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Master Naturalist Grows Herbal Products & Retreat Center Business in Rural Nebraska

When it comes to running her small business Red Road Herbs Retreat and Learning Center in Stanton, Nebraska, Rachel Liester says she isn’t self-taught – she’s plant-taught. And teaching others about the medicinal and other benefits of herbs is the focus of her business. The “light-bulb moment” that ignited her small business dream came 26 years ago when she moved to an old farmstead in the country and noticed the plants growing everywhere, most of them considered "weeds." She wanted to know more about these plants growing at her new home and learned one in particular was actually an herb called motherwort (Leonurus cardica) - which has major medicinal properties. This discovery led to her passion for wild herbs and “teaching people that plants everywhere around them have medicinal and edible benefits. That the plants you curse in your garden usually have more nutrition than what you’re growing.”

Starting and growing a business is just like trying to grow a garden - it can be challenging! Liester became a Master Naturalist and an expert in herbs, but her knowledge of running a business was lacking. She turned to one of the U.S. Small Business Administration's resource partners, the Rural Enterprise Assistance Center's Womens Business Center (REAP WBC). They "saved our lives. It was an honest to goodness saved our house and business story." Liester and her husband had been renting the land and house out of which they ran their small business for many years. Three years ago, they decided to purchase five acres of that land as well as the farmhouse they were living in. That purchase came with some unexpected monetary challenges and they were able to get several microloans through REAP, included one funded by the SBA, that allowed them to keep their business running with working capital and the purchase of the home.

Today, Liester sells her herb-based products online and as an exhibitor at various events. She also sells her salves at Whole Foods in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, as well as through Grow Nebraska. Education and outreach are equally as important to Liester as selling her products. She embraces the philosophy of the “good red road” first mentioned by Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota. Part of this philosophy is knowing and understanding one’s connection to all living things. She believes that “people are losing the connection to plants and nature as technology increases.” Liester offers personalized classes, special events and a “place to connect with nature” on her farm. People can harvest their own herbs from her land and take a garden tour where they learn about herbs, how they grow and their uses. “Gardens are living textbooks,” she says. Customers also frequently comment on how the Retreat Center is “amazing, relaxing and peaceful.”

Being a small business owner allows Liester to share her passion with the world. It also allows her to focus on what is most important to her – her family. She had read about how starting a home business can lead to less time with the children, and from the very beginning she decided this was not going to be the case for her. Liester doesn’t keep set hours. She “likes to learn, to have the freedom to go and do [events like] mushroom conferences and tree symposiums. Her business is also a family affair. Her 12 year-old granddaughter makes dream pillows and helps Liester staff her booth at events. Her daughter does the graphic arts for the business – product designs, posters, social media, etc., and also helps staff the booth at events.

Liester’s advice to entrepreneurs and new small business owners is to “find a friend who will encourage you. Someone outside of the business who can encourage you.” With her family’s encouragement, assistance from REAP and her expert knowledge and connection to nature, Liester has truly cultivated a business from the ground up.

Company Name: 
Red Road Herbs Retreat and Learning Center
Stanton, NE