Rhonda Smith is an Air Force Veteran, a human services professional serving children and families, and the passionate force behind The Skirted Soldier, based near Altoona, PA. Following 10 years as an Air Force surgery tech and in nursing billets at Landstuhl, Rhonda and her husband Dan Kennedy, also an Air Force Veteran, returned to the States and settled here in PA.
Their three acre farmette is small in size, but bursting at the seams with agrarian goodness—home to two alpacas, a lamb with a bad attitude, ducks, Rhode Island Reds, a dog, and a hamster. With their 12 year old daughter Emma, Rhonda and Dan—who both have full time, off-farm jobs -- have carved out their secret garden that includes blueberries, a small vineyard and vegetable garden, and a very productive compost heap.
The Smiths’ philosophy is "Do the most we can but take care of what we have."
Rhonda enjoys her work with a local human services agency, but post-military service found herself wanting to give back to the military community and decided forming a business entity was her next mission. She formed her Skirted Soldier business framework but said she “didn’t have a widget”, so she used a logic model to work backwards to make her concept gel.
Ironically, Rhonda self-identifies as a coffee drinker, but she and her daughter enjoyed frequenting a local tea shop that eventually closed. And so, a business model was born.
Currently the Skirted Soldier produces hand-blended loose teas sourced from a certified organic farm in Vermont and Frontier Co-op in the Midwest. She blends these with chamomile and lavender grown locally and finds herself in need of more local suppliers for these botanicals. From a process perspective, Rhonda keeps it basic to lower costs and simplify things—she does the packaging herself following guidelines for retail, and since she doesn’t serve hot or cold tea to the public, she’s not required to maintain SafeServe certification.
You can find Skirted Soldiers such as ‘Basic Training Blend’ and ‘SNAFU’ on her website and Facebook page, and at the Raystown Lake Visitors Bureau in Army Corps of Engineer Building, Bits of Time in Bedford, and through Cathie Dibert’s “Green”er Acres CSA.
And as for the ‘giving back’? The Skirted Soldier donates 10% of proceeds to female veteran organizations or events.
What does the future hold for Rhonda and her agribusiness? She’s keeping options for the Skirted Soldier branding open. Could the future hold Skirted Soldier mushrooms or jam? Stay tuned!
Photos by Rhonda Smith
Meet the original Skirted Soldiers.