Corn Belt Energy Corporation member Alice Long and close friend Amy Manahan were celebrating Long’s birthday when inspiration struck. Manahan had signed them up for a do-it-yourself candle-making experience — afterward, the women only made it across the street before their collective wheels began to turn.
“We started talking about how fun of an activity it was and how unique it was and how we could bring it back to central Illinois,” says Manahan. Literally within the hour they had a name — Farm to Wick.
Their story didn’t begin there, however. They were co-workers first, oftentimes joking about business ventures, like opening a taco or a cupcake truck. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and both found themselves working from home. That fateful birthday excursion took place the following year when restrictions began to lift.
As their conversation that day continued, Long and Manahan realized that reinventing what they had just enjoyed might be a welcome experience for others coming out of the isolation caused by the pandemic. “We got to thinking that people need an activity to reconnect. That was the premise … to have something [where] people could reconnect with their tribe, with their people,” says Manahan.
Upon returning home, Long got the ball rolling. “I thought it was going to take a good year or more to get this going,” says Manahan. “[But] Alice is a project manager by trade. She wrote a date and all the things that needed to be done.” While Long set Sept. 1 that same year as the target date for the business to open, Manahan jokes that she had yet to even tell her husband.
They chose to use soy wax to support farmers and the local ag industry. Long and Manahan also decided to incorporate a retail side. They say the two facets of the business — DIY and retail — balance each other out as events ebb and flow. Retail candles are made fresh to order unless inventory is needed for fairs or festivals.
The two decided against a storefront. “We want to go to the people; we want to connect with them. … We thought mobile was the way to go,” says Manahan. At first, that meant hauling a trailer. Today, they drive a box truck affectionately nicknamed Marge.
“Once we started getting a following, we were thinking of ways we could get people to come back. So, we have a refill program, and it’s taken off,” says Manahan. The two laugh at the number of phases the business has gone through. “I think we’re on phase, like, 85.”
Manahan says Long is famous for saying, “We might as well make hay while the sun shines.” That drive has resulted in a variety of products and unique experiences — unity candles, shower and wedding candle “bars,” pop-ups, fundraising and corporate events — including one for Corn Belt Energy employees last year. “We’ve been able to build on our ideas,” she says.
The owners find it’s not all about the candles anymore. “People feel comfortable around us. We really try to interact,” says Manahan. “There have been times when people have shared heavy things with us. They’re going through cancer, or they’re going through a divorce. It’s a relationship that we build. … You feel like you’re creating an avenue for that connection.”
Farm to Wick
Find forms to attend or host an event at farmtowick.com.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 309-275-9739 or 309-532-0625.