Business’ Workshop Series Fosters Community and a Connection to the Land

In scenic Gilsum, N.H., population 813, a small business with an animal on its logo operates according to very human principles.

(Photo: Badger Balm/Facebook)

Sep 29, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Sarah McColl has written for Yahoo Food, Bon Appétit, and other publications. She's based in Brooklyn, New York.

The W.S. Badger Company was born in Bill Whyte’s New Hampshire kitchen in 1994 because—he was working then as a carpenter and builder—his cracked and ragged hands would bleed in the winter cold. His homemade salve of beeswax and olive oil became Badger Balm, and the company has since evolved into a robust line of body care products, including the U.S.’s best-selling natural sunscreen. In 2011, the W.S. Badger Company became a Certified B Corporation, a status that demonstrates a company’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility, as well as financial performance.

“We are a business,” chief operations officer and cofounder Katie Schwerin said in an interview. “But it all doesn’t have to link into selling products.”

Three years ago, the company began hosting Badger Ecology Center workshops on what was once a sand pit. “Bill always had a dream that the Badger site would be filled with fruit and nut trees and beautiful, organic gardens, cultivated with innovative techniques and ‘brimming with life force’ like our products,” Schwerin said.

The couple’s natural curiosity and long-standing community-mindedness took over from there. “What would we like to learn about?” Scherwin recalled wondering. “Why not set up workshops to bring expertise to Badger and then share it with the community?”

They developed a series of monthly workshops open to the public with a suggested donation of $10 to $15 and hosted by expert area bakers, mycologists, and farmers on topics such as garden planning, biodynamic composting, pickling, preserving summer fruits, and mushroom hunting. Whyte teaches a small business workshop.

The workshops provide an additional platform for neighboring small businesses, and they offer the community a learning opportunity that reinforces the company’s values of thoughtful environmental and social stewardship.

“People have a lot that they can do for themselves, but they need to have the skills to do them,” Schwerin said. “Our workshops are hands-on and practical, supporting people to provide food and gardens for themselves.”

On Nov. 9, Noah Elbers of Orchard Hill Breadworks will teach the essentials of artisan bakery in a sold-out workshop. (His father, an orchardist, taught a fruit tree pruning workshop in March.) Elbers called his relationship with Badger symbiotic and reciprocal. “They have maintained their commitment being good stewards of their local connections and keeping those networks strong, which my business also tries to do,” he said. “It always comes back and pays dividends in various ways.”

“The Ecology Center is [about] wanting to manifest this full circle, this connection to the land,” Schwerin said. Vegetables grown in the Badger Ecology Center wind up on employees’ plates at the free daily organic lunch, just as the labyrinth and hugelkultur beds built in workshops now live on the property. “[Workshop participants] learn, and then they put something into the land, and they feel connected. It’s all a plus for us.”

“Doing what’s right for our business includes doing things for the community,” Schwerin said. “We try to continue to figure out what we can do and what that means.”

This article is brought to you by Wells Fargos Small Is Huge campaign.