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Growing a business plan: Young children learn profit, supply and demand by starting their own company

Mammoth sunflowers and French marigolds are helping teach two small children lessons in agriculture, marketing and banking. Nicholas, 7, and his sister Sophia, 5, began a project with the help of their parents, Rosica and Nelson Stephenson.

Now they have their own little seed company, 6.8 Farms, and are shipping seeds out to buyers.

While sitting around their kitchen table last fall, Rosica said Nicholas was asking about her job — she is a graphic designer and specializes in custom printing projects for small boutique businesses and specialty shops. Her husband Nelson is a social studies teacher at Danville High School.

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Nicholas Stephenson, 7, and his sister, Sophia, 5, get ready to plant something in the garden.

Rosica tried to explain to her son the concept of making a product to sell for profit and the importance of creating a marketing plan, in simple terms he could understand.

At about the same time, the Stephensons were drying mammoth sunflower seeds from flowers they had just harvested, their first crop ever. Soon, the family had an idea to help their children understand supply and demand, and how to save money — by using sunflower seeds.

Over the fall and winter, Rosica and Nelson helped their children decide where to plant the sunflowers. Rosica came up with the graphic design for their seed packets and set up a little shop on the Etsy website.

Nelson said they have a large garden in the back where more sunflowers were grown, along with French marigolds and melons. The children wanted to plant the enormous sunflowers next to the old rock wall in front of their home on Shakertown Road.

“Plus, it makes the road look better,” Nelson said. Some neighbors seem to have enjoyed watching the flowers grow as they pass by everyday, he said.

This spring, Nicholas and Sophia helped dig the holes, plant the seeds and used a golf cart to haul water in large plastic totes from the house, down the long driveway and bailed it onto the sprouting flower stalks.

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Rosica Stephenson, of Danville, designed the seed packets as part of a business lesson she and her husband, Nelson, are trying to teach their young children.

“They are learning about how to do work, learning about packaging design … math, and what it costs and expenses” to run a small business, Rosica said. “Every year they’ll learn a little bit more.”

Even if Nicholas doesn’t grow up to be a businessman, he will have learned how to save and manage his money, she said.

They are learning how to invest money into the seed business by purchasing their supplies and how much it takes to make a profit.

When given the option of buying a toy or opening up a bank account from the money Nicholas made on his first sale, he chose the account instead of the toy, Rosica said proudly.

When they get an order, Rosica counts out about 25 seeds. Then Nicholas and Sophia gather little piles of about the same size and carefully slips them into their special envelopes their mom designed and they are shipped off to the buyer. This is showing the children what placing an order means, Rosica said.

When the flowers were still young and tender, sometimes their stems would break, Nelson said, so they were replaced with stronger flowers that were growing in the back garden.

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Sophia and Nicholas Stephenson look up at the mammoth sunflowers as they begin to bloom in August.

The Stephensons moved to Danville from Cape Coral, Florida about two years ago.

“It’s a great experience for our family,” Rosica said. “It’s energized us a lot.”

She said they love the “country feel” of Danville and they’ve changed their lifestyle since living in a small town. They named their property 6.8 Farms because that’s how many acres they have, Rosica said.

In addition to the large garden, grapes and bees, they have two pygmy goats and four chickens. Sometimes the children take the goats for a walk, and sometimes the goats walk the kids, Nelson said and laughed.

The animals love the sunflower seeds too, Rosica said — all the birds, bees, chickens and goats.

“We share. We have very happy chickens,” Rosica said. “It works well.”

He said they like living closer to nature. “We’re learning a lot,” Nelson said.