements while she was in high school. She stayed in Goshen after graduating from Goshen College in 2003 and still did arrangements as gifts for friends.

Phoebe Brubaker harvests flowers for her floral arranging work. She started this in high school and turned it into a busi- ness. Photo by Philip Kaufman.Phoebe Brubaker harvests flowers for her floral arranging work. She started this in high school and turned it into a busi- ness. Photo by Philip Kaufman.

In 2015 she started a flower CSA. That led to more calls for arrangements and Brubaker, through her network of women business owners, rented space for a shop that opened on Valentine’s Day 2017.

Having a shop gave her space to arrange and sell, but not necessarily more space and time in her life. She realized that she desperately needed help.

She called Friesen. “I suddenly realized I couldn’t even get out of the shop to go eat lunch, let alone leave to like, grow things,” Brubaker said.

That phone call came while Friesen was driving in a truck and within five minutes, she had a job with someone without much of an interview. “I was like OMG, I think I’m going to grow flowers,” Friesen said.

She’d been pointed that direction already. She’d worked at Goshen Col- lege’s Merry Lea Environmental Center, overseeing its farm in 2016. When she married Scott Kempf that June, she knew she was interested in food and social justice and someday wanted to farm. They were living in Goshen, not farming, when Brubaker called asking her to grow something different.

“But then I loved it,” said Friesen. “I love it. I still love it.”

This town has a lot of gifts and they share it so freely.

Serendipity runs through the relationships and vocations like a vine. Friesen found growing flowers because of Brubaker’s call. Brubaker found floristry through wanting to be closer to the land.

“I didn’t do Flowers By Phoebe to start a business. That was the last thing I wanted to do,” she said. “I just wanted to be able to pay myself to live, while doing something enjoyable.”

The women said they weren’t so interested in starting a business as raising something as they respond to their community. Friesen came to it because of her love of farming. Brubaker responded to people’s calls for flowers.

Mast took over a business Rachel Shenk had started more than two decades ago and renamed it from Rachel’s Bread to Anna’s Bread.

Mast began baking as a high school student in Scottdale, Pennsylvania to raise money to go to a Mennonite Church youth convention. She worked for Shenk starting in 2004 and spent several years back in Pennsylvania, including two at Village Acres baking for its CSA. She apprenticed under Shenk and took over in 2017. She’ll finish paying off the bakery in March.

As Mast and her eight employees make pastries and bread, she emphasizes they are selling an experience, not just a product. She focuses not only on the dough and quality
of the service, but on paying her employees a fair wage and treating them with kindness.

Kate Friesen’s flower business sprang from the work and relationships of women-owned firms in Goshen.Kate Friesen’s flower business sprang from the work and relationships of women-owned firms in Goshen. - Photo by Marshall V. King

The trio of women are part of a vital and sturdy support structure for each other. Brubaker even refers to the way the women in Goshen support each other in business as a rootless, rhizome structure where the capital they share is relationships.

Mast was tired of men telling her how she should run her business. “Men who had no business telling me about bread or pastries were telling me what I needed to do,” she said. “And the women in my life were more like, ‘Here are some resources. Can I be your sounding board?’”

Together, they navigate how to be business owners and offer goodness to others while sustaining themselves and their community.

Brubaker sold her floral business to Kaitlin Hart and the CSA business to Friesen. She’s moved back to Village Acres with her life partner, Philip Kaufman, to be part of that family and community structure.

In this dormancy period from her business, Brubaker says she is still a trellis offering support for Friesen, Hart and others in Goshen. “This town has a lot of gifts and they share it so freely,” said Brubaker.

Friesen wants to offer beauty, hope and wonder to others, which is almost as important as offering food. She waivers between thinking of herself as an artist or a business owner. “I’m doing business because I love farming,” she said. “I love being outside in the morning when there are bugs and the sun is coming up.”

For all three, their Mennonite upbringing and adult faith informs their work. “How could it not? It’s wrapped up in how we relate to people,” said Mast, who calls her work “serving people with food and bread at the table.”

“When I engage with my Mennonite faith at its best, I feel curious and aware and open,” Friesen added. “When I’m farming at my best, it’s the same thing. It’s the same feeling.”

Marshall V. King, a food writer since 2000, is an Indiana freelance writer and photographer.