Question & Answer Session with Amy Varga, Non-Profit Extraordinaire

–By Emily Anderson

I met Amy Varga a few years ago when I was enrolled in the second cohort of the Willamette Valley Development Officer’s fundraising cohort. Always cool, calm and collected, I felt it worthy to share a brief question & answer series so we can all learn a little more about her, her business, and her love of the non-profit sector.

Why did you start your consulting business?

I started my consulting practice for a number of reasons. In 2008 while I was working full time, I created a set of community workshops and classes in fundraising and board development at Portland Community College. Through teaching, I discovered the mission I cared most about was building the capacity of leaders, boards and organizations versus advancing the mission of one particular organization.  In addition to that, on a personal level, I saw starting my own business as a way to craft a career that I had control over, that allowed me to be creative, and provided me the sort of flexibility I wanted.

When did you start your consulting business?

I incorporated in 2015 but I’ve been consulting, training and coaching leaders and boards since 2008.  First, I took on side projects while I was working full-time. I took the leap into full self employment in 2013 and in 2015 finally got my ducks in a row to make it official with the state.

My business is actually in the middle of a re-branding and growth stage right now.  Varga Consulting is becoming The Varga Group to better reflect the fact that the business is more than just me.  I have a small and mighty team of associates and contractors who work on different client projects as needed. The new branding and website (with loads of new content and free resources) will be launching in August.

How did you feel starting a new business while also teaching in the 2nd W.V.D.O. fundraising cohort?

I’ve actually been involved from the ground floor of creating the W.V.D.O. certificate program. Portland State University hired me to work with W.V.D.O. to create the learning objectives, curriculum outline, marketing strategy, and instructor oversight on their behalf — in addition to developing and teaching my own sections.

I (was) involved before the first cohort launched, doing these elements and have taught in it from the very beginning.

The first certificate program launched in September 2013, seven weeks after I had my second child. It was a truly wild and exhausting experience putting the final touches on the program, having a day job, getting ready to teach my classes and having a newborn and a 2-year-old.

I can still vividly remember day 1 of the very first certificate program: I left my tiny 7-week-old newborn baby and 2-year-old with my husband, pumped so I could be gone for a few hours without breastfeeding, somehow squeezed into my professional clothes and taught this new class for the very first time. It was surreal and looking back, I don’t know how I pulled it off but I’m glad I did.

 Are you still or have you been an instructor each year for the fundraising cohort?

I do still teach a few class sessions in the W.V.D.O. certificate program each year, but I have stopped the rest of the teaching I [was] doing. I had been teaching in the Portland Community College program as well as teaching master’s-level graduate classes in Portland State’s Master’s of Public Administration program and [the] University of Portland’s M.B.A. program in addition to teaching in the W.V.D.O. certificate program.

As much as I truly love teaching, I’ve had to make hard choices and trade-offs about how I spend my time in order to manage a busy client load, a growing business and a busy home life.

What are the most promising or profound changes you’ve witnessed in your clients after helping them with fundraising support?

I love seeing board members really connect with why they care about the mission, learn how to share that passion with others, and become energized and engaged ambassadors.  I love helping board members and staff think about fundraising differently — helping them see it as connecting and listening to donors and not “pitching.” I also love being involved with capital campaigns — there’s nothing like supporting an organization in bringing their vision to life.

On your website, on the “Resources strategy services page” you list your services. Do you have one service you love to teach clients about more than any other? Or do you enjoy providing all services equally?

Every project and client is different, and I enjoy all of them in different ways. What I love most is getting to know and support the amazing staff and board members that make our communities stronger.

You’re Oregon-based, but do you have any plans to expand your services outside of the Portland region?

While most of my clients are in the Portland metro area, I have had (and currently have) clients throughout the state as well as in Washington, California, and Colorado.  We are available to support organizations and coach leaders nationwide.

How do you balance family life with running a business?

It’s hard! I’m part of dual-working-parent household and both my husband and I work in demanding and rewarding jobs. I’m a big believer in what Sheryl Sandberg said once that “the most important career decision is who you marry.”  I’m able to balance it all because my husband is a full partner in parenting and in tending to our household needs.  He’s made sacrifices at work to forego advancement opportunities so that he can be available to be a fully engaged parent and partner. I also have my parents nearby and their help is also a big game changer.

I’ve also gotten extremely ruthless about how I spend my time, and have had to learn how to say “no” to many, many things I’d love to do but just can’t right now. That’s been a hard lesson that I have to re-learn all the time.

On a very practical level, I get up at 5 [a.m.] and work in the quiet, uber productive early mornings until 6:45 a.m. when I turn into Mom and get my kids ready for their day.  Putting in that dedicated early morning time has been my productivity hack. [This has allowed me] to be able to go to the gym after I get my kids to school a few days a week and stop working in the afternoons to drive them to their after school activities and still fit it all in.

If you have any advice for non-profit employees who sometimes feel burned out (they love the mission, but are understaffed, for example), what would you tell them?

The foundation of being able to make a difference in the world is to first take care of yourself.  Just like they say on airplanes, you have to put your oxygen mask on first.  You’re of no use to anyone if you burn out and are perpetually exhausted.  I want people to stay in this work for the long haul and that requires a marathon pace, not a sprint pace.

Creating and committing to reflective practices is so central to doing this well — whether that is regularly engaging in meditation or prayer, journaling, taking walks, reading, creating art, or [finding] other ways to connect with yourself and make space to take a broader perspective.

The work we do in nonprofits isn’t just about changing other people’s lives, it’s also an invitation for us to grow and change ourselves. The challenges we face each day are invitations for us to grow our resilience, our patience, and our capacity for reflection. Through the daily challenges, we have so many opportunities to practice how we want to show up and decide what kind of person we want to be.

Why do you do what you do? 

What I most want more of in the world is more empathy. I believe empathy is the heart of fundraising. Learning how to be a great fundraiser and leader means learning to be more empathetic. I hope that the work I do, and how I do it, inspires those I work with to deepen their empathy for themselves and others.

*This was first published on my blog parmigianipapers.com.*

Mountain Mel’s Serves Up a Melodious Blend of Marvelous Loose Leaf Organic Herbal Tea

I published this article on Dec. 4, 2017

–By Emily Anderson

WELCHES, OR — Mountain Mel’s is a tea company that makes wonderful loose-leaf tea as well as a few other items like body balms and salve, bug repellent and lip balms. The tea names are wonderfully witty and the one tea I sampled tasted tea-rrific. It’s called UnFrazzle Your Dazzle.

Melissa Mutterspaugh is the owner who happily and fortuitously stumbled upon her herb-inspired creations which inadvertently led to her starting a business. She is an avid nature lover and believer in natural healing methods and before becoming an herbalist, she was a wilderness guide.

Guiding her decision was the fact that people would pay her to teach them stuff about plants while exploring nature. She thought she’d make her own herbal remedies and she sold them to people, made her own labels, and although she always told people to check with their doctors for medical advice, she knew she was on to something good.

Over the course of a few years, she studied herbalism at two schools – Elderberry School of Botanical Medicine and the School of Traditional Western Herbalism – both of which are in Portland.

“The beauty of herbalism is that it is a never-ending spiritual journey,” Mel said. “There is just so much to learn. Whether you’re a farmer or a formulator, there’s just always so much to learn about how much body and plants work together. “

Mutterspaugh opened up a shop over three years ago in Welches, Ore. She used to have an office space that also served as a retail shop, but this space now serves as the production facility where her products are made.

A chiropractic office across from her Welches shop carried her products when she first opened in early 2014. She has taught two classes at the National University of Naturopathic Medicine (located in Portland). Her connections from conferences she attends annually at N.U.N.M have led to people selling her products to their clients. Mountain Mel’s is now sold in a few acupuncture and naturopath shops throughout the Portland area as well as (soon-to-be sold) in the Vancouver Wellness Clinic. Vibrant Family Medicine and Midwifery in Gresham have sold Mountain Mel’s for three years.

This week, on December 7 from 6 to 9 p.m., she will be selling her tea-riffic business, in a manner of speaking, at Portland Athletic and Outdoor. She’ll be participating in their “Athletic and Outdoor Annual Industry Celebration” which is teaming up with the Oregon Angel Fund. The O.A.F. is hosting a competition for attendees to vote for businesses who give a three-minute-long pitch about their business called In the Running. This event takes place at Terrazign at 939 S.E. Alder St. So if you’ll be downtown Thursday evening, let her un-frazzle you while dazzling you with her infectious personality. If Mountain Mel’s is chosen by the audience as a winner, she’ll have a meeting in January with the Oregon Angel Fund for a shot to receive angel investment.

But if you don’t have a chance to meet her, you can purchase her goodies through her website (hello holiday shopping!) and there is free shipping on orders over $50. She’s also offering a 50 percent discount to people who purchase her products through then with the code INTHERUNNING. Mutterspaugh is also going to be insanely busy these next two weeks, selling her teas in person at various locations in the Portland metropolitan area but she’s always excited to sell her products face-to-face.

The names of her teas are teasingly terrific and they come in beautiful, tall, skinny cans.

What is more terrific is that Mutterspaugh hit the grocery jack-pot of sorts when she landed her products in New Seasons Markets, a natural grocery retail chain that is prominent in Oregon.

When the buyer at New Season’s Market first sampled her teas in 2015, she was pleasantly surprised by how naturally good it tasted while at the same time being good for the body.

Mel and her team are currently busy making plans to raise funds (starting with the In the Running event on Thursday) to help get her products in more stores. She and her team are gearing up for having their products sold in 495 stores across Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington throughout 2018. Her company also donates one percent of its annual sales to environmental non-profits vis-a-vis 1% for the Planet.

Mel is always sure to inform people to consult their doctors about whatever ailment they face and that her tea isn’t considered formal medicine, but she is delighted that her business circle of naturopath practitioners and acupuncturists truly value her simply wonderful teas.

What comes to mind for internal ailments is the Diges-Teas she sells. When asked what her favorite herb is, she had trouble narrowing it down but mentioned calendula and plantain. Her Diges-Teas contains these ingredients: peppermint, lemon balm, fennel, anise seed, plantain and chamomile.


“I absolutely love calendula” Mutterspaugh muttered to me when we chatted. “It’s amazing to help regenerate skin cells. I have an amazing painting of it in my shop. It’s anti-fungal and great for bee stings and bug bites. Plantain is a weed that grows everywhere. When in doubt, plantain is the way to go. Everyone tries to kill it. It draws out infection really well. It’s great to help with snake bites or spider bites. It draws splinters out of a carpenter’s hand easily. It’s so great for the gut and the skin.”


If your curiosity is piqued like mine was, I dug a little deeper to find out more about calendula. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, “the flower petals of the calendula plant (calendula officinalis), or pot marigold, have been used for medicinal purposes since at least the 12th century. Calendula is native to Mediterranean countries… Traditionally, calendula has been used to treat stomach upset and ulcers, as well as relieve menstrual cramps, but there is no scientific evidence that calendula works for these problems. Today, calendula is often used topically, meaning it is applied to the skin.


“Fresh or dried calendula petals are available in tinctures, liquid extracts, infusions, ointments and creams. Calendula products should always be protected from light and moisture and should not be used after three years of storage.”


Other than calendula and plantain, she likes another herb.


“As far as being a business owner and mother goes, my favorite herb to take for ingesting is ashwagandha root. It’s an adaptogenic herb. It allows your body to adopt stressors in life. It’s a gentle but effective herb. If you take it over a long period of time, you definitely know you’re able to handle more that life hands you.”


She has a tincture of it on her nightstand she takes every night.


According to the Chopra Center, “Ashwagandha, one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, has been used since ancient times for a wide variety of conditions, and is most well known for its restorative benefits. In Sanskrit Ashwagandha means “the smell of a horse,” indicating that the herb imparts the vigor and strength of a stallion, and has traditionally been prescribed to help people strengthen their immune system after an illness.”


The Chopra Center also says that using Ashwaganda can alleviate symptoms of stress, fatigue, lack of energy and difficulty concentrating.


Mutterspaugh has a tea called Where is My Mind? A Mental Tea for Clari-Tea and Focus and one of the ingredients is Ashwagandha. Her description is clever and intriguing: “Do you have trouble focusing? Can’t remember what you were supposed to do next, or where your keys are? Where Is My Mind???”


We’ve all misplaced our keys, so maybe the key to relieving mental stress would be to buy a tin or two of her teas. 






Pasta Gardner’s Jeff Gardner Builds Business With Lots of Hard Work, Fun and Creativity

-By Emily Anderson


With a dash of energy, a sprinkling of creativity, a dollop of hard work and lots of love, Jeff Gardner is a 34-year-old chef from Eugene, Ore. who is cooking up one awesome business. While growing his pasta business, aptly named Pasta Gardner, Jeff is reaping the rewards of his pasta garden empire-to-be that he has so earnestly worked hard to sew. Jeff is a friendly, lanky, smiling entrepreneur who is very proud to be doing what he’s doing.

Gardner has cooked in Napa Valley, Calif., Georgia, and Italy (where he attended a school called ItalCook) before coming back to live in Eugene. Gardner is a huge fan of Italy in general, and he loves cooking because it brings people together. He is a “certified sous chef,” which is a designation he opted to receive about three years ago from the American Culinary Federation – a membership-based organization that provides exams to chefs to prepare them for certification – to let people know  he can cook. Under one of his photos on his website reads the title “CHEF / PASTA-PRENEUR.” Perhaps his love of puns is why his business name works so well, or perhaps it’s his hard-working demeanor, but either way, a talented, hard working chef and businessman can and should deserve success.

In 2014 Jeff began selling his pasta which he makes from scratch using flour from a local mill and his own pasta maker. His seeds of hope began to sprout when his hobby-turned-passion came to fruition after spending several years perfecting his recipes before he found his perfect match in pasta heaven when he decided to use Camas Country Mill’s flour in his pasta noodles. But even then, it took him about a year of testing different Camas Country Mill’s flours to find the “right texture and bite,” as Gardner puts it.

Once this “aha!” moment came, he knew he was on to something. He realized he could bring his pastas to local farmer’s markets to see what other people thought. His dreams sprouted further in 2015 once he cooked for guests touring homes in the Tour of Homes tour (put on by the Home Builders Association of Lane County). As his web of culinary acquaintances grew, he received more offers to help cook at restaurants and events. He started selling his pasta at Eugene’s Saturday Market. A representative of Sundance Natural Foods tried Gardner’s pasta at Long’s Meat Market in Eugene, which is the first place Gardner sold his pasta. Then someone from The Kiva Grocery in Eugene tasted his stuff and as time went on, Gardner’s pasta business flourished. His pasta is also for sale at the Whole Foods Eugene location, as well as Sundance Natural Foods in Eugene. It’s like the movie Field of Dreams – If you Build It, He Will Come! But replace he with they, as in customers, and they have come. And as of this past spring, Gardner’s pasta is now sold in all Market of Choice grocery stores.


Gardner sells his fresh pasta at variety of farmers markets in Eugene and, more recently, the Portland region. Jeff connected with people at the Food Innovation Center in Portland. (The Food Innovation Center is part of the College of Agricultural Sciences of Oregon State University. This center helps people test and bring their products to market.) And as Jeff’s circle of friends grew into the Portland region, so did his ability to expand his sales reach. Customers can  purchase 10 types of pastas from his online store: https://www.pastagardner.com/store. A few restaurants also use his pastas in their establishments: MembrilloNoisette, and Party Downtown in Eugene and Homegrown Public House in Florence, Ore. He does not sell all 10 pastas at his farmer’s market tables nor in the stores that stock them. He sells only a few flavors. His favorite shape is the radiatore, and the first pasta he ever sold and pushed the most was the organic red wheat radiatore. “Radiatore” is the Italian word for radiator, and this fun pasta shape is named because it resembles small radiators.


Being busy and having fun is what attracts Jeff to cooking. He loves eating good food while socializing. He loves that foods connects people.

Gardner is often invited to help friends cook at private dinner parties. Most recently, he cooked at a dinner party on Saturday, Oct. 21 at Gran Moraine Winery in Yamhill, Ore. He has cooked at this winery over the years, on an as-needed basis.

Photo by Emily Anderson

Gardner likes to experiment with creative flavor profiles. He sells cricket-flavored pasta as well as cocoa-flavored pasta (sans crickets). He was recently featured on a local Eugene-area news channel’s segment called “In The Kitchen” in which he showed the host how to make a noodle kugel. (A kugel is a Jewish word used to describe a baked casserole that has pudding-like consistency.) In this segment, Gardner makes his own variation of a kugel with Pasta Gardner
cocoa pasta. The recipe can be found on the news site:

http://nbc16.com/features/in-the-kitchen/in-the-kitchen-pasta-gardners-cocoa-noodle-sweet-kugel.

His business associate is also a chef. Chef Clive Wanstall teaches culinary arts at Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore and has since 1998. He’s just as friendly as Gardner, and the two make a great dream team. This is evident in the videos Gardner has shared on his Instagram and Facebook feed when the two of them demonstrate their pasta at Market of Choice grocery stores. Pasta Gardner makes its own bags and the logo is simple, yet well-designed.

Gardner is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, which was an academic cooking journey he embarked upon after receiving a scholarship. He attended Lane Community College when this opportunity arose and  Chef Wanstall gave Gardner friendly advice that he ought to take the opportunity in New York. Chef Wanstall is a long-time friend and mentor.

Gardner’s been a vendor at the Portland Saturday Market, which is held in downtown Portland every Saturday most of the year (March through December 24). Jeff used to participate in pop-up food events, but they require a lot of prep work, so in the near future, he probably won’t do any. Gardner’s been gearing up to teach a Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management class at Lane Community College for the upcoming winter term.


Pasta Gardner officially became a business in early 2014, and it’s been a busy, fun journey for Jeff these past few years. He’s excited for his next adventure teaching others how to cook, and is definitely excited to be doing something where he’s not the boss. Following a curriculum is different for him – he’s used to whipping up dishes that delight his fancy at a moment’s notice, but one thing is for sure: If he builds it, students will come. And his future students will undoubtedly become fans, and they will become customers and friends. And as his and his gregarious nature continue to take hold in peoples’ hearts, and as his amazing pasta continues to tease more taste buds, his pasta garden empire-to-be will be … his empire.