Vital cultured foods

California recently passed The Homemade Food Act, joining 25 other states with a law permitting the sale of certain foods made in home kitchens. The nation’s booming farmers markets are also beginning to fill up with small-scale producers selling handcrafted preserves, baked goods, salsas and more. This move away from giant brands and supporting small batch producers is inspiring a return to local mom and pop style businesses. Would you start one? We caught up with a few small food producers to give you a glimpse into the art and rewards of starting your own food business.

We’ve all likely fantasized about running our own business at one point or another. But it can feel intimidating and daunting. Where do you start? How do you get (and keep) customers? You can thank the internet and particularly, Facebook, for helping to catapult awareness for burgeoning brands—a luxury our grandparents didn’t have. And with laws like California’s Homemade Food Act now in effect, you can also start small right in the comfort of your own home kitchen, like some of these women who are shining examples of self-sufficiency and a serious investment in supporting their local communities through the highest quality products.

KIngs Road Apothecary
image couresy of Kings Road Apothecary Facebook page

Rebecca Altman has a knack for herbs. She started Kings Road Apothecary in 2010, producing incredibly high quality herbal products after offering herbal consulting in the Los Angeles area. “I was making the same formulas over and over again for my clients, so I just decided to start selling the most popular ones with the hope of opening a shop one day. The shop dream kind of disappeared when I realized how much more effective I could be without the stress of a brick and mortar location, but the online shop itself has carried on.”

She is the sole proprietor and the only employee. Altman wildcrafts many of her ingredients from around the LA area and sells products by themselves or as part of her monthly “CSA” boxes, which have become incredibly popular (I regularly buy them, and they’re amazing). You don’t know what is going to be in the box until it arrives, which is half the fun. Themed by seasonality, boxes will typically include something for the body, like a lotion or oil, an herbal tonic (January had a potent lymphatic cleanser that my boyfriend and I used when we caught the flu) and sometimes, some incredibly well balanced tisanes.

“Hearing people take little steps and feeling happier, more complete and more content… that wakes me up in the morning, keeps me going.” But Altman doesn’t plan to grow the business beyond her means, “My goal in life is to help reconnect people to the old ways.”  

Julia Corbett
image courtesy of Diviana Alchemy

Raw chocolates and superfoods are two of the hottest food trends, but you have not had the ultimate experience until you’ve tried Diviana Alchemy’s raw creations. Sole proprietor Julia Corbett has been running her own business by herself since 2009.

Along with making stunning desserts (she frequently makes raw superfood pies with gorgeous mandala designs), Corbett also teaches classes and sells wholesale to grocery stores like LA’s popular superfood mecca, Erewhon. Corbett cites her own personal dietary evolution with inspiring her to make her own food recipes, “so I could include the ingredients best for me in the food I eat.” She also has a sweet tooth, and started making raw desserts that are gluten, dairy and processed sugar-free. “I use only the highest quality ingredients, and never compromise, because the product represents my vision and I want to support the crafters of these ingredients and their dedication to heirloom quality foods and indigenous foods.

“In no way did I ever envision myself having my own business, until I was given the idea by my partner/husband who works in sales. He encouraged me to start selling my first product, Diviana Necar, which is a superfood and herb-infused honey, at small events and online through some raw food retailers,” says Corbett, who now finds interacting with her customers to be most rewarding, “I really think customers do appreciate a handmade or small-batch product, it is infused with love and care, not a machine. This is what makes a product special, and you really can’t recreate the same flavors when you use a completely mechanical process, there need to be some hands in there somewhere.” And that commitment keeps Corbett mindful of the growth opportunities, “I want to keep the handmade aspect of the product, and the integrity of the ingredients through the life of my company. It’s important to have growth, but I see growth in my company as just improving the product, packaging, and to expand into more local shops, maybe a farmers market,” and, she adds, to inspire “anyone who is interested in improving their health to include these ingredients in their diet for help in balancing the body’s nutrient needs and bringing more clarity into the mind.”

Happy Hemp
image courtesy of Happy Hemp’s Facebook page

Seeking to remedy her own health issues, Tara Miko got turned on to hemp seeds and started Happy Hemp in 2011. She is one of two employees in the Austin, Texas-based company supplementing her income with work in the fashion industry until the business takes off. “I started eating hemp seeds on a regular basis. After about two weeks, there was a noticeable improvement in my digestion, energy and I was sleeping better. That is when the seed was planted in my head. The more I learned about this amazing superfood the more impressed I became.”

Happy Hemp’s product line is so far, quite simple: toasted and raw hemp seeds; the nutrient dense superseeds are loaded with omega fatty acids, highly bioavailable vegetarian protein, fiber and many vital vitamins and minerals. And while the company’s goal is to grow “as big as possible,” Miko is enamoured by her local customers, “Every weekend rain or shine, we set up our Happy Hemp booth. We meet new friends, catch up with old, exchange recipes, meet out of town guest and hear stories of success. Without the love and support of Austin we would not be where we are today.”

Vital Cultured Foods
image courtesy of Vital Cultured Foods

Founder and sole employee of Ft. Collins, Colorado’s Vital Cultured Foods is Marni Wahlquist (Disclosure: she just also happens to be one of my most favorite people in the universe). She’s one of those types that make everything look easy and fun, even when it’s truly hard work; and it’s no wonder she’s taken to sharing her skills—both in the kitchen and in moving gracefully through life–with her community.

Wahlquist got the idea for Vital Cultured Foods nearly a decade before launching the brand in 2011 when she got turned on to making her own sauerkraut, “The experience of the humble cabbage and its two week or so transformation into a delicious sour and enlivened superfood made me want to practice and make more. I wanted to run my own business but for the longest time I didn’t know what that looked like. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago I realized my passion and gift lies in fermentation.” And a gift it is; Wahlquist knows fermentation like she created the timelss craft herself, and she formulates delicious recipes including caraway and juniper cabbage krauts, unbelievably yummy masala carrots and regularly experiments with other small-batch seasonal vegetables she can source from local growers.

In just over a year, her business has been embraced by Coloradans (and this Angelino) with her regular farmers market presence and support from area markets and restaurants. While Wahlquist is expanding in the immediate area, it’s the local connection that she finds most rewarding, “Participating in our local farmers markets connects me with the community as a whole and provides an opportunity to interact with the public about fermentation.” It’s those connections and opportunities that drives her business, “My customers feel really good about our products because they can taste handcrafted goodness in each jar.”

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

top image: Vital Cultured Foods