50 in 50: Arkansas / Top 5 Picks for Great Products Made in "The Natural State"

Top 5 Picks for Great Products Made in "The Natural State"

#1) Arkansas-Grown Cotton

Mature Cotton Bolls, Arkansas

You'd think it'd be easy to find Arkansas-made cotton apparel. After all, the Natural State ranks 3rd in the nation for its cotton production: In 2014, 335,000 acres were planted, yielding 820,000 bales of cotton. So why is it that--when I Googled "made in Arkansas apparel"--very little came up? Because most of the state's cotton--and most of our country's cotton--is shipped to other countries where cheap labor and apparel manufacturing go hand-in-hand. Our inexpensive jeans with the Made in China / Vietnam / Bangladesh labels inside? They may be made of cotton grown in Arkansas. Go figure.

#2) Vodka and Whiskey: Rock Town Distillery

Rye whiskey barrels, Rock Town Distillery

Thanks to reader Wendy (of Washington State) for letting me know about her favorite Arkansan product, Rock Town Vodka, calling it "dangerously good." Turns out that Rock Town's nationally recognized for its award-winning whiskey. The brainchild of Arkansas native Phil Brandon, Rock Town Distillery opened in 2010. Brandon has a passion for whiskey and for his home state. All ingredients are sourced in Arkansas. "We are in the South, we have great grains, great climate, so put all that together, with good skilled distilling, and great barrels and we can turn out some great whiskey," Brandon said in an interview found online. "We've got over 6,000 gallons of whiskey aging here in Little Rock, Arkansas." The company currently ships products to 16 states and the United Kingdom. You can also purchase a few products online at Binny's Beverage Depot. Wendy, I don't see your vodka on Binny's list. Good excuse to head to Arkansas, take the uber-popular Rock Town Distillery tour. Cheers!

#3) Knife Sharpening Stones: Dan's Whetstone

Arkansas Dan's EZ Hone Whetstone

From the website: Dan’s EZ Hone offers a new and simple approach to mastering the art of knife sharpening. It is so simple that even a novice sharpener can achieve a keen, sharp edge. The end blocks are designed with reference angles cut in so that the user will have a reference for each and every stroke, while eliminating that occasional steep angle which can counteract any improvement. Dan’s Whetstone is the only complete producer and supplier of all natural Arkansas whetstone grades including the genuine black Arkansas novaculite. We are an American owned and operated whetstone company overseeing the process from quarry to finished product since 1976.

#4) Aprons: American Native

American Native Denim Apron

Don't ask me the price of this man-cave-friendly apron (okay, it's $185...gasp...), just go ahead and read the brand's story, which asks visitors to its website the question: "Does it get any more American than this?" I would have to say yes: My Italian-immigrant Nana whipped up aprons by the dozen on her Singer sewing machine, in between playing the stock market. She used cotton floral fabric made in Los Angeles. I still use those aprons. Back to American Native: "This industrial workshop denim apron is your choice to get the job done with ease. The heavy Cone Mills 12 oz. selvedge denim will help protect your clothes against wood and metal shavings, ink, paint, coffee grinds, dye, or whatever else one may be getting into. The selvedge chest pocket features a pocket big enough for your iPhone, a #2 pencil or pen, and a Sharpie. The big ol' leather* pocket spans 13" across and 7" deep, with copper rivets to reinforce the corners...Handcrafted with pride in Fayetteville, AR."

#5) Cuz a Girl's Gotta Have a Little Bling: Bella Vita Jewelry

Bella Vita Jewelry

Little Rock, Arkansas, designer Brandy Thomason McNair creates "artisan jewelry with an eye for design and a love of all things vintage...a piece of jewelry that already has a story." I love that idea. Retelling a story, in a new way, through beautifully-made charms and bangles and necklaces. Talented Brandy goes on "treasure hunts" all over the country searching for "lockets, gemstones, chains--materials with meaning continually inspire my designs and give Bella Vita Jewelry that authentic feel, like a patina...whether small and simple or a statement piece, a little bit of Bella Vita Jewelry helps you tell your story, too." Read how Brandy turned a hobby into a career--both online and now with her own bricks-and-mortar retail store--here.

Farewell, Arkansas. It's almost 5 o'clock and I wouldn't mind a sip o' Rock Town Vodka. But I'm from Cali. My glass of chilled KJ Chardonnay awaits...which reminds me: Next Up: the Golden State. Home sweet home.

PS: I like this "Top 5 Picks" format. Hope you do, too. But should I change the project's title from "50 in 50" to "250 in 50"? Suggestions welcome!