Barn-To-Yarn, Farm-To-Table: Entrepreneurship In One Corner Of Wyoming

Aug 3, 2018

Baker Bread, Eckhardt Wool, and a modified Walipini at the Market’s
Credit Cooper McKim

It’s a hot day south of Wheatland, near the small town of Chugwater. Dirt kicks up around passing cars on a long driveway as the sunbeams gold on waving fields of wheat. At the end is the Baker Farm, with old water tanks and rusted antique farm vehicles in front of the home. 

Carl Sagan once said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

Terry and Dennis Baker take Sagan’s idea as far as it can go. They own this wheat farm and have for over 40 years. But these days they don’t just sell wheat. They harvest it, store it, mill it, sift it, and finally bake it. Maybe they can’t invent the universe, but Terry's small baking business is truly made from scratch. Inside her small commercial kitchen next to the house, Terry is surrounded by desserts and breads she’s made with her own wheat. She lists them off:

“This is German rye bread, if anybody likes that pumpkin bread, cranberry walnut, apricot walnut, apricot walnut, prairie pie, coconut prairie pie, and then I’ll cut some mint,” Terry said.

Some of the baked goods made by Terry Baker.
Credit Cooper McKim

Some of her famous prairie pies, which are granola-bar like cookies, are tagged with ‘Made in Wyoming’ stickers. This isn’t the Baker’s first foray into entrepreneurship.  A while ago, they were part-owners of a restaurant in town, Chugwater Chili.

“I think once you are an entrepreneur, that's just in your blood and you want to keep doin' things like that,” Terry said.

Before that, the Bakers found other ways to add value to their wheat. They went certified organic about 15 years ago. They sold unique species of wheat, which included distilleries. In fact, just recently they sold 38 bushels to Backwards Distilling Company in Casper.

"It’s called marquis wheat and it’s a cross between Red Calcutta and Red Fife. It has such a different flavor from the modern wheats, it’s stronger tasting and less gluten,” Terry said.

Bourbon, whiskey, breads, desserts, even cereals — the Baker’s found a way to go beyond just selling their wheat and appeal to that local, farm-to-table, sensibility.

Barn-To-Yarn

Carol Eckhardt sitting at her favorite spinning wheel
Credit Cooper McKim

Not far from the Baker Farm, another woman makes products from scratch as well. In her small yard with a spherical garden and a black and white sheepdog lolling around, Carol Eckhardt sits at her wooden spinning wheel with a large paper bag next to her.  It’s full of loose, knotted, white wool.

“This is raw wool and Claire, the sheep, from whom this came was a cross between a Shetland and a tunis,” Eckhardt said. "And she was a really sweet animal too.”

More of Eckhardt's self-woven yarn and hand-knit products.
Credit Cooper McKim

She sits next to her creations —hats, shawls, jackets. None of it is made from yarn in a store. Eckhardt does everything that goes into these products. For years, she raised flocks of sheep in Oregon, then Wyoming. She took care of them, sheared them. Now she, cleans it, spins the yarn, and even knits to make products like hats and jackets. Similar to the bakers, Eckhardt found a way to take a resource from step one to a finished product.

"So much of what we consume originates in one country and is processed in another country. It’s really hard to have a personal connection with something that you wear or eat or use when that’s true,” she said.

Ground-To-Garden

Minutes away from the Platte County fairgrounds is the Marker property, near Wheatland. The few acre property is owned by Derek and Shelley Market. It’s dotted with small gardens, a partially underground greenhouse and buildings where Derek does his contracting work. It’s overcast and the breeze rustles the leaves with orioles chirping louder than the small dogs.

“They chatter pretty hard,” Derek said.

Shelley Marker's garden.
Credit Cooper McKim

Shelley, with transition glasses and a quick smile, loves to garden. Peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, corn, everything. Recently, she found the perfect niche in her community that she was ready to fill.

"Last year, I just had the thought there’s not a nursery or greenhouse for bedding plants anymore."

Bedding plants are anything potted that can be set into a garden bed.

“It’s all in town, which is fine. But I just thought people might be interested in the locally grown, you know, and I thought I’d give it a try and they were."

Shelley started with six varieties of peppers and tomatoes, put them in little pots and people visited her property to buy them. Later, she took them to the local supply store, which she said sold out thanks to the locally grown sign.

“I was amazed at the response that I got. People really love locally-grown and organic and home-grown bedding plants,” Shelley said.

Shelley and Derek Marker standing in front of their modified Walipini.
Credit Cooper McKim

It led her to start her business, “Holy Sprouts.” The operation is still small right now, but she likes the idea of scaling it up.

"I had people asking for squash plants, zucchini plants, cucumber plants."

As Marker looks to expand, it’s clear something is working. She’s appealing to that same local sensibility that drives Baker bread and Eckhardt wool: whether it's farm-to-table, barn-to-yarn, or ground-to-gardens — that sells.