Women’s History Month Community Educator Spotlight | laura checkow

In honor of Women’s History Month we are pleased to spotlight laura checkow

About laura

laura checkow works as Vodka Sales and Distribution salesperson for Saratoga Courage Distillery a women-owned distillery in Saratoga Springs, NY. Laura typically sells for the company every Saturday at the Rochester Public Market. laura is teaching for the first time ever the course Drinkers and Dreamer’s:  History of Women in Alcohol Production. 

When did you begin business and/or teaching?
lc: I’ve always been interested in building community relationships. Before I moved to Rochester I was a volunteer at a local low-power radio station where I met a woman who created a show called “Radio2Women” where she poses the question, “what have you done to support women, today?” http://www.radio2women.com/I bonded with this passionate and brilliant woman (ironically named “Serene”)  very quickly. Years later, after moving to Rochester and teaching at RIT for 4 years,  I was thrilled that my friend’s family had launched a distillery. Believing in her and the integrity behind everything that she takes on, I suggested that I bring her vodka to the Public Market. Because, Rochester is both a drinking town and a place where women’s history is deeply rooted.

What makes you want to teach/do your business?
lc: I love the idea of family-owned businesses as they seem to be a way of life from another time. And of course, a women-owned distillery is so rare it is absurd, but we are part of changing that, too! Serene, her sister in law Holly, and their cousin Kelly are the business owners. Sometimes they have the men folk in their family pitch in or help out, too. I enjoy being part of something that has a fun, and lighthearted connotation in an ever increasingly tense and serious world. I associate our “sipping vodka” with being a sort of celebratory consumable while also being a “feel good” option -Gluten-free, GMO-free, very high quality product with very low sugar content (Devils Den products are flavored with dried essence of fruits) and NYState local. For indulgences one can keep their heads held high!

For you how does what you do as a brand or business related to wellness?
lc: Since I am really smitten with the Rochester Public Market, as well as the other seasonal city markets including West Side (Tuesdays 4-7pm ) & South Wedge (4-7pm Thursdays) where I also set up sales, I make every effort to leverage the bounty of the season with our products. In summer I suggest pouring some of our #PickSixHandmadeVodka over slices of fresh peaches from Bolton Farm, or adding fresh basil from Saturdays’s “Sue’s Spices” stand to our #DevilsDenStrawberryMoonshine. Winter it can be mixing our #DevilsDenApplePieMoonshine with Kirby’s Farm Market and Cider Mill‘s own apple cider. There’s so much bounty to use and infuse; we regularly mix our Vodka with our neighbors’ products at Cosimano e Ferrari Olive Oil Company (you’d be amazed at how amazing #PickSixVodka and cucumber balsamic tastes together!

How do you stay healthy?
lc: I definitely take to heart the fact that I’m selling alcohol. It isn’t uncommon for me to lecture a younger customer on drinking responsibly (although I add some fun insights so they leave more savvy as well!) and I do think a lot about where I’m placing myself and the business that will offer a positive impact. On the personal side I am always admitting that I drink often – just not a lot! It is only occasionally that I have a second drink when I’m not somewhere that’s the equivalent of home for me, even if I do go out 3, 4, or 5 nights a week.

What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of your work?
lc: The challenges are in having access to people. When folks taste Saratoga Courage products, they tend to appreciate them “at first sip”. And still, I had underestimated the work it takes to get on the shelf in shops, where there are dozens of brands lined-up and it is much more common for people to go with their loyalty purchases, or the larger name brands they’ve heard of because that feels like a safer investment. It is yet another reason why I so appreciate the opportunities that our city Farmer’s Markets offer small businesses and customers. We get to offer people tastes so they can know what we are selling. There’s nothing better than your own experience!

When you aren’t teaching classes what do you like to do?
lc: Oh, EVERYTHING! As long as it isn’t scary. I’m not a thrill seeker, but I am one who gets drunk on  experiences!

What is it that inspires you to keep going as entrepreneur?
lc: I love the idea of independence. Time is the most valuable asset we have as humans and being in the driver’s seat of deciding where I am spending my time and who I am spending it with is a blessing. I’m not afraid of hard work, physical work, emotional work; until 2017 I’ve always worked for other organizations, non-profits, and people. And yet it is fascinating to have flexibility to make the decisions of how my time is best invested instead of being obligated to fill a timetable template.  

What are you working on now?
lc: At the moment I am working on my lecture on the intersection of women’s rights, temperance, and women in the alcohol industry. It is fascinating to me how so many areas that matter to me have intersections and connections.

What’s has been your best experience thus far in your business?
lc: This adventure as a Vodka Peddler (Instagram) has really opened doors for me to learn so much more about Rochester’s nooks and crannies and to meet a vast array of wonderful people who work in their own unique lane.

What has been your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?
lc: Honestly, loneliness. It is important to create the grounding of a community life because without the framework and context of a typical workplace, it is easy to feel unattached and out on a limb. Once again, I’d say that working within the markets has been a great counter to that and has provided a portal to a deeper connectedness.

Why should the community take this class?
 lc: Consider this a “tasting +”. It is an informal class woven into a number of fun and delicious samples of #SaratogaCourageDistillery products, and along the way you might learn some history, you might hear about some remarkable women, you might gain a new perspective on the struggle our society is currently having surrounding legalizing marijuana, or you might just have a few new drink ideas to make at home. Cheers to any and all of that!

Is there anything else you’d like the readers to know? Just thank you in advance for supporting local businesses; especially minority owned and women-owned.  

Please list any contact info you’d like to include (blog, twitter, email, FB, etc):

Published by Calvin Eaton

(he/his/him) Calvin Eaton is a disabled community educator, content creator, and social entrepreneur, whose area of expertise includes antiracism, equity, justice, instructional design, and program development. In 2016 Mr. Eaton founded 540WMain, Inc. a non-profit online and community-based organization for accessible education and events that promote justice for all.

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