Category Archives: Localism

Pottery: An ancient art with modern meaning – Bryan Becker Clay Werks

Bryan Becker Clay Werks

Nostalgia for the old days won’t solve our current environmental and social problems, but recognizing things we value from our history can help.

A quick survey of American history reveals a few things Americans value about themselves: our “rugged individualism”, our pride in craftsmanship, our resourcefulness. We are proud of the beautiful land that makes up this country and memorialize it in “America the Beautiful”. We value the idea that so many came to this Land of Opportunity with nothing, worked hard and built a life for themselves and their families. We value the idea of community, the idea that a group of people can work together toward a common goal.

Some of these values and images are tarnished in recent years, but we can dust them off to address the issues that face us and to shape our future. Often returning to the images we hold of ourselves as Americans returns us to practices and ways of living that didn’t do the kind of damage to the environment that today’s lifestyle does.

Pottery is one of those practices. Pottery is the oldest synthetic material. Made from clay, it comes from the earth and returns to it. No wonder that ancient civilizations, including Greece and the Israelite civilization of biblical fame, envisioned human beings coming from the same substance: from earth to earth. Clay is relatively inexpensive and widely available. People around the world have perfected their skill to produce durable, beautiful vessels, both for aesthetic pleasure and for use in important tasks. No early American home was complete with its pottery, bowls, mugs, butter churns, pickle barrels and more.

There is something reassuring about pottery in its beauty, its practicality and usefulness, the fact that it lives so harmoniously with the natural world from which it comes. It is a thoughtful, resourceful, aesthetic use of material the earth provides in abundance. Each piece, no matter how small, is an individual expression of molding the raw materials of our world into something not just beautiful but useful.

That beautiful, comforting practicality is what Bryan Becker Clay Werks pottery represents. Handmade in Hartland, Wisconsin, this pottery is for those with a taste for handmade and custom-crafted works “that captivate and inspire”. From mugs to wine goblets to a beautiful series of bowls with thoughtful sayings (or to personalize), Bryan Becker adds to a rich tradition of American craftsmanship and encourages our appreciation for our earth in the pieces he creates from it.

The Wisconsin location hosts the work of more than 100 other artists from around the country who specialize in works of clay, metal, glass, wood, silver, mixed media and unique jewelry. Bryan Becker Clay Werks Inc. was established in 1983. It is a full service pottery studio and Gallery, housed in a 1928 dairy barn, adding to the sense of earthiness, practicality and traditional craftsmanship one gets from the work itself.

Bryan Becker Clay Werks
Bryan Becker Clay Werks

Bryan Becker Clay Werks site describes the process of creation this way: “Each bowl is hand thrown on the potter’s wheel by ceramic artist Bryan Becker. The clay used is called “high fire” stoneware. After a slight drying time, a special tool is used to inscribed the message around the rim of the bowl. Because every bowl is handcrafted, one at a time, names and dates can be added. The bowl is later trimmed of excess clay and signed by the artist. After its initial firing (bisque), the bowl is glazed with one of six custom colors, and fired to 2354 degrees F. This “high fire” process gives each piece its lasting durability, ready for food, dishwashers, microwaves and home ovens. It can also be enjoyed for years as a decorative keepsake.”

Perhaps your piece will last for centuries, even, as pottery so often does, telling its story to many future generations.

We are fortunate to carry a number of Bryan Becker’s pieces at the Green Box Boutique. Stop in to view beautiful bowls and other pottery pieces. And when you’re in Hartland, Wisconsin, stop in and say “hi” to Bryan Becker for us!

We’re all about #LovingLeoinWoodstock

#Loving Leo in Woodstock#

Leo will visit 14 locations in Woodstock over the next 2 weeks!

Stop in and take a selfie with Leo, and enter to win a gift certificate.

Business is beautiful: thanks social entrepreneurs!


We live in exciting times. How do we know? Big data tells us!

Sometimes the numbers and tools that seem so mundane and unexciting are just the things that reveal what is so exciting and beautiful. Love is good business — great phrase, stirring and inspirational words, but it’s numbers that make us aware of the power of those words.

As it does everything else in our contemporary world, data not only tracks but drives social entrepreneurship, a phenomenon which is here to stay.

Data, for example, signalled the need for more education, training and programming to prepare young entrepreneurs to enter this rapidly growing sector of the economy. In 2015, 4 million students earned degrees. Of those 4 million, 55% report that a concern for social causes will influence their job decisions. Some describe “an explosion” in social entrepreneurship programming with 148 program centers across 350 countries. Top business schools offer twice as many classes in not-for-profit management as in 2013.

So what is social entrepreneurship, and how does it differ from traditional not-for-profit service organizations and conventional business models? Social entrepreneurship is about producing a good or service to solve social challenges and issues. Conventional businesses measure success based on profit and returns, but social entrepreneurial businesses also consider their social impact. On the other hand, the financial structure of a business directed toward the social good is at least partially based on the business’ own revenues.

Social entrepreneurship, like crowd funding, evolved in an environment of decreased government funding. In The Power of Unreasonable People, John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan describe three types of social entrepreneurs’ business structures:

  1. Closest to the not-for-profit service organization model, this structure relies on available funds like tax dollars, loans and grants, although it tends to use its resources in more innovative ways, developing more innovative solutions.
  2. This hybrid incorporates profit to sustain its activity along with traditional not-for-profit sources of funding and as a result is better able to withstand market downturns and government cutbacks.
  3. The business model generates its own operating funds through profit but has broader goals than a conventional business.

Data provides lots of information about a social need or issue and the number and location of people affected by that issue. It also allows detailed measurements of how a business impacts the identified issue. Analyzing and determining what to do with data, however, isn’t always so easy. DataKind is one of many institutions and initiatives developing around the world to help businesses drive social change through data harvesting and analysis.

The Social Enterprise Alliance in its Tool Belt section identifies thirty sectors with social entrepreneurial enterprises, from microenterprise development to poverty alleviation and income generation to employment creation, to children and youth education and welfare, to health and nutrition, and many more.

The Great Social Enterprise Census provides us with these fascinating statistics:

  • 90% of these businesses work on domestic issues
    *there is an even mix between profit and not-for-profit businesses
  • Social entrepreneurism is a $300 million per year sector employing 14,000 people in 28 states (analysts point out that survey results are incomplete, and the number is closer to $500 billion, employing 10 million people and making up 3.5% of the GDP)
  • 40% of these businesses have fewer than 5 employees and 8% more than 100 employees
  • 20% impact U.S. economic development, 16% workforce development, 12% energy and environment, 11% education, and 7% work internationally

The most interesting data shows that 60% of these businesses were created in 2006 or later and 29%, almost 1/3, in the last five years since 2011. Social entrepreneurship is a recent and very rapidly growing phenomenon. It is a phenomenon which proves that necessity is the mother of invention with its rapid growth paralleling the Great Recession and significant changes in the U.S. economic climate. And it is a phenomenon that demonstrates what Anne Frank declared, that “people are basically good at heart.”

So data drives this powerful phenomenon, one which harnesses the idealism of young people who want to improve their world. It provides them with the hard information they require for their enterprises. It informs concerned consumers where they can shop. It helps investors understand what kind of capital will help the sector in which they are interested grow. Finally, it helps policymakers determine how to harness and support this energy to accomplish the greatest good.

Green Box Boutique: 5 Reasons to Visit Us Today


Of course you want to stop into Green Box Boutique for a visit because you like us. But there’s more: of course you also want to stop in because we are in the heart of Woodstock On the Square that we all love.

Perhaps most importantly, though, we are at the heart of Woodstock’s sustainability movement, and that’s a big issue in our little town.

Did you know that Woodstock has its own sustainability plan, called the Woodstock Environmental Plan? In its opening paragraphs, the plan’s authors say, “The concept of sustainability holds the promise of long-term economic security, social equity and environmental integrity. It suggests that through increased self-sufficiency and responsibility, the production and consumption of goods and services can be maintained without harming the natural environment. ”

The Plan deals with all the environmental issues we expect in an agricultural area, but it also deals with issues like Environmentally Preferred Purchasing (EPP), “the purchase of products and services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared to competing products that serve the same purpose.”

The McHenry County Green Guide, published yearly, provides a glimpse of the range of services available to assist those who want to live greener lives. You’ll find Green Box Boutique listed on page 32 of the 2015 edition, by the way, under clothes and accessories. We are proud to join the Woodstock Farmers Market, Environmental Defenders Green Spot and Expressly Leslie Vegetarian Specialties, also on the Square, Habitat for Humanity ReStore Woodstock, the Foodshed Coop, location yet to be announced, the Land Conservancy of McHenry County, and so many other organizations and businesses on and off the Square who are doing their part for sustainability.

And nearby in Crystal Lake, Duke’s Alehouse sponsors a Green Drinks monthly local environmental social networking event with speakers on eco-topics.

Our local community college, McHenry County College, features a Green Campus:

  • Green Campus including physical campus and campus operations
  • Green Education that includes curriculum development for a green economy and training for employees and students about sustainable practices
  • Green Community including how MCC shares with the community resources that improve quality of life

So many ways you can get help and information, and so many ways you can participate in making McHenry County and Woodstock in particular front and center in the movement toward sustainability in the 21st century.

Here are five reasons to stop into the Green Box Boutique today as part of your sustainability commitment in 2016:

  1. We do the research for you. We thoroughly vet all the products we carry to be certain they are part of the solution, not the problem.
  2. We carry products from many local vendors.
  3. We seek out vendors who produce clothing that is not only made with sustainable raw materials and non-toxic dyes but is crafted by workers who do their work in a safe, dignified environment and are pair fairly.
  4. Our products are beautiful and fun, and they grace your home with products that are good for you, good for the environment, and good for the workers who make them.
  5. You can enjoy your Green Box Boutique purchase at home while sipping on that delightful organic wine you picked up from us at the same time or savoring a bite of Wei of Chocolate.

If you’re not already part of the sustainability movement in Woodstock, why not join us today? Feel good inside and out, and help build a world where those who follow can do the same.

We wish you all a sharing, caring Christmas!

Adult and Child Therapy Services Holiday Giving Tree
Adult and Child Therapy Services Holiday Giving Tree

This year we’d like to wish everyone a sharing, caring Christmas and thank you, our customers, and our vendors for partnering with us to build a better world.

As our customers, you care about the people with whom we share our world and care about the environment.  You show your caring in your shopping choices. Every purchase you make at Green Box Boutique is one that shares with others by helping disadvantaged workers all over the world and by saving our beautiful world so future generations can enjoy it as well. We thank you so much for supporting this effort.

And we’d also like to thank our vendors, each of whom cares and shares in such amazing ways. We invite you to read about them in our blog and learn about their contributions, efforts you also support with your purchases at the Green Box Boutique:

And so many more that we haven’t had a chance to write about yet.

Thank you all, and have a wonderful, caring and sharing Christmas.

Pompeii Street Soap Company: Building Community

We're featuring Pompeii Street Soap Co. Peppermint soap, lotion and lip balm at Green Box Boutique, a delightful and thoughtful holiday gift.
We’re featuring Pompeii Street Soap Co. Peppermint soap, lotion and lip balm at Green Box Boutique, a delightful and thoughtful holiday gift.

When is a business more than a business? (No, this isn’t a knock-knock joke). A business is more than a business when it invests in social good, as more and more businesses do today. A business is more than a business when the goal of improving the world in some specific way is inextricably intertwined with the goal of bringing a particular product to the marketplace and selling it for a profit.

Pompeii Street Soap Company is one of these contemporary businesses that gives as much attention to their social goals as to their sales goals.  And Pompeii St. invests in community.

Says Jessica Grill, founder and owner of Pompeii St., “One of the reasons I quit my job and started a business in 2007 was because I felt as a small business owner, I could make more of an impact in my local community.” She spoke those words with reference to successfully completing a fundraising campaign for the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, a group that represents, supports and serves breast cancer survivors and their families in Pennsylvania through educational programming, legislative advocacy and breast cancer research grants. By making and selling Pink Grapefruit Soap in October and donating all proceeds to the organization, they doubled in one year the contribution they were able to make.

When Pompeii St. participated in the “Made in Mifflinburg” Campaign initiated by the Mifflinburg Heritage & Revitalization Association, a blogger for Handmade in PA, a blog from the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen, said of the Company: “Not only do I admire Pompeii Street Soap Co. for their high quality natural products but also for their animal welfare efforts. Pompeii Street Soap Co. supports local animal welfare organizations…” with products like Dapper Dog Soap.

Handmade in PA tells Jessica’s story: Her interest in soap began when, frustrated with her own dry skin, she explored aromatherapy, then soaps, products she made in the basement of her home.

Her interest intensified after she read about the discovery of an intact soap factory discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, Italy, destroyed by earthquake in 79 c.e.  This shop is currently the oldest existing organized soap shop in the world. Jessica named her business to reflect her idea, to produce all-natural soaps in the traditional way.

Today her products are hand-made, hand-cut, and hand-labeled by Jessica’s small staff in her small workshop and store in Mifflinburg. If you visit Mifflinburg, you can catch the action. If you can’t visit Mifflinburg just yet, you can still get an idea of what Pompeii Street Soap Co. does and how they work in the video posted above.

So Pompeii Street Soap Co. is a Labor of Love all the way around, from a love of soaps and body products to a love of doing things the “old-fashioned way,” locally and by hand, to a love community and the people and other creatures who inhabit it.

Visit us at Green Box Boutique during this holiday season to see what else we have from Pompeii St. Soap Company.

Forget the guar gum: Just pass the real deal Maria’s Style salsa!

Maria's Style Garlic Habanero Vodka Salsa
Maria’s Style Garlic Habanero Vodka Salsa

Ooooh…yum, yum, yum, chips and salsa. Tacos, loaded. Nachos.

Could you please pass some more of that delicious calcium chloride? Uh…er…sodium benzoate? Guar gum! No? Xanthan gum? Ah, I know. Dextrose. Modified food starch. High fructose corn syrup, that should do it! Brown sugar. Citric acid. Yes, that.

Doesn’t grab your attention? How about  mangoes, peaches and tequila? Tomatillos and Serrano peppers? Garlic and vodka? Sound a little better?

If the second list is what you really wanted when you said, “pass the salsa,” then stop right into Green Box Boutique to pick up some of our Maria’s Style products, for yourself to keep in the house or to give as valued gifts.

All the items in the first list are found in ingredients lists on a variety of commercial salsas — and why would you want those things?? You wanted salsa! And the best salsa is made from real foods, without preservatives and additives that do nothing more than put back flavor removed in processing. You want salsa like what Maria’s Style makes.

Maria’s Style started with salsa, but their other products are all made the same way, from real food, without preservatives or other undesirable additives.

Other than a variety of salsas, those products include jams and dessert toppings, soups, pastas, pasta sauces and spreads, and dips. These delicious items are unique flavor combinations from real foods, but chips and salsa, or a some preserves on toast are the smallest part of what you can do! Try some of Maria’s suggestions, or get creative, and use a Maria’s Style product in some way totally your own:

Maria’s Style Raspberry Jalapeno Jam

  • As a Baste
    Spread over chicken breast or game hens and bake 45 minutes at 350° F
    Spoon over beef brisket (5-7 lbs.), cover with foil and bake at 300° F for 4 hours. Then remove foil and baste with sauce juices.
    Bake an additional hour at 350° F then serve
  • As an Hors d’oeuvre
    Spoon over cream cheese and serve with crackers
    Spoon over Brie cheese and bake 15 minutes at 425° F then serve with crackers
    Try also over bagels or waffles
  • As a Dressing/Vinaigrette
    In a bowl combine 1 rounded tbsp. of Maria’s Style Raspberry Jalapeno Jam, 12 tbsp. of oil, 4 tbsp Balsamic vinegar,
    2 tbsp. red wine vinegar, 3 cloves sliced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste mix well and let sit several hours or overnight

And there’s more! Maria’s Style also makes gift packages. All the fixings for soup, including a ceramic bowl. Gift baskets. Jam two-packs with gourmet crackers. A pasta sauce gift box with a gourmet pasta. And lots more combinations, delicious, all-natural, preservative-free, thoughtful gifts for the people in your life whom you love and who love great food.

And if that’s not enough, Maria’s Style products are made right here, in Illinois. A local company serving up delicious food to the people who will most appreciate it — their neighbors.

Adult and Child Therapy Services: A Good Reason to Jump the Season

Adult and Child Therapy Services Holiday Giving Tree
Adult and Child Therapy Services Holiday Giving Tree

If you stop into Green Box Boutique these days, you will see a “Holiday Giving Tree” display from Adult and Child Therapy Services. We are proud to support this McHenry County-centered organization, whose first home was in Woodstock.

The ornaments in the display are all hand-painted by children served by ACTS. Your purchase will beautify your tree or the tree of anyone who receives it as a gift from you. At the same time, the money you spend on your purchase is a donation, in its entirety, to Adult and Child Therapy Services.

We often share information with you about many of our vendors, most of them “social goodness enterprises.” These businesses not only provide beautiful items for you to enjoy or give, but they address some social or environmental issue through their way of doing business.

Adult and Child Therapy Services takes a more traditional route to service. As a not-for-profit, the organization receives most of its support from Program Fees (covered by private and public insurance fees, United Way of McHenry County and Grants. Additional funds come from donations, events and projects like the Holiday Giving Tree.

These funds allow the organization to fulfill its mission, which is “to inspire hope, develop independence and promote well-being in our patients and their families through one-on-one physical, speech and occupational therapy. ACTS Vision is to inspire and develop independence one person, one family at a time.”

With a staff of just 12, the organization relies on volunteer assistance, and they invite you to connect with them. This small staff works out of two locations, one in Woodstock at 708 Washington St. The second location, opened in 2014, is in Huntley at 12189 Regency Parkway.

ACTS began its life in Woodstock in 1949 at the height of the polio epidemic. At that time, it was the McHenry County Chapter of Easter Seals in Woodstock. In 1994, the Board voted not to renew its franchise with Easter Seals, determining they could provide more therapy and nursing care for McHenry County as an independent organization. They became the Child Rehabilitation Center, a name they carried until 2010, when they became ACTS.

Today ACTS is a non-profit out-patient facility offering physical, speech and occupational therapy to men, women and children of all ages and income levels in McHenry County and beyond. These services include free developmental screenings for ages 0-3, and Fall Risk Assessments and Individual Exercise Programs for Seniors. Children in the Early Intervention Program are treated in their own homes.

In 2014, ACTS celebrated its 65th anniversary.  Today, we celebrate ACTS as we sponsor their Holiday Giving Tree.  ACTS says of their Tree, “We know you are planners. And while we don’t want to push Christmas before Thanksgiving, when you need an ornament this year for your tree – check out Green Box Boutique and purchase an ornament from the hands and hearts at Adult & Child.”

Please stop in to visit us in our beautiful new location On the Square, and when you do, be sure to get your beautiful hand-painted ornament. This holiday season, help us support ACTS and the families in McHenry County and beyond who depend on the services they provide.

Laura Tanner Jewelry: Supporting Local is Easy When It’s So Unique & Beautiful!


An article from 2014 in Forbes Magazine, “Why You Need to Support Small Businesses,” points to five reasons to support local businesses:

  1. You can often find good prices at local stores. In contrast to what many think,  stores don’t control pricing, vendors do. This means that a common perception that thrifty shoppers can do better at big box stores and national chains isn’t necessarily a true perception.
  2. Inventory is not always more easily available at big box stores. Small, local stores shop from the same vendors as big stores and national chains . . . and specialty shops often carry items that big stores don’t.  Small, local store proprietors put a lot of energy into building relationships with their customers and are usually very anxious to serve their customers well. If you don’t see something you want, and it comes from a vendor that store uses, the store is often able to contact the vendor and have the item sent out.
  3. Customer service is more personalized. Contacting a vendor to get an item that is of particular interest is just one way that local proprietors go out of their way to serve their customers.
  4. Sometimes small businesses offer greater product diversity and more options than nationally-owned chain stores. Certainly they will provide options more suited to their local customers. Small, local business owners often seek out specialty items to distinguish themselves. Since owners have a direct relationship with their customers, living in the same community, they are more likely to pick just the assortment of items that will appeal to their market. A huge assortment doesn’t make for product diversity if the assortment is irrelevant to a community.
  5. Local businesses are more likely to give back to a community. Most local business give back to their communities not only through local taxes but through monetary and in-kind contributions to local organizations and charities. They are likely to support local initiatives like environmental consciousness or keeping streets safe or clean and beautiful.

It’s doubly wonderful when you can support a local business that supports another local business. This is the case when you purchase Laura Tanner Jewelry at the Green Box Boutique in Woodstock! Centered on the Square in “our town,” the Green Box Boutique represents all of the strong points of local businesses mentioned above: good prices for specialty items you won’t necessarily find at chain stores, great, personalized customer service, and active engagement in community activities and services.

So isn’t it great to find out that the Green Box Boutique also supports localism in its choice of vendors! Laura Tanner Jewelry is based in Evanston, where all the jewelry is not only designed by Laura Tanner Swinand but is handmade by locally employed workers under her direct supervision.

About 8% of Laura’s business is over the internet, but the bulk of her business is in local stores, almost half of them in the Greater Metro Chicago area. We are fortunate to have her jewelry in Woodstock.

Laura began making and selling “funky enamel earrings and safety-pin bracelets” as a 13 year old. After completing a bachelors and a masters degree in art history, she decided to return to what she loved, making jewelry. She is drawn to meditative, tactile work, and appreciates the innate natural beauty and subtle imperfections of gemstones.  Her website describes her work as “contemporary” and “timeless.” Others describe her work as simple, delicate, sophisticated, versatile and inventive.  The Examiner calls her signature collections “trendy” and “unique,” with “grace” and “femininity.”

The jewelry is created with gemstone beads and pearls and precious metals. The pieces are designed to mix, match and layer. Each piece is handmade from gemstones, silver, gold-fill and gold vermeil metals. The jewelry is moderately priced and is featured in the 15th Annual One-of-a-Kind Show Chicago, December 3-6, 2015, at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, where Laura Tanner Jewelry is one of 600 artisans in the show. The show is designed to provide an opportunity to find unique, one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts. But you don’t have to go even that far since we have it right here in Woodstock!

Even the raw materials come primarily from the U.S. or are purchased from U.S.-based suppliers whenever possible. The packaging supplies are made in the U.S., and publicity materials are printed locally by environmentally friendly printers.

Laura Tanner Jewelry expresses its environmental consciousness by savings all metal scraps and sending them to a supplier for recycling. Paper waste is recycled and food waste composted. Gift boxes and bags are from recycled content. The main supplier of their material is solar powered.

Laura Tanner Jewelry supports charitable organizations involved with assistance to women, children and the disabled and provides in-kind contributions to local raffles, benefits, events and more.

As of March, 2014, there were 28.2 million businesses in the U.S., with three-quarters of them small, local businesses. Only half of them will survive five years or more, but all of them work hard to bring unique contributions to local communities.  Do your part to make certain these business remain in our communities. Shop locally — and if you can do that with twice the power, supporting local businesses that support other local businesses that support other local businesses . . . well, why wouldn’t you?