By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
— A Vernon Center native who enjoys sharing a bit of her paradise home with Minnesotans each fall has found a way to help other creative entrepreneurs living around her hometown.
With some help from her parents, Patricia and Wayne Krosch, Sara Krosch organized the first Handmade in Vernon Center Maker Fair Saturday. She was hoping to find a handful of other craft vendors to join her while she sold her homemade Just Coco virgin coconut oil products. It turned out that there were so many people who make pottery, jewelry, other handcrafts and food that the Krosches had to expand to a second room in the town’s fire hall.
“There are a lot more people around here doing handmade things than we even realized,” Sara Krosch said. “We started in Vernon Center and worked outward. It’s great to have a very full fair that filled up so quickly. We had to turn about 10 people away.”
Sara Krosch, who graduated from Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial High School in 1994 and Minnesota State University in 1998, hasn’t lived in the area for more than a decade. She taught high school English for a couple years in St. Peter and Le Center before signing up for a tour with the Peace Corps.
That was the beginning of a career that has taken her to villages all over the world to help educate people about communicable diseases. She and her boyfriend of 10 years, Scott Sweet of Flint, Mich., now live on a two-acre piece of property on the coast of a small island in the Philippines.
He has a business doing ocean mapping for government agencies. When Krosch in between education contracts with the United Nations, she picks coconuts from her property, processes their meat into oil by hand and turns that oil into body oils, lotions, lip balms, candles and other naturally fragrant products.
“I grind up the white meat and press it on a manual press,” she said. “That gives you the milk. After that it’s a complicated process that’s a trade secret because it takes a lot of time to perfect.
“About 100 nuts brings a gallon of virgin coconut oil. Currently I harvest 15 trees. When I don’t have enough, I just go to the neighbors. Large coconuts sell for about 15 pesos, which is about 35 cents.”
Sweet and two people they hire from a nearby village help with collecting, cracking and pressing the coconuts. One of the men she hires is the expert at climbing trees and knocking the nuts down.
Krosch sells some of her products to six resorts on the island, which draw visitors from all over the world. She also brings as much raw coconut oil as she can home with her during month-long fall visits to Vernon Center.
She turns that oil into body products at her parent’s house. Those products are sold during a few shows in Minnesota, she will also be selling Nov. 3 at the New Ulm Women’s Arts Fair, and through her Internet website justcocooil.com. It’s less expensive to have her parents ship the products from Vernon Center than for her to ship them from the Philippines.
Linda Anderson bought a few of Krosch’s products while shopping at the Vernon Center fair with her friend Diane Sieberg. Anderson said she learned about the fair and Krosch when Krosch brought a flier to a dinner at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Vernon Center.
“I like the oil,” Anderson said. “It’s not greasy and it soaks right in.”
Anderson also said she enjoyed having the opportunity to buy some unique Christmas gifts, as well as some gifts for herself, without leaving town. She also bought a pair of felt-lined wool mittens, made from recycled sweaters, from Kara Van Sickle of Garden City.
Van Sickle said she found out about the Maker Fair through Facebook and hopes the Krosches turn it into an annual event. She makes her mittens, earrings and lanyards during breaks from her job as an airline stewardess.
“I’ve never done a craft before, so this was a great way to give it a try,” Van Sickle said. “There’s already been some people who have said, ‘See you next year.’”