Learn about Stone Soup's online rural marketplace.
Ever wondered where you could sell those duck decoys you carved or that unique jewelry you made? Now, instead of a neighbor-only clientele, you can take your rural creations online with the help of Stone Soup, a nonprofit organization based in Republic, Washington, that’s dedicated to helping those in rural communities achieve entrepreneurial success.
Stone Soup opened its virtual doors to the world in December 2005 through the "Shop the Frontier" website. Since then, this online rural marketplace has seen more than two million hits. The site, www.shopthefrontier.org, showcases talented rural artists; increases business and professional skills for those involved in the project; and helps revitalize rural communities across Washington and Idaho. Currently, Stone Soup is launching a campaign to add artists from towns like Dayton and Forks in Washington and in the Priest River area of Northern Idaho. They’re looking for dedicated rural entrepreneurs who craft quality handmade items from Northwest towns with populations below 20,000.
Stone Soup founder and executive director Betty Buckley says she hopes to help people create jobs for themselves and an income for their families by participating in the Shop the Frontier website and other services Stone Soup offers, which include free business training and consultations. All of the proceeds from the site go directly back into its efforts to help individuals create or expand micro-enterprises.
Items on the website range from handmade soaps to elegant jewelry to one-of-a-kind furniture and original art. Each item provides a link to information about the artist including photos of the process. "When we developed the site, one thing of importance was the ability to showcase the artist; to put an actual face and name with the product. That’s not something you run across very often in today’s economy," Buckley says. In addition to artists’ backgrounds, customers have the ability to contact the website to request custom items.
When Stone Soup decided to tackle the causes of poverty, Buckley knew she faced an uphill struggle. She wanted to pilot Shop the Frontier in Republic, a remote mining and logging town plagued with job loss and economic hardships. Buckley is a fourth-generation resident of the area. Her father’s family homesteaded nearby in 1895 and her great-grandfather ran the local stage line. Because of her strong rural background, Buckley says, "It’s important for rural communities everywhere to know there are strategies that can work for them, just as they’re working for us. We all need to think more creatively and progressively about how to preserve our rural lifestyles."
Buckley continues, "It was obvious to us that there’s a niche of people who want to buy items that aren’t mass produced. These are the same people who will appreciate that a portion of their purchase will help to fund programs that support rural youth and entrepreneurs." Currently, more than 40 artists and artisans from Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties are represented on the website. Stone Soup and Shop the Frontier are expanding to other rural communities this year — opening doors for more struggling communities, just as it has for Republic.