STARTUP STORY: FARMER FREED

FARMER FREED jars | UNDISCOVERED KITCHEN BLOG

FARMER FREED jars | UNDISCOVERED KITCHEN BLOG

Farmer Freed culinary salt blends are handcrafted with seasonal ingredients from local farms along the California Central Coast. As the Regional Production Manager at Jacobs Farm/del Cabo Inc., founder Emily Freed has observed how the variety of culinary herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers changes along with the seasons and wanted to create flavors that would bring the same freshness throughout the entire year!

It all started one day while she was drying some herbs in the oven and noticed the Kosher salt nearby. Combining everything into a metal mixing bowl, she sprinkled it onto a freshly popped bowl of popcorn and before long, Emily was filling jars to share with friends. Many of her friends would ask her when she’d make the next batch, and that’s when Emily knew she’d found a way to honor the taste and quality of her freshly grown herbs.

FARMER FREED herb salt | UNDISCOVERED KITCHEN BLOG

Growing up with health-minded parents in Sonoma County, Emily was never a stranger to a wholesome diet which included lots of local produce. She grew up with a garden in the backyard and enjoyed weekly deliveries of fresh local milk and fish – Craig the fish man even honked the horn as he drove into the neighborhood to announce the fresh catch of the day! Today, Emily maintains her support for local food by using local ingredients and sustainable produce in all of her products.

Her value of sustainability extends far beyond California – this year Emily will be adding the 1% For The Planet logo to all the Farmer Freed jars and donating at least 1% of Farmer Freed sales to a sustainably-oriented nonprofit.

FARMER FREED vanilla salt | UNDISCOVERED KITCHEN BLOG

Whether you’re adding a pinch of salt to bring out the flavor of your food, or adding a finishing touch to a meal, Farmer Freed reminds us to “keep it saltalicious” with these blends:

  • Everyday Herb Salt: A blend of Kosher salt, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme that can be added to just about anything.
  • Sababa Salt: A mediterranean blend with Kosher salt, oregano, marjoram, thyme that swirls perfectly into olive oil for a bread dip.
  • Spice It Up Salt: A firey blend of Kosher salt, chiles and smoked paprika that will add an extra kick to a quesadilla.
  • Pucker Up Citrus Salt: A sour blend of Kosher salt and organic lemon zest that beautifully lines a margarita glass.
  • Dilly Goat Salt: A flavorful blend of Kosher salt and dill to top salmon with.
  • Vanilla Bean Baker’s Salt: A sweet blend of sea salt and organic vanilla beans that will bring out the flavor of baked goods.

FARMER FREED founder4 | UNDISCOVERED KITCHEN BLOG

Who are the business founders and when did you launch the business?

Emily Jane Freed is the founder and owner of Farmer Freed’s culinary salt blend. She started experimenting with culinary salt blends in 2011, which included lots of trial and error. Her taste buds were on salt overload in the beginning, and now she’s able to eat straight salt out of her hand and on a spoon like it is no big deal. Farmer Freed received its Organic Processed Product Registration license in 2014.

What inspired you to start your business?

I am the Regional Production Manager at Jacobs Farm/del Cabo Inc., which grows over sixty types of organic culinary herbs and edible flowers along the California Central Coast. One day while out in the fields I realized if I wanted to have parsley in the winter months, I was going to have to preserve the harvest in some form. Later that afternoon I put a handful of culinary herbs on a baking sheet and let them dry in the oven. The next day I spied a dish of Kosher salt on the counter and I did a double take of the dried herbs on the stove. Before I knew it, the herbs were swirling in the metal mixing bowl, the kosher salt was blending in with the herbs, and a gorgeous aromatic mixture was forming. I took a pinch of the culinary herb salt concoction and it was pretty tasty straight up. I took it as a good sign that the culinary salt blend would be even more delicious on food. I also just love to create and share my creations, whether it’s cooking, artwork, or crafts. Starting a business like this has been pretty natural for me, though it hasn’t always been easy.

What was your AHA moment?

When I made the first batch of culinary salt, I peddled the salt samples in mason jars around by bicycle to friends to taste and try out. At that point I had only tried the culinary salt blend on popcorn so I didn’t know the scope or reach of the product. Within a week, every friend that received a mason jar of the herb salt called to say what they had used it on and how delicious it was in their culinary creations. And, of course, they all asked when they would receive the next delivery of culinary herb salt. Any repeat customer makes for an AHA moment because it makes me realize that people really enjoy adding the culinary salt blends to their food.

Where do you currently make your product and how did you find the process of finding a kitchen to be like?

Farmer Freed’s culinary salt blends are produced at Front Street Kitchen, which is a commercial kitchen located in downtown Santa Cruz. Front Street Kitchen is the perfect match for Farmer Freed because the open and airy space supports both small and large business who are interested in producing great tasting food and food products. Additionally, Front Street Kitchen aims to create community amongst its tenants, which allows for cross pollination among the owners and staff of the various types of food businesses in the Santa Cruz area. I looked at many kitchens in Santa Cruz and the surrounding towns, and asked tons of questions while touring the commercial spaces. I found the process to be like looking for an apartment: I was interviewing the kitchen owners just as much as they were interviewing me.

Did you have a background in the food or drink industry when you started?

Growing up in Sonoma County provided the opportunity for my parents to purchase local produce from farmers’ markets, and milk and local fish were delivered to our house on a weekly basis. We had a garden and grew corn, tomatoes, and culinary herbs in a wooden box on the deck in the backyard. My hobby of eating good food as a child has now turned into a profession. When I’m not producing culinary salt blends, I manage over 300 acres of organic culinary herbs, mixed vegetables, and edible flowers for restaurants and grocery stores across the country. My passion for enjoying good tasting food and growing healthy produce has naturally merged to produce culinary salt blends featuring organic and sustainable produce grown from local farms along the California Central Coast.

A business idea that was left on the editing room floor?

Chives are one of those herbs that are better enjoyed fresh and do not dehydrate well. I don’t think I see a chive salt from Farmer Freed coming out soon; however, never say never.

What are some of rookie mistakes you made when starting out?

Now this is a good story. The designer and I had been working together on the layout and design of the new Farmer Freed labels for over six months. We had done many rounds of revisions, and finally settled on a layout and color scheme that worked well for Farmer Freed. Once the labels were in draft form, I showed them to a few trusted family and friends for feedback. Everyone loved the labels, so off they went to the printer. The new labels arrived a few days before Thanksgiving and I was eager to start giving out the jars of salt with the updated labels for the holiday season. After putting Everyday Herb Salt labels on about 20 jars, I took a picture of the new label to email to a friend. I looked at the photo and then stared at it again, and I realized Everyday was spelled incorrectly. Two thousand labels read “Everday” rather than Everyday. I quickly texted the designer and we both realized that after looking at the labels for so many months, our eyes had blured and we didn’t realize that a key word on the front panel of label was spelled wrong. Thankfully, the printer was able to reprint the labels first thing Monday morning and overnighted the new labels. By Tuesday afternoon, two days before Thanksgiving, the Everyday Herb Salt labels were spelled correctly and were on the jars in time to give as gifts for the holiday season. I’ve learned to never underestimate the power of the letter “Y” in a word.

How do you stay motivated in the face of competition?

Luckily, I am a morning person so that allows me to wake up early (Have you ever heard the joke about never asking a farmer what time they wake up in the morning? Don’t ask. You don’t want to know, it’s early), have a cup of tea, and begin working on Farmer Freed before I head out to the farm. I also haven’t met very many female farmers who have started their own culinary business outside of the farm, so it makes me feel like a pioneer. Working in the kitchen early in the morning and long days in the fields are tough. The moments when I am out in the community and consumers come up to me to tell me how much they enjoy the salt blends–that’s what really gives me the energy to keep pushing forward. Farmer Freed wouldn’t be where it is today with the support of family, friends, and repeat customers.

What’s the strangest customer request or feedback you’ve gotten?

I often get requests from customers to make a mushroom salt. Until I can find a source for local and organic mushrooms that are safe to eat, that fungi blend will have wait patiently in the salt queue.

What’s your main business goal for 2014?

The main goal is to steadily grow Farmer Freed at a sustainable rate, and I would love to see the culinary salt blends on local grocery store shelves by the end of this year. It’s been a life long dream to join the 1% For The Planet network because their organization connects for-profit companies with sustainably-oriented nonprofit organizations, and provides businesses with the opportunity to donate at least 1% of their sales. I look forward to joining the 1% For The Planet network later this year and seeing their logo on the Farmer Freed culinary salt blend jars.

Where do you see the business in 10 years?

I have been amazed at how Farmer Freed has developed in just a few short years and can’t wait to see what happens by 2024. I have been on the hunt for a locally produced Kosher Salt for a while now, so I hope that comes to fruition to truly create a local culinary salt blend from start to finish. National distribution? New lines of products? Farmer Freed’s culinary salt blends on the table at White House dinners? I know that whatever happens, the company’s commitment to organic, sustainable food, and supporting female farmers will always at the center.

What’s your team or company motto?

Keep it saltalicious!

Advice for someone with a great artisan food or drink idea?

Test out your culinary product on family and friends first, and gather their feedback. Take good notes because you will want these notes years later to look back on and see just how far you’ve come. Once your product is out in the world and people really enjoy it, they will come find you. And then they will come back again and again.

Do you have one business tip you would offer to those just starting up in the food business or starting a business in general?

I was lucky enough to work with a professional coach for six months who helped me set realistic timelines, as well as held me to the goals that I set for myself and for the business. The professional coach I worked with was attending coaching school so I was able to receive pro-bono coaching sessions, and he was able to obtain the hours needed for his certification. It was a win-win for both of us. If you are looking for a professional coach, I highly recommend Dan Schwab.

I simultaneously began working with a local business adviser through the Small Business Development Center in Santa Cruz, who was a sounding board for all of my questions, concerns, and fears. There are Small Business Development Centers all over the country who provide free one-on-one business consulting and planning for new ventures. Between working with a professional coach and a business adviser, I felt supported and was able to progress more quickly to the goals I set for myself and for the business. I still meet with my business advisor and it’s a great feeling to look back on my notes and see how far I have come as an entrepreneur, and how much Farmer Freed has developed in such a short time.

FARMER FREED SOCIAL MEDIA UNDISCOVERED KITCHEN FARMER FREED SOCIAL MEDIA UNDISCOVERED KITCHEN

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