Journey Inn: Launching a Green Business from the Ground Up
"Much more than a business, Journey Inn reflects a lifestyle choice for us," explains Charlene Torchia, a passionate ecopreneur driven by doing the right thing every step of the way. At a mid-life phase when most folks plot retirement plans, Torchia, in partnership with her husband, John Huffaker, opened Journey Inn, a green bed and breakfast and retreat outside Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, a rural area one hour and worlds away from the urban bustle of Minneapolis. After decades in other careers -- including running a massage studio with eight employees -- this green livelihood journey to a rural business reflects her passion for creating a business that satisfies her soul while treading lighter on the earth.
Only a few years after opening in 2006, Journey Inn already serves as an inspiring example of one of the top ecotourism destinations in the country, earning it the International Restaurant and Hotel award -- 3rd place, value category for Green Lodging. Nestled amidst 66 acres of ecological diversity in the "driftless region," including prairie, hilly woodland and a spring fed creek, Journey Inn showcases a range of green design practices and technologies available for new construction projects. From solar hot water collectors to heat guests' showers and concrete floors to cross-ventilation and ceiling fans to keep the house naturally cool, every step of the building process happened with thoughtful intent or as in the Buddhist tradition: mindfully. Whenever possible, Forest Stewardship Council certified (FSC) wood was used for building materials, as were low-VOC (volatile organic compound) caulks, adhesives, paints and stains. Natural earthen plasters and clay paints grace the walls with a healthy, natural glow.
"Neither John nor I have a green design or technical background, so we tapped into Mother Nature as our guiding inspiration for creating Journey Inn," comments Torchia with a smile. "It took us seven years to find just the right land site that would readily support passive solar design as well as provide the natural beauty for our guests to tap into the healing power of nature. I find nature to be such an important metaphor for people today. By connecting with nature we tap into our true calling on this earth."
The seven-year search for land gave this husband and wife duo time to transition into this new venture. "First we downsized, got rid of a lot of our unneeded stuff and lived in a small apartment for a year as we looked for land," explains Torchia. "This shift to simplify helped us transition into our new lifestyle and think through and prepare our business plan."
Still, Torchia admits the temptation of getting stuck in the research and development phase and needing to eventually make a leap of faith when launching a new business. "Be attune to signs that give you direction on next steps," Torchia advises. She finds that "signs" often come through the people you meet, evolving into mentors that help you to your next step.
Sometimes these people can help you identify a "sign" that's a "sign." "My daughter provided tremendous support for Journey Inn from the start," explains Torchia, a youthful grandmother of five. "She and I sat at a restaurant eating lunch one day in the middle of a frustrating phase of searching for land, unable to find the right fit. A truck passed by with 'SIGNS -- Stockholm, Wisconsin' (a town down the road from Maiden Rock) painted on its side. My daughter said 'Why don't you look there?' and that led us to where we are now. The truck passing by may sound random, but I'm a firm believer that we're surrounded by clues like this sign on where our next steps should be. The key is being open and aware."
While supporting sustainable agriculture and local foods remains a core tenant of the Journey Inn philosophy, Torchia proves you don't necessarily have to grow it yourself. "Purchasing local foods directly from producers in our area not only gifts our guests with memorable breakfasts, it consciously connects me as a business owner with our community," Torchia adds. "I have a weekly 'food run' during which I pick up my food supplies for the week, from picking up our CSA (community supported agriculture) box to stopping for goat cheese and apples from area farms. Sure, these are business transactions, but they evolved to much more than that. These farmers are my friends and together we support our local community."
The local food theme inspired Torchia to venture in new directions, organizing a "Lake Pepin Farm Tour," a packaged tour where she takes her B&B guests to these "food run" stops, providing a personal, hands-on farm connection. "Our B&B guests love the fact that we support local, sustainable agriculture and enjoyed hearing the personal stories of the farmers," comments Torchia. "It proved to be a natural fit to then be the conduit to personally connect these folks with my farmer friends." The tour package serves as a keen example of how ecopreneurs passionately blend business with educational outreach and community involvement. "I have so much fun doing the tour and garnered such satisfaction from the connections made, I had to remind myself to set a fair price for the tour, which guests were more than willing to pay."
Just as Mother Nature thrives on diversity, Journey Inn strives to not put all its business eggs in one basket. In addition to the core B&B business, Torchia along with Huffaker lead various workshops and facilitated retreats. They also do life coaching, massage and spa treatments. About 30% of the B&B guests partake in one of these services, resulting in approximately 8% of the business income. "The workshops and retreat element make Journey Inn more than just a place to stay. This place becomes a living classroom, creating an environment where people can truly relax and leave refreshed and inspired," Torchia explains.
Some tips from Torchia on building a green business from the ground up:
Don't forget that travel for research purposes may be a deductible business expense, including "research" before your business venture opens its doors. Be sure to keep receipts and records of your research efforts.
- Co-op America's Green Pages
- Renewing the Countryside's Green Routes
- Food and Society Policy Fellows
- Renewing the Countryside, offering hundreds of success stories of sustainable farmers and rural ecopreneurs nationwide.
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