"We just went for it…it was just like what we had envisioned on our first date."
Photos by Megan Monday
Rachel and Pete | Viroqua, WI
Rachel: On our first date, we went to ‘At Random’, a cocktail bar in Milwaukee. It was straight out of what, 19...
Rachel: Yeah. It was crazy. So it’s our first date, and somehow we began sketching on a cocktail napkin together. We’re drawing, and a picture of a house out in the country emerged. It was pretty wild. After that night, we started dating, and within a year we end up moving together to a house in the countryside, just outside of Stevens Point. It was a little, tiny, dumpy, adorable farmhouse.
Pete: It had 25 acres of pasture.
Rachel: I started making body care products in the mid-1990s, just out of curiosity, out of a passion for making, creating. And as soon as I made my first batch of soap I was completely hooked. I was a graduate student in environmental education at the time and I had this moment of, "Oh, this is not what I came here to learn." It was life-changing for me. I discovered that making body care was what I was really passionate about, but it remained a hobby for me at the time.
Pete: I was an electrician. I really enjoyed it; it works with how my head works. It was also fortunate that I was able to have a career where I could make enough money and could get a job pretty much anywhere, so we moved near Stevens Point where Rachel got a job in environmental education.
Rachel: In 2002, we were pregnant with our first child, and I enthusiastically quit my job. Our intention was that one of us would stay home to be a full-time parent, and that was me, so my thought was, "I'll quit my job, I'll have a baby, and start a business at the same time." Then I had a baby...period. Body care remained a hobby because I didn’t have the capacity to dig in yet. During that time I was making baby-care products for our son. He had incredibly sensitive skin, like off-the-charts sensitive and the booty balm I made worked wonders for him. Booty Balm is now our best-selling product. Our whole baby line and mama line was brought out of that time when I was at home with Sage.
Rachel: By the time our son was two, I started doing farmers' markets to sell my body care products, and the hobby was beginning to expand. Then Pete was laid off. It was really scary; a young family, one income, and he was laid off.
I said, "Well, if you can’t go to work, I will." And so I started making and selling more body care, and the business expanded to fill the space that I gave it. I had this moment of, "Oh, wow, I didn't see that coming..." and it was suddenly hard to keep up with the demand.
Once Pete went back to work, it was even more challenging. Fast-forward another 12 months and he was laid off again. So this time we said, "Okay, let's do this together and see what happens." And again it expanded to fill the space. So by the time he was called back to work, I couldn't do it on my own anymore.
At that time we were called Queen Bee Soaps, and we wanted to launch a new brand and product. I was nine months pregnant with our second child. We were already doing label design, but we didn't have a name for our new brand yet.
When our daughter Lupine was born, I think it was two days later, I just said, "Lupine, Sage...it's LuSa Organics." I remember the room I was in, in our old house. I was holding her and I looked at her, and I thought, "That's it. It's LuSa." It was almost like it was just waiting for that moment. Our children both have botanical names, and the heart of what we do at LuSa is really plant-based. So that is how we became LuSa.
Rachel: When we were pregnant with our daughter, we decided to visit Viroqua to see if we wanted to move to the area. The first time we went to the Co-op here, we were scoping it out and this woman came up to us. She said, "Oh, hey, are you new here?" We were like, "Whoa, no, we don't live here." "Oh, well here's my phone number, if you ever need a place to stay…y’know, come back again and check things out."
And that happened over and over again. We were like, "What IS this place?" We visited for two afternoons, and we felt like we suddenly had more friends here than we did where we'd been living for the past five years. We just felt really welcomed here, and like we would fit in. We never really felt like we fit in anywhere before; and here we blend.
We moved to Viroqua in 2006, and chose our house specifically to be able to fit our growing family and our business. We relaunched our business out of our basement, but we soon outgrew it...we were bursting at the seams. That’s when we moved here to the Food Enterprise Center. We built this space out, sold our house and moved our family to our farm. We were just waiting until the business was big enough so that we could get ourselves back to the country.
Pete: Now we have this vision of re-purposing our farm for LuSa. The romantic picture is that we’ll be able to look out over the farm and see the botanicals that we’re using in the products we’ll be creating. We have a few nods in that direction already, and we'll see how that dream develops as we go. Right now we're fortunate to live in a place where there are a lot of small producers that we can help support. We use the things that they're growing in our products, and then spread them across the globe.
Rachel: We split full-time work between the two of us because we're homeschooling our kids. Usually one of us will come into LuSa and work, and the other one stays on the farm with the kids. Their education is often interwoven with what's happening in and around our farm.
I grew up in a family business, but it was very much my dad's business. My mom did her own thing, and my sister and I went to school. But for Pete and I, our family, our children's education, and our business are all more interwoven. We just do things together. We haven't compartmentalized our lives, and so education can overlap with our business, and our relationship can overlap with our relationship with our kids, and all of it works. It just sort of weaves together.
At a more personal level, we really all like each other a lot, and our life is built on being together in every way. The commitment to running a family business is a big commitment in itself, but to do it together is a very different reality.
We referred to our life as The Experiment for seven years, and we finally said, "Hey, I don't think it's an experiment anymore. I think this is just our life."
-Rachel and Pete | LuSa Organics | Viroqua, WI