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Small businesses, artisans fuel creative economy in The County

HODGDON, Maine — On her small farm in northern Maine, Tammy Kerekes taps into nature to help cure the ills of others.

When she is not busy breeding Mini-Nubian dairy goats with her husband on Willow Wood Farm in Hodgdon, Kerekes takes to the woods and pastures behind the property to focus on healing others. She has extended the farm into an herbal products business, Willow Wood Herbal Apothecary, which offers an extended variety of medicinal herbal, bath and body products, teas, tonics and seasonal fresh herbs. 

Small businesses such as this are an extension of the creative economy that is thriving in Aroostook County, according to representatives from local economic development organizations.

“When people think of the economy of The County, they typically think of big businesses, manufacturing firms, restaurants, the insurance industry,” said Robert Clark, executive director of the Northern Maine Development Commission in Caribou. “But it is the small businesses, the micro-breweries, small family farms, crafters, food trucks, that are really starting to fuel the economy here.”

Kerekes makes all of her products at home, and everything is handcrafted from scratch. Her oils, powders, butters and other products are all made from natural ingredients.

“I grow a lot of my own ingredients,” she said during a recent interview. “I have a garden, and if I can’t grow them there on my own, I order them in bulk from other sources.”

She sells her products online and at several local venues, including the Houlton Community Market and The County Coop and Farm Store. 

“A lot of people have found out about me through word of mouth,” she said. “And I have also been discovered at the farmers market. It has been wonderful.”

Marissa Hughes of Houlton is also doing her part to drive the creative economy. This past year, she started creating her own line of handcrafted home goods that she makes after she gets home from work.

“Several of my friends got into making products with the Cricut machines that are really popular now,” she said. “My husband bought me one last year, and I love it. It took me awhile to get the hang of it, but I have started to create signs for people with logos of their favorite sports teams, or cornhole games, and now I am making clothing. I have gotten to the point where I have a good number of customers, and I am going to make a web page advertising my services.”

Clark said that it is “much easier now” for micro-businesses to get established and advertise.

“There are beer-making kits, wine-making kits; there are those Cricut machines that are popular,” he said. “It is easier than ever for people to become entrepreneurs right at home, and you can advertise quickly and easily with social media. Everything is different now.”

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