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Friday, May 11, 2018

Charlestown businesses honored by the SBA

Worm Ladies and Stoney Hill Cattle win Small Business Awards
By Will Collette
Nancy Warner, sporting red wiggler earrings, began worm composting 22 years ago. (Kevin Proft/ecoRI News photos)
Nancy Warner (Kevin Proft/ecoRI News photo)
Two Charlestown businesses were singled out by the federal Small Business Administration as 2018 outstanding Rhode Island businesses.

The Worm Ladies of Charlestown and the Stoney Hill Cattle Company are among a select group of businesses so honored by the SBA.

The Worm Ladies have been frequently featured here in Progressive Charlestown after I visited with them and was impressed by their operations (read my 2013 article here). Since then, we have been posting their lively and interesting web newsletter.

They were named “Microenterprise of the Year.” They won a similar award in 2017.

Stoney Hill Cattle is one of Progressive Charlestown co-founder Tom Ferrio’s favorite food sources. 

They were one of the local treasures threatened by the ill-conceived, now dead Amtrak plan to build a whole new line of track from Old Saybrook to Kingston. That plan would have wiped out most of the farm.

They were the best in their category of “Home-Based Small Business.”

I have included below the write-ups from the SBA describing why they were given their awards. The SBA news release on Stoney Hill contains the unfortunate typo of calling them “Stony.” But their friends know who they are.

Worm Ladies of Charlestown
Photo by Will Collette

“Worming” your way into a successful small business as the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention” or, in the case of Nancy Ellen Hatch Warner, it’s a worm farm. 

Nancy, a 77 year old grandmother of four, owns and operates The Worm Ladies of Charlestown, which sell red wiggler worms, their castings, and other supplies to people interested in turning their food scrap into a soil enhancer – in other words, composting. 

The Worm Ladies also runs workshops and clinics and provides consulting services for individuals and businesses interested in using worms for organic waste management.

How did someone with a master’s degree, working in art education and therapy, end up with a worm farm? In Nancy’s own words, “it was a hobby that got out of hand.” A fiber artist, Nancy raised angora rabbits, whose hair she sheared, spun, wove, and knitted into her creations, which were exhibited locally and in galleries in Maryland and Washington, D.C. These rabbits, however, presented a challenge with how to manage the manure and flies under their cages. 

An avid gardener, Nancy had come across worm composting and, in the early 1990s, decided to see if it would help. It did. The worms ate the manure, the flies disappeared, and her problem was solved, “showing her how much good the worms did.”

Several years later, after reuniting with a long-lost childhood friend and giving her a bucket of worms for her garden, Nancy decided to turn her hobby into a money-making venture. They began The Worm Ladies. Nancy has since taken over sole operation of the business, along with the help of volunteers and an independent contractor.

Sensing both the educational and entrepreneurial potential of her discovery, Nancy worked with three U.S. Small Business Administration partners to move her business forward. Nine years ago, as a result of attending classes at the Center for Women & Enterprise, Nancy hired a lawyer and incorporated. With the help of a SCORE business counselor with whom she worked for more than 5 years, Nancy completed a business plan that positioned her to obtain a $30,000 microloan from Community Investment Corporation. Nancy also won SCORE’s 2017 American Small Business Championship.

Last year Nancy used that microloan money to buy equipment and expand operations from her backyard into a hoop house at Schartner Farms in North Kingstown. This expansion from a seasonal to a year-round operation ensures an uninterrupted revenue stream and increased production. 

The Worm Ladies will be selling to schools, nurseries, farmers, growers, and offices, and it will be enriching the soil of a 22 acre farm at a compost training facility being launched on Exeter Road in North Kingstown. Because of this growth, she also hopes to soon hire her first employee, and the help of interns who can earn college credit.

For her demonstrated success and potential for future growth, the U.S. Small Business Administration is pleased to honor Nancy Hatch Warner, owner of The Worm Ladies of Charlestown, as the 2018 Rhode Island Microenterprise of the Year.

Home is Where the Heart and Business Is

The owners of Stony Hill Cattle Company, Kim Coulter, William Coulter, Nina Luchka, and Joshua Coulter, raise beef cattle, hogs, turkey, broiler chickens and layer hens. They are fully licensed and insured to sell their beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs, as well as their value added products such as bacon, sausage, and frankfurters to the public through their farm stand and farmers markets. 

While Stony Hill’s present offerings are impressive their story began in 1955, when Kim Coulter and Nina Luchka’s grandparents, Benjamin and Emily Luchka, purchased a dairy farm. Benjamin, Emily, and their two sons worked the farm until 1960 when they sold the dairy herd and purchased beef cattle. 

By 1985, the Luchka’s began selling their meat products to friends and family members. Before long, word of mouth spread about the quality products available at the Luchka farm. Without intending the Luchka’s found a new avenue of revenue, and with it a way of aiding in keeping the farm operational. 

In 1996, Kim and Nina lost their father, Kenneth. Though distraught the sisters were thrust into their father’s day-to- day responsibilities. They quickly began focusing on growing the herd of cattle as well as the number of hogs they raised while also purchasing layer hens to expand their public offerings to include farm fresh eggs.

In 2007, Kim and Nina bought their uncle’s share of the farm, believing strongly in keeping Stony Hill farm in one piece. It was during this time that Kim and her husband William began working with six other farm families to start the Rhode Island Raised Livestock Association. 

Together, the group worked with the Rhode Island Department of Health and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Agriculture Division, to bring about updated guidelines so that farmers could sell directly to the public, restaurants and public institutions. This act has directly led to farms in Rhode Island tripling in number while helping to usher in restaurants featuring local, farm-raised meats, fruits, and vegetables. 

Like many farms, revenue can have drastic fluctuations year-to- year. To ensure Stony Hill could withstand any unforeseen mishap they applied for a SBA Business Line of Credit for $25,000. The credit gives a safeguard against any herd loss or potential crippling economic disaster.

While Stony Hill is in business to make money, their values and priorities are that of the land, “We are farmers and we are landowners,” said William Coulter, “but most important, we are stewards of the land.  It is our job to protect our natural resources,” he added. 

For their demonstrated success and growth potential, the U.S. Small Business Administration is pleased to honor Kim M. Coulter, William A. Coulter, Nina L. Luchka, Joshua A. Coulter, Owners of The Stony Hill Cattle Company, as the 2018 Rhode Island Home-Based Small Business of the Year.