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American Rabbit Breeders Association CEO is a Clarion Co. native
Rabbit museum coming to area

KNOX — Business is hopping in the Clarion County community of Knox, after an announcement by the American Rabbit Breeders Association that it will locate its Headquarters and International Museum at the site of the Countryside Craft building.

Countryside owner Jolene Tharan closed on the sale last week with ARBA. Tharan first opened the store in 1987 after her husband Ted moved the building from Wentling’s Corners. The store was closed in 2019.

“Knox is going to be the headquarters for the American Rabbit Breeders Association,” said CEO Eric Stewart in an interview. “We were established in 1910. At one time, our headquarters has been in Chicago, Ill., spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh, down on McMurray Avenue, and most recently, we were in Bloomington, Ill., for 37 years.

“One of the things that brought us here was because I am the executive director, and I’m a Clarion County native. Also, the cost of operations in Bloomington was easing us out. The overhead was crazy,” Stewart said. “I don’t know why more businesses don’t move to this area. It really should be a no-brainer because of the cost of living and people’s work ethic. That’s something that Pennsylvanians should be proud. A lot of people don’t realize you go to other parts of the country and you talk about Pennsylvania and that the work ethic is amazing.”

Another reason for moving to Knox is that it is a central location for its members. The group’s greatest density of membership is in the Great Lakes region. The headquarters is now only five hours from the majority of ARBA members. ARBA also has members from all over the world and members from every continent except for Antarctica.

Stewart said the new location should be up and running within the next month.

The ARBA and RabbitsThere are 50 breeds of rabbits recognized by ARBA’s approximately 21,000 members, according to Stewart.

“We support every aspect of the rabbit industry, so we have some people who raise rabbits as pets, some who grew them for show, some people raise them for meat,” he said. “I raise them for wool. So they get shorn just like a sheep, and when you think of when you see a tag for a sweater or a knitted garment that says Angora, that comes from a rabbit.

Stewart said there are entire farms for rabbits, just like poultry or cattle farms.

“That’s another thing our association does, we’re the stakeholder for rabbits in the U.S. with the USDA,” he said. “Anything that impacts the rabbit industry, whether it’s from the companion side or it’s from the agricultural livestock side, we represent all of those interests.”

He noted that there are also six endangered species of rabbits in North America.

“Through the wild populations, it could wipe out some species,” Stewart said. “That’s why we have so much coverage of that on our website (https://arba.net) and we’re giving it a lot of press.”

Stewart said his rabbit farm is located in Clarion County, where he shears the animals for the Angora.

“That’s our business, but there are some farms that they sell meat rabbits,” he said. “Much of that goes for pet food, and some of the best dog food is made out of rabbits, the same reason that it’s good for humans to eat. It’s highly digestible. It is all low in fat, high in protein, and ideal for people with digestive disorders or heart conditions. It’s one of the best meets lower in fat and higher digestible protein than any poultry.”

Moving To Knox

“It was two years ago that we relocated our headquarters operations from Bloomington, Ill., to Clarion with intentions of building an office in Knox, and it just was providence that Countryside became available,” Stewart said, pointing to the perfect layout and historic nature of the building.

“It’s just going to be very conducive for our museum and library,” he said. “We’re in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ for having the most extensive collection of rabbit-related literature periodicals and artifacts in the world. We even have some of the histories of raising rabbits going back to items that were pulled from Roman archaeological digs.”

Stewart said the new location will give the organization room to expand its library and museum.

“We had to have some of the museum artifacts just stayed box up,” he said. “We didn’t have room to put them all out. This building is set up to display everything that we have, and still have the office space in the back to run our operations.”

Stewart explained that the library will be open to the public for research, including information on rabbit breeds that date back more than 100 years.

“We’re one of the only locations you can go to look up some of this history.”

As the group moves forward, Stewart said the new site gives them room to expand, including the addition of a warehouse loading dock. With that, he said, the goal is to preserve the history of the building.

“That was one of the appeals to that building — its age and craftsmanship and the fact that it’s a piece of local history,” he said. “We want to make sure that we retain that history for the community, and it’s a win-win for both the community and the ARBA because the building meets our needs.”

“We plan on also making the building available for rabbit schools,” Stewart said. “When people go to these shows, they will travel 10 to 12 hours. You’ve got to line up judges, and if it’s a big competition, people will fly in when the Pennsylvania State Convention is held. That’s one of the enormous rabbit shows. We host every February, and we would anticipate travelers coming into that show would also be stopping in at the office to see our library.”

Stewart added that there are ABRA-sanctioned rabbit shows every weekend of the year at some location in the world.

Museum Visitors

Stewart said that while it is difficult to predict how many visitors the new ARBA museum and library will attract, he said he feels the new site will get more than previously because of its location off Interstate 80.

“I would say that it would be easy to guesstimate that we’d have at least a thousand visitors a year, but it’s going to depend on where our national convention moves around the country each year,” he said. “Even with the local shows, I’m sure that we will be getting street traffic visitors because it’s so close to the interstate. Every weekend that there are shows in the area, people will be driving through, and they’re like, ‘well, we don’t want to pay the shipping to purchase this merchandise. We’re going to stop at the office or because the kids have a project and want to do some research on the Silver Fox breed.’

“Even with the rabbit schools, venues are expensive to rent,” he added. “However, we can offer our location, and we can open the office on a Saturday and host our schools there. Training and teaching are something else that our members can enjoy.”

Stewart’s interest in rabbits flourished as a student at A-C Valley and with the local 4-H program.

“I’ve always raised rabbits, and I got involved through 4-H as a student at A-C Valley, and I want to thank Patti Anderson, who was a brand new extension agent,” he said. “4-H is a fantastic program, and it opened doors for me that I would have never dreamed. I had previous careers before I took this job with the ARBA, but I’ve been a 4-H member most of my life.”

He said that growing up, he was the only kid from Clarion County who was active with rabbits, and that Anderson would make special trips just to get him to competition events.

“I was in the Freedom Seekers 4-H group, 4-H club, and at the fair with the rabbits,” he said. “The leadership projects and 4-H pushed me to go on to college and pursue a degree in animal science. I learned lots through the leadership projects, parliamentary procedure, marketing, and Robert’s Rules of Order.

“It got me involved with nonprofit organizations and serving on the board of directors; all of that is what led me to my current job with the American Rabbit Breeders Association.”

9-year-old goes viral for mealworm farm

REYNOLDSVILLE — A 9-year-old boy decided he was going to start selling some extra mealworms from his farm, and has gone viral thanks to a local business, gathering more than 40,000 views on a Facebook post about his worm business.

Cayden Hynds started farming mealworms for his pet Leopard Gecko in September. When his farm started producing more worms than he could feed the lizard, he decided to sell some of them.

Wanting to help get the word out, Dave Wruble, owner of the Sub Hub in Reynoldsville, made a post about “Cayden’s Mealies” on his business’ Facebook page. Within three days, the post became the most viewed post on his page, gathering more than 40,000 views.

“Dave at the Sub Hub, he knows about the farm because we told him, and then I went to my mom’s house, and he posted a Facebook post and it was two days later I come back from my mom’s house and there was 36,000 views on it, and I beat his record for the Sub Hub page,” Cayden said about finding out his page had gone viral. “It’s crazy, I did not think it would be even close to that.”

Cayden’s father Chad Hynds was helping him run Cayden’s Mealies Facebook page and said he was getting messages constantly from people interested in buying mealworms. There were messages coming from people in New York, Maryland and Philadelphia asking if they could get mealworms shipped to them.

“We were going to do 25 and 50, but then my phone blew up, ‘I’ll take 100, I’ll take 300.’ I was like whoa people slow down, we didn’t expect this at all,” Hynds said.

They are only selling to those local, not wanting to get into shipping live insects just yet. They sell worms on Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Those interested can message the Facebook page to make sure he has worms ready.

Hynds said he was looking for ways to keep his children entertained earlier this year when he thought of farming their own mealworms for his son’s gecko. He told Cayden instead of buying them from Petco every week, they could just grow their own. He never expected it to become what it has in the last week.

“With this whole COVID thing happening I was trying to figure out how to keep them interested in doing something to keep their minds straight. So I told him, ‘you keep buying meals worms every week for your gecko, why don’t you make a farm out of them?’” Hynds said.

Hynds did manage to get Cayden interested in the process, and he learned a lot about mealworms and their life cycle.

Cayden’s farm is currently set up in a corner of the family’s living room, in a small set of plastic office drawers next to his lizard’s tank. Since he decided to start selling them, and has gotten such a strong response from the community, he is expanding his set up.

Cayden and his dad explained they have ordered a three-foot tall drawer that has two sets 10 of drawers on the left and right that will allow him to hold many more worms. This will be set up in one of the rooms in the basement. He has also ordered 3,600 more worms.

He explained the drawers of the shelf get rotated based on what stage of the worms are in each drawer. At the very bottom is the drawer that holds the eggs. Just above them are the drawers that hold the full grown beetles. There is a screen at the bottom of the beatle drawer that the eggs drop through. Once the eggs start to hatch and become larva, the drawer gets moved up on the shelf. From the larva, they grow into the mealworms. The worms that are left to grow will eventually pupate and become beetles.

“A female can lay up to three eggs a day. So, if you have 1,000 females, they lay three eggs a day, that’s 3,000 mealworms a day, and the trays get pulled every two weeks,” Hynds said.

Since doing research about this, Hynds has also learned that they can sell the mealworm feces, or “frass,” which can be used as fertilizer.

“For the mealworms, you can sell them, you can sell the frass, which is their poop, it’s high in nutrients, you can also sell their skins when they shed,” Cayden said.

For Christmas, Cayden got a pair of sifters that he can put the filler from his drawers through that will only allow the mealworm frass to fit through the second layer. He hasn’t sold any frass yet, but has started making his first bags of it.

Cayden also separates his worms by size, checking them every other day to pull the largest ones out and put them in their own drawer. This is because he packages the smaller ones for lizards, and the larger ones are sold for chickens. The Hynds also have their own chickens, so any dead worms and beetles get fed to them, minimizing any waste.

Hynds also said there was minimal upkeep cost once the beetles start producing eggs and the system is set up. Cayden only has to put pieces of carrot into the drawers every few days to feed the insects. The wheat bran that is used as bedding in the drawers is the other upkeep cost.

Cayden also wants to take some of the money he makes from his mealworms and donate it to charity. He says he will have two envelopes, and some of the money will go into an envelope for him and any upkeep costs, and the rest will go into a donation envelope.

Something Cayden is excited to have money for is antique coins. He collects coins, and is always eager to go to an antique shop to look for new ones. There are already a lot of people who have reached out about buying worms from Cayden rather than a large store.

“It’s always a freshly picked package,” Hynds said.

Annual mug show draws dozens of entries

CLARION — Held yearly each December, the Clarion County Arts Council’s (CCAC) Mug Show has inadvertently become something of a holiday tradition, with the show beginning its 22nd consecutive annual run earlier this month at Michelle’s Café.

Gary Greenberg has helped organize the show since its inception and admits originally scheduling over the holidays was largely unintentional. “I don’t recall if it was anything specific,” said Greenberg, who teaches ceramics at Clarion University.

“Within a year after the arts council started, at the first meeting, a mug show was suggested. Thinking back, I don’t recall if there was a specific plan to do it before Christmas. The idea was just to get a series of (art) shows going during the year and this was the slot we fell into.”

The show has come a long way in the past 22 years. Most notable, the show now not only accepts mugs, but also other three-dimensional media, such as decanters, glasses and tea sets.

“Over the years it kind of evolved. It started as mugs because they had a handle so we could hang them from a fishing line on the picture rails around the back (of Michelle’s),” Greenberg said. “Then I started building shelving that could clip over the picture rails (to hold other items).”

Entries in the show are grouped into one of two categories, functional or non-functional. The majority tend to be functional, though because of their decorative nature and creativity, the line between the two categories can be blurred.

“There’s a long history of ceramics being utilitarian, objects used for drinking, for use around the home. That pretty much covers the functional category,” he said.

“Non-functional is more of an open-ended thing, a little bit of a twist. In the past we’ve had mugs that were crocheted, mugs made out of wood, scrap metal, paper, things like that. It broadens the possibilities, it’s based on the idea of what a mug is.”

Like almost every event in 2020, the pandemic forced alterations in the show’s typical format. The opening reception scheduled for December 5 was canceled and judging was delayed. Judging was done a week later by Syracuse University adjunct ceramics professor Chelsey Albert via Zoom.

CCAC Vice-President Taylor Banner said, “This is one of our better attended shows of the year, more so than the opening reception for the Autumn Leaf show. Our normal, traditional opening did not happen this year. In lieu of that, we did a virtual tour of the show that was posted on Michelle’s Facebook page. We’ll also have photographs of the show and announcement of winner’s through photographs on our Facebook page and Michelle’s.”

Though entries come from the around the region, many are the product of work done by students Greenberg teaches. Surprisingly, entries, though down, have not dropped off significantly this year despite students not being in Clarion and having access to a ceramics studio (as a result of the Clarion University’s pivot to remote education).

“It’s (number of entries) probably just a little lower than average. We’re at around 40 entries individually. You can enter up to three pieces that count as a single entry, so a lot of people put in three objects,” Greenberg said.

“This is one of the ways we get the school and students out in the community. Students were working in their garages and basements. I had one person set up a (pottery) wheel in her bathroom.”

Sales from the show make it one of CCAC’s largest fundraisers. According to Banner, any item entered in the show can be sold. Additionally, there is also a sales rack of one-of-kind, hand-made mugs for purchase.

“A lot of people purchase mugs annually from the show. I purchase a mug every year. The coffee mugs I use on a daily basis are all previous entries. I know there’s quite a few people that do that as well,” Banner said.

The show can be viewed in-person from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Saturday, Jan. 2, at Michelle’s Café (any changes will be announced on Michelle’s Café’s Facebook page). Purchases can be made during that time. “If it’s on the sales rack you can come in and purchase it and take it. If they purchase a mug in the juried show we put a sold sticker on it and they can pick it up once the show comes down, but that’s not absolutely necessary,” Banner said.

Banner believes the show is more important this year to local artisans and crafters in terms of exposure than previously, saying, “It’s important, especially in times like these, that we support the local arts and our local craft people and our university’s arts program.”