Editor’s note: This is the third article in a five-part series featuring Colchester’s Champlain Community Services, a non-profit that helps people with disabilities find meaningful employment, living conditions and community engagement.
Horses curiously peeked through their stalls last week as Jordan, a 28-year-old entrepreneur with an intellectual disability, gallantly made her way to see one of their own, who had just received a minor medical treatment.
Sherman is boarded at Erin Longworth Performance Horses, a Milton barn. His owner, Beth Levinsky, ran into Jordan outside the complex last Wednesday afternoon.
Jordan thoughtfully explained her up and coming horse treat business, Nickering Nuggets. The peppermint flavored treats are made preservative-free and cost $3 for a bag of 10.
Nickering Nuggets is one of five micro-businesses in the “incubation stage” of Colchester’s Champlain Community Service’s self-employment program, funded by a 2007 Medicaid Infrastructure Grant.
Instantly intrigued, Levinksy and Jordan headed to feed Sherman two treats in hopes of making his recovery more bearable. Community inclusion specialist Tamara and Michelle Paya, director of Way2Work, CCS’ supported employment program, were in tow.
Jordan extended her hand as Sherman quickly gobbled up one treat, then a second. The peppermint was a hit.
Jordan told Levinsky treats now hang in a purple bucket for boarders’ purchase.
“Hi! I’m the owner of Nickering Nuggets,” a sign on the buckets reads, accompanied by a picture of Jordan with Currant, a horse she rides regularly at an adaptive riding barn in South Hero. “My experience with horses and the enjoyment I get out of giving horses treats lead me to start my own horse treat business.”
Jordan bakes the treats herself, mixing together oats, molasses, peppermint oil, wheat flour and water. A batch consists of 24 cookies, she added, and she cooks two to three at a time.
She’s been involved in every step of the start-up process, including product molding, branding, nailing down a recipe for taste and longevity and convincing barns to carry her treats.
Longworth’s barn is Jordan’s third trial, as the first two she left in Colchester weren’t selling enough to make a profit. Onto the next she went.
Longworth met Jordan through Paya before Nickering Nuggets was launched in fall 2016. Paya, who boards her own steed at Longworth’s barn, shares Jordan’s love for horses. Being in the barn is therapeutic for them both, Paya said.
When Jordan walks through the door, she instantly connects with the horses, easily bonding with them and reading their emotions, which may not be the case in Jordan’s everyday interactions with people, Longworth explained.
“She lights up when she talks about horses,” Longworth said.
She chose to sell horse treats to join her passion with her profession. Plus, she said, she likes being her own boss.
Until Nickering Nuggets becomes sustainable, Jordan plans to continue working for Andy’s Dandys in Richmond, delivering dog treats.
In the coming months, Jordan will work to certify her business with the state. A visit to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture is also planned to see what tests her nuggets will undergo for food analysis.
With a lengthy research and development stage, the end product will call for celebration of Jordan’s hard work.
“We can have a red ribbon ceremony cutting for you and your business launch at a barn that you choose. Wouldn’t that be fun?” Paya asked.
Humble yet excited, Jordan couldn’t help but answer “yes.”
But first, there’s still work to be done.
Jordan will monitor her treats’ success in Milton. If business goes well, they’ll be the sole delicacy sold in Longworth’s new online boutique, featuring all local business owners.
A necessary part of Jordan’s success is communicating with her supports at CCS. When she’s out of a certain ingredient, she’ll either tell self-employment coordinator Emily Coffrin or leave her a note.
“You’re probably one of the best communicators I’ve ever worked with,” Coffrin told Jordan.
When it comes to communicating with barn owners or managers, Paya said CCS enforces face-to-face interaction to help Jordan develop social skills and the ability to explain her business motto, simultaneously building confidence.
After hearing Jordan’s pitch, Levinsky, a business owner herself, was eager to invest. In addition to what she owed for treats, the horse owner gifted Jordan an extra sum to help cover a portion of start-up costs.
The money, Jordan decided, would go toward buying more ingredients.
The act of kindness created an educational opportunity, too. Paya learned Levinksy’s motive to support Jordan stemmed from her own awareness of a young woman’s struggles in creating a sustainable business. The interaction created a mentorship opportunity.
Although making a profit is the goal, creating a micro-business is about more than the money, Paya said. Social interactions, business formulas, problem solving and heightened independence all collide to form the entrepreneurial experience, one not always experienced by those with intellectual disabilities.
Aside from the money, Jordan said she simply likes saying hi to the horses. If the dough does start to rack up, though, a first-time trip to Colorado to visit her friend may be in store.
As Jordan stared out the passenger seat window on the return trip home, she came across a few more barns to reach out to.
When the red ribbon is cut on Nickering Nuggets, Jordan hopes to have up to 10 barns around the state. That way, she can check a couple items off her (purple) bucket list.
One: Spread kindness.
Two: “I really want to give more treats to other people,” she said.