Food-firm incubators

June marks the start of farmers’ market season in northern Nevada, and the beginning of many new small businesses, too.

About two dozen markets, including a dozen in Reno and Sparks, will operate throughout the summer, featuring fresh produce from local farmers and vendors selling a wide variety of value-added products such as jams and jellies, baked goods and non-food items like handmade wood birdhouses and lawn sculptures made from scrap metal.

Some of those merchants will be new, first timers and part timers, venturing out to see if a beloved hobby or a product idea they cooked up can actually make money.

And many will turn into full-fledged retail and wholesale businesses.

“Farmers’ markets are proven business incubators,” says Ann Louhela, executive director, NevadaGrown, a non-profit promoting sustainable agriculture.

Reno’s Mr. G’s Hawaii-style Teriyaki, Hidden Valley Honey and Lavender Ridge, The Roasting House in Virginia City, Campie’s Lavender Patch in Stagecoach – all are part of a growing list of thriving local businesses that got their start at northern Nevada farmers’ markets.

“Farmers’ markets, for us, have been an incredible blessing,” says Greg Adams, who with his wife Amanda operates Susie’s Foods Inc., the Reno maker of Syrupdipity, a line of six flavored butter-based spreads. “You can showcase your product without a lot of overhead, show your wares and get really instant feedback.”

Susie’s Foods, started almost two years ago, hit the Reno and Sparks farmers’ markets circuit to launch Syrupdipity. After a lot of positive feedback, and the end of the market season, the couple started reaching out to grocery chains. Their product is now on the shelves of local Sak ‘N Save stores and Scolari’s, and they’re working their way into other outlets, each of which require costly inspections.

Greg Adams says the business considered skipping the markets this summer because they do sampling at their grocery stores, but the idea for a new product brought them back.

They often use popcorn as a way for people to taste their butter spread, pouring on a little melted strawberry cheesecake or caramel macchiato Syrupdidpity.

“The popcorn became so popular we decided to go ahead, manufacture it and see what the margins are on it,” says Adams. “The farmers’ markets are a good test market for us.”

For most vendors, the markets provide a way to test and promote their products, and to meet customers and suppliers alike. Mr. G’s, for example, uses Hidden Valley Honey in its teriyaki sauces, says Louhela.

Kyle Huddy, owner of All Natural Nevada Food Company, which sells beef, pork and lamb from northern Nevada ranches, was able to build up a client list by working six farmers’ markets in Reno, Sparks and Carson City summer. From that, Huddy launched a subscription business, based on the community-supported agriculture model, supplying meats to customers on a monthly basis.

He also used the markets to educate people about his product.

“It really helped me spread the word about grass fed beef,” says Huddy. “A lot of people don’t know the difference and it gives me an opportunity to explain it to a lot of people, and then for them to try it.”

Huddy, whose business is in its second year now, is still working out his summer schedule of markets and may, like other businesses which get their start there, sort of graduate.

“I might try to do as many as I can in June,” says Huddy. “I’m hoping to still get out in the community, but sometimes once you grow gets harder to do farmers’ markets.”


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