Field Trip Friday: TS Designs Makes Revolutionary T-Shirts

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My husband has been fascinated with screen printing for years, and that’s why I was so excited to find that TS Designs would be open to having us come and tour their facility.

We soon learned more than we ever expected.

TS Designs

Eric Michel, Chief of Tech and Logistics, kicked off our tour with a history of the company.  TS Designs started out as a standard screen-printing company back in the late 70s, and business was strong as they printed shirts for companies like Gap and Nike.  When these major companies began taking their business overseas after NAFTA, president Eric Henry knew he had to make changes.  He and fellow founder Tom Sineath changed their focus to what they call the 3 Ps:  People, the Planet, and Profit.  With this as their motto, they jumped on board the green movement.

TS Designs

That’s when the Cotton of the Carolinas line was born. This new line features cotton from local farmers, and it’s processed into shirts locally, too.   Eric passed around samples of the cotton at each stage of the process so the kids could feel and examine it.  There are more steps than I had imagined!

This is a really fascinating process, and TS Designs works with experts.  Want to know more? Watch this clip of their UNC TV Special here.

TS Designs

Now printing for a smaller customer base, TS Designs no longer needed to print hundreds of thousands of shirts at a time.  Instead, they needed to be able to keep a smaller amount of inventory on hand.  Since most screen printers print on the color of the shirt desired, this caused a problem, as TS Designs didn’t want to keep shirts in every color in storage.  Instead, they developed a new technology that would allow them to dye the shirts after being printed.  Even now, they’re the only printers they know of using this REHANCE technology.

TS Designs

Then we were on the move:  out onto the factory floor, where we learned about how the giant screen printing presses operate.  In full production mode, each one takes several people to operate and can print a shirt every six seconds.  Wow!

TS Designs

The kids were full of questions about the printing presses, the screens, and the large drying machines we saw on the floor.  Who knew screen printing required so much equipment?

TS Designs

After that social media queen Jen Busfield took over.  She taught us about the variety of ways that TS Designs employs to keep their company sustainably minded. TS Designs not only prints t-shirts that are completely local, but they use their property to benefit the community in many ways.  They’re a drop-off station for fuel recycling, and they have a garden manned by the staff, too.  Outside of the garden area is a bench that becomes the home for several bee hives come warm weather, and they’re tended by local beekeepers.  The honey they share with TS Designs is then enjoyed by the employees.  While the staff has enjoyed fresh eggs from chickens kept on the property in the past, a new local law made the hens relocate, but they have hopes of returning soon.  They even have solar panels on the roof and an outside patio area for staff!  It is obvious that TS Designs is working hard to be friendly not only to their customers and to their employees, but also to the planet as a whole.

I’ve never heard of a business diversifying in so many ways to be friendly to their environment.  TS Designs might have started making these changes to stay afloat many years ago, but it’s obvious that it’s become a heart decision since that time, and we learned many things from them.  Seeing a business care about its employees and environment in such concrete ways was refreshing. 

TS Designs

Of course, at the very end of our tour, we headed to the Breakroom Boutique, where TS Designs sells extras and overruns for $5 each.  We were able to find some great shirts – some designed by Mindful Supply, which are all super cute, and all featuring the REHANCE technology that makes even the printed area soft and pliable.  This company is definitely doing good, and we’ll be hitting up this shop again.

TS Designs

Where have you field-tripped to learn something new?

While TS Designs is definitely the way to go to print shirts for your youth group, business, or special event, you can learn more about small-batch printing at home!  Check out these resources:



Visiting With Simplicity

Visiting With Simplicity@ A Nest in the Rocks

Recently we heard that a new all-natural, independently owned spa shop had opened up – in an Airstream.

Since My Big Helper makes and sells her own products to help fund a trip with the Hands and Feet Mission Project in Haiti, this was definitely something we wanted to check out.

We opened the front door of the With Simplicity Airstream on a hot summer afternoon and were immediately transported to a beautiful spa-like space.  Irena Dovganetskiy has remade her space into something completely calming and relaxing – with lots of all-natural products to explore.

I picked up a beautiful diffuser necklace on site and purchased a sisal soap bag for my husband.  My Big Helper was enthralled by the aqua-colored nail polish, and my eyes kept going back to a wooden hairbrush – I’ll be snagging that on my next visit. 

The selection and variety was large – from bath bombs and sugar scrubs to a complete line of makeup and all the beauty accessories you could want – you’ll find everything you need to keep your skin pampered and healthy.

We love supporting independent business owners, and Irena was just as kind and encouraging to My Big Helper.  I can’t wait to go back.

If you’re not in the Harrisonburg, VA, area, and want to get some of Irena’s wonderful products for yourself, you can find With Simplicity here and here.

If you’d like to shop My Big Helper’s line of products and help send her to Haiti to work with orphans, you can find her product list here.

Do you shop at any independent markets?  Please share – I’d love to check them out.

Field Work Friday – Opening Day at Sheetz


My Big Helper wants to start her own business.


Actually, she wants to start a bunch of them, and she’s always coming to me with new ways to raise money for the mission trip she wants to take.  That means that whenever we have the opportunity to learn more about entrepreneurship, we’re all for it.



So besides being excited that Sheetz was opening just around the corner from us, I was really excited to learn that they were going to have a big grand opening celebration.  I’ve never been to one of those before, and neither have the kids – but what better way to learn about ways to draw customers to a new business?


My Little Man thought the Sheetz Hummer was pretty cool.


We even learned from the back of the employees’ shirts. Being a good employer is important.


My Big Helper made a list of things she saw that would be exciting to customers.  One thing she liked was the balloon release.  Because Sheetz never closes, they actually tied the door key to the balloons and sent it away.  Neat idea!


When the doors were opened, we found a table just inside the door with a lottery-type machine full of numbered ping-pong balls.  You had to be 16 to play, but since I am, I did – and the number I pulled out was attached to a gift card for free Sheetz stuff. Yay!  Free is great.  

By the time that we’d left, we had noticed lots of things that Sheetz was doing to make this grand opening a special event for their customers, and they do such a great job at it that we met people who had driven from other counties just to be present.  That’s dedication!  We definitely learned a bit about marketing and advertising that day, and we look forward to putting it to good use at My Big Helper’s store.

In the meantime, though, we’ll enjoy some free Sheetz merchandise.  

Have you ever been to a business’s grand opening?  What would you do to attract customers?

Field Work Friday – Touring Chick Fil-A

Yesterday was a very exciting field trip for us.  We went behind the scenes at Chick Fil-A!
If you’ve been to Chick Fil-A before, then I’m sure that you understand our excitement.  If you haven’t, then let me fill you in a bit.
Chick Fil-A is a restaurant owned and operated by a Christian man, and he does his best to incorporate his beliefs into his business practices.  His restaurants are closed on Sundays so that the employees can worship and rest, and the chicken always tastes great.  It even gets very high ratings from nutritionists when compared to other fast food restaurants.  Our kids love the nuggets, fruit, and milk combination, and we love knowing they’re eating a fairly healthy, quick meal!
Our tour began beside the counter.  Each person donned badges and hats to ID us as guests. 
First, we learned a bit of the company’s history, and it was fascinating.  For instance, did you know that Truett Cathy, the founder of the company, is the one who:
  • first invented the chicken sandwich?
  • was the first to put a restaurant inside a mall?  (What would we do without a food court?)
  • helped Colonel Sanders nail down his famous original recipe for the chicken? 


In the back we visited the walk-in freezer and learned about Chick Fil-A’s food policies.  All food is prepped fresh each day – from the veggies on your salad to the dessert cookies and the lemons for the lemonade.  Even the lemons are squeezed daily.  The ice dream, too – it’s churned fresh each morning.


This woman has an incredibly difficult job.  She’s breading the chicken with the special Chick Fil-A recipe – and since this location serves 2,000 people daily, she’ll spend hours at this task for the lunch rush alone.  We learned that breading chicken is a very physically demanding job as she must lean over the tubs of ingredients, flipping and pushing and breading for hours at a time.


After our tour ended, lunch began.  As the restaurant filled to booming during the lunch rush, these kids condensed themselves into one table.  One employee even complimented them on how neat and kind the kids were being as they sat crammed into one booth.
Which is another reason we love this place.  No matter where we went, we saw employees laughing, smiling, and joking with each other.  They were just as polite behind the counter as they were in front of it.  Their manners weren’t a front they put on for the customers – they were real.


There were too many of us – and too many other customers lovin’ Chick Fil-A – to get a complete group picture, but we did manage to get most of us in the landscaped area just outside the restaurant.
Our tour guide did a great job of sharing lots of information with us in a friendly and fun way.  This just added to our usual great time.
These behind-the-scenes tours seem to be a new feature at Chick Fil-A.  Stop in and ask about them – maybe you could learn their famous lemonade secrets, too!
Thanks, Brad, and everyone else at Chick Fil-A.  We enjoyed our tour, learned lots, and had a delicious lunch!

Field Work Friday – The Windmill Farm Bake Shop

I’ve been trying for several years to find a great bakery who could give us a tour, so I was super excited when a friend told me about Windmill Farm Bake Shop in South Boston, Virginia.  A family-run business, they not only bake cookies and breads, but they also sell soup, run a deli, and have their own catering business.  Today they have an order for over 600 ham biscuits!

This family knows their stuff.  We began our tour by walking to the kitchen past this table full of amazing cookies.


Even though it was late in the day, the sandwich orders just kept coming.  They typically make over over 400 sandwiches each day!


Next we headed to the doughnut area.  This is the proofer, where the dough rises …


and then they’re fried and iced here.


This industrial oven was next.  The kids loved how both doors opened when you touched one.


This gentleman was mixing up a huge batch of monster cookies.  Even the dough smelled amazing, and the finished product was a huge hit with the kids afterwards.


Josh showed us another, even bigger mixer next.  The kids all wanted to know more about the paddle, so he let them hold it and then showed how the mixer worked.


Josh showed us this freezer, totally loaded with pie crusts.  He said that several employees had made all of these crusts today – and that they wouldn’t last very long.


The Bake Shop’s items are baked fresh each morning, and the employees begin baking at 4:30 AM to be ready for their 7:30 AM opening.  To streamline the morning process, some products are prepared and refrigerated overnight, then baked when the employees arrive.  One beautiful girl was preparing this muffin batter while we visited her kitchen.  Even the raw product looks good!


We all thought that this machine was especially neat  It’s a bread slicer!  Josh showed us the guards and the many knives that slice the bread.  One girl wanted to know about that bar that runs horizontally about halfway up the length of the knives.  Josh’s thoughts were that perhaps the guard is adjustable for different sized loaves.  I can’t image a loaf of bread that big, though – can you?


This machine is a pie crust stamper.  Prepared pie crust is placed on a round disk  on the base, and then the press comes down and presses the dough into the pie pan, fluting the edges and everything.  That must be much simpler than the pressing and cutting and fixing I always have to do!


This cool machine is a yeast roll roller.  When a large amount of dough is put onto the disk shown in the picture above, the machine then stamps out rolls and rolls them into the perfect shape.  Amazing!


Josh generously gave each child his choice of a free cookie upon completion of the tour.  


Both of mine opted for monster cookies, and they loved sitting at a big table with their friends over cookies.  We came home with a fair assortment of the bakery’s products to sample and can’t wait to be back in their neck of the woods.

Should you ever travel through the southern Virginia area, be sure to stop in at Windmill Farm Bake Shop.  You won’t be sorry!

And, of course, now we’re going to learn how to make our own versions of some of these goodies.  Isn’t that the logical educational path after a field trip?  😉

Field Work Friday – Touring the Videri Chocolate Factory

 We recently had the opportunity to tour Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh, North Carolina.

We started out in the coffee shop area of the store.  Our tour guide explained about the meaning of the name Videri, ‘to see’ in Latin, which explains the open layout of the factory.  We also learned that Videri’s cacao beans come from four countries and are blended to create their own unique flavor.
Among her other responsibilities, our tour guide also sorts the beans by hand to remove any debris or bad beans that may have gotten mixed in the bag.  This serves not only to protect the machines but also to improve the flavor of the finished product.
Sam, founder and developer of the Videri recipe, was roasting the beans as we walked past.  This machine can roast several pounds at a time, which takes several hours.  Fortunately for us, this batch was ready while we watched, and so we saw the beans empty from the drum.  The kids were fascinated with this!
These are the only ingredients in Videri chocolate!
This is the winnowing machine.  It separates the nibs from the shells by vacuum.  The winnowing machine typically runs on Fridays.
The tempering machine helps the chocolate achieve the perfect texture and shine.  This gives Videri’s chocolate a great snap! when you break each bar.
These handy dishes inside the winnowing room let the tourists see what the beans look like during each piece of the chocolate process.


Videri also wraps the finished product by hand.

The sea salt is my favorite!  Pink peppercorn was very unique.  I’ve never tasted anything like it before!


 Didn’t they make our samples pretty?

I think this was our favorite part of the tour.

Videri Chocolate is open five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday.  The factory is open for tourists to wander through for self-guided tours, enjoy coffee in the new coffee shop, or spend some time on their patio outside.  If you’re in the Raleigh area, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Have you ever seen chocolate being made?

Field Work Friday – Rogers Cattle Company

Today we headed to Rogers Cattle Company to learn about raising animals for meat.  Coming from a dairy farm background, I didn’t expect this type of animal raising to be very different from what I’m familiar with, but it was.  

Sharon and Johnny Rogers are the operators and sole workers of this operation, and they went the extra mile to show us how their farm functions – they drove us in a haywagon!  It was a great way to tour the farm and visit with the animals.

The ewes were neat.  Knowing that it was their normal eating time, they came running to greet us.  A type of sheep that shed their hair naturally, they closely resembled the few goats sharing their pen.

We just happened to visit this one mid-shed.  I’ve never seen sheep that didn’t need to be sheared!

The rams seemed a bit antsy today.  Perhaps, with the cooler weather, they knew that mating season will soon be arriving?

These young bulls were content to hang out under a large tree and watch us watching them.  They seemed very calm and will not go out ‘dating’ for a while yet.

Of course, the heifers and the calves were my favorite.

Unfortunately, these are some of the animals that provide this farm with their livelihood – fresh beef.  Mr. Rogers shared that in order to sell fresh meat, they had to be inspected by the Department of Agriculture and that the meat had to be processed in a USDA-approved facility.

The turkeys were another story.  The first crop of turkeys for this farm, they arrived on site in mid-June and are growing quickly.  Mr. Rogers farms with a type of plastic-polymer fencing that he moves around the farm to give the animals fresh pastureland.  To keep the turkeys safe from predators, they remain inside their smaller enclosures except when there are people around.

They eat a type of crushed grain, which Mr. Rogers was happy to show us.  The children decided that this was much like the chickens some of them have at home!

Immediately after commenting that the turkeys didn’t resemble the ones we typically see displayed at Thanksgiving, this one decided to strut his stuff.  After puffing out those tail feathers, he took off across the pen.  I couldn’t get a shot from any other angle!

These birds will be kept until early November, at which time they’ll be available for purchase.

At the conclusion of the tour, the children enjoyed digging in this large pile of rocks.  Why buy toys – they need only sticks and stones to be happy!

Of course, seeing a few hundred farm animals makes their day, too.

For more information about Rogers Cattle Company or to order meat, visit their website.

Where do you purchase your meat?  Have you ever gone straight to the source?

Field Work Friday – Makin’ Soap with Red Mountain Goodness

I have always wanted to learn how to make soap.  Maybe it started when I read about a pioneer doing so in one of my historical fiction novels.  I remember that coming up several times.
While I’m not interested in pouring lard through ashes or anything, soapmaking has remained at the top of my list of things to learn about for a long time, so I was super excited when a friend shared that there was a great soap company operating in the next county over.  I was even more excited when founder and owner of Red Mountain Goodness, Todd Hinson, immediately replied to my request for a lesson with a ‘Yes!’
Todd began by sharing with us how his company began.  A research scientist by training, he was working in that field when he began to develop a type of soap to help with his wife’s wintery skin.  Friends and family loved the result, and Red Mountain Goodness was born.
 The best part of Todd’s backstory was the way that he encouraged our kids.  He shared with them difficulties of beginning your own home-based business, some of the details and issues that were involved, marketing strategies, and the like; all provided great information and insight to our future entrepreneurs.  He told us several times, however, that we should not be afraid to look for a solution to a problem or to do something in a non-traditional way – that those are sometimes the things that help people the most.  That those things can make a difference.  
As a scientist, Todd looks at soap differently than many.  While we might be happy to have a soap that feels good at the moment and smells great, Todd is looking for all natural ingredients.  He talked with the kids about ingredient labels on products and how the list is graduated – so that the first ingredient listed is used the most by quantity, etc., and then he compared each ingredient in order to his soap.  Did you know that one of the most common soap companies in our country puts the main chemical in antifreeze into their soap?  UGH!
Then Todd demonstrated making his soap.  While he made it look easy, he takes great care when measuring and mixing the ingredients to provide a high-quality product for the consumers. 

His soaps contain olive oil …

coconut oil …

goat’s milk and lye.  Regardless of what other soap labels say, for a product to be a true soap, it must contain lye as an ingredient, but the lye is used up chemically during the soapmaking process, making the end product totally safe for your skin.

Combing the lye with the frozen goat’s milk creates an exothermic reaction, one that releases heat, and so we watched this reaction melt the goat’s milk.  My kids were fascinated by that part!

Todd has incorporated many scientific tools into the process of soapmaking.  This ‘self-stirrer’ (I don’t know the scientific name) allows liquids to be stirred using magnet technology.  Since the soap needs to be stirred for 15 minutes after the lye has finished reacting, Todd uses this handy tool to do the work.  My Big Helper thought that was quite ingenious.

The next order of business is to combine the oil mixture with the lye mixture.  Todd uses a regular immersion blender for this, and the kids in the group all loved watching the two elements begin to change color and for soap particles to form.

Todd scents his soaps with essential oils, and our group voted to make lavender soap.  It takes 40 mg of essential oil to scent the soap.  Todd shared with the kids the best way to measure liquids in a graduated cylinder, and their eyes were all big at the sight of his scientific equipment.

As one girl inquired, the soap must be put into something while it cures and hardens.  Todd explained that you can use anything, but he uses these soap molds.  Each batch of soap will make 16 bars, and while making such small batches is quite time-consuming for a business of this size, Todd is determined to maintain the high quality of his products and refuses to make bigger batches.

When the soap is ready, Todd poured it into the mold.  He then lifted it carefully and tapped it against the table to release any bubbles that might be hiding inside.  This reminded me of the trip that candy bars take on bouncing conveyor belts to do the same thing!  

Next the bars will hang out in the fridge overnight, and then be cut the next day.  They’ll then cure for a month, be wrapped, and cure for another month before being sold.  This means that each bar has been in production for a total of two months!  

Todd was a great presenter for our group.  We learned about entrepreneurship, about creativity and scientific method, about the role of chemicals in our society, on marketing and goal-setting, and much more.  I appreciate that so many kind people are willing to share their dreams and their knowledge with your young ones.  We can’t replicate that kind of education!

I also couldn’t replicate Todd’s soap!  It feels great on my skin, has a delightful scent, and the best part is knowing that I’m not absorbing antifreeze or any other crazy chemicals in the process of getting clean.

So – are you willing to give all-natural soap a try?