BLUE EARTH - Carolyn Zierke had an "aha moment" while talking to some farmers. It helped her launch her business, The Farmerette.
As a child, Zierke's favorite toy was her Easy Bake oven. She grew up to study agronomy and chemistry. About 10 years ago, she began experimenting with coconut butter, shea butter, soybean oil and other ingredients while she was pregnant with her twin sons, to soothe her stretched skin.
"I had to play with it a while in my kitchen to come up with the right batch," Zierke said.
INSPIRED?BY?FARMERS?— Carolyn Zierke displays some of the homemade balms and butters she sells. They feature a label with soybeans because one of the main ingredients is soy oil.
She developed a lotion that she calls a "whipped soy body butter" because she uses a hand whipper to make it. She added a strawberry scent to it, thinking it would appeal to women.
But Zierke's job with Cargill has her hanging out with lots of farmers. One day she noticed their hands were dry to the point of being cracked and uncomfortable, because they work with tile and fertilizer all day. They noticed her homemade lotion.
"They said, 'My hands are so dry, can I put some on? I don't care if I smell like strawberries,'" Zierke said.
Once the guys tried it, they asked, "Can you make this without the smell in it?"
That's when the light bulb went off in her head and she realized men wanted something that would keep their hands comfortable, but without all the feminine frills.
That's how her M.A.N. Hands line was born three years ago.
M.A.N. stands for "Made All Natural" and the label has a stand of ripe soybean plants backlit by the sun. It is a white unscented soy balm with ingredients such as soy oil, shea butter and mango butter.
"The soybean oil helps with free radicals and sun damage," Zierke said.
"There's no alcohol, so it doesn't sting," Zierke said.
It's just one product she has on her website, www.TheFarmerette.com. The name was given to her by farmers she works with, who dubbed her "Farmerette," a female farmer.
"It made me think of Smurfette," she said with a laugh, but she liked the name because it reflected the ag background she promotes on her website. Also, her husband, Tracy, is a farmer.
Zierke's inventory keeps growing: there are five scents of body butter or balm, three massage oils and one strawberry sugar scrub. She also offers a soybean oil lip balm, which she has made to her specifications, including the brown-and-gold label that has her Farmerette logo of a pony-tailed woman driving a tractor.
"High school guys love it because it has a tractor on it," she said.
The teens aren't the only ones who like her products. Zierke said a soybean association placed an order for 300 of her products to give as Christmas gifts. Pioneer seed dealers from Owatonna bought the M.A.N. Hands for appreciation gifts.
Zierke is a one-woman production line. She fills containers with the help of her 8-year-old daughter, prints the labels and decides on the scents, including Dreamsicle, Birthday Cake and the newest, Blueberry.
She's working on a new, thicker balm, for which she has a working name of "Heeling Power" because it's for heels.
"More cocoa butter and shea butter; cut back on oils and water," Zierke said.
It keeps her busy, but she loves it.
"I have that creative outlet," she said. "It's a lifestyle."