We have completed our last Saturday at the Great Falls Farmers Market and we are heading back to Christopher Newport University. We are looking back on what a great idea it was to start a jelly-making business and get our feet wet at the Farmers Market. It was so much fun! We enjoyed talking to customers about how we prepare our jellies and it was such a treat when a customer came back the second time. But the loyal customers who came week after week to purchase again and again really made our day! We launched our company as “CK Creations,” but word has it that we are known as “The Jelly Girls,” as in, “What? The jelly girls are not here today?”
We got the idea that it would be great fun to prepare fruit jellies and sell them at the Great Falls Farmers Market. We approached Kathleen Murphy, market manager, in late May with our idea. She gave us the contract with all the details on what we needed: general liability insurance, a Virginia sales tax number, a corporate identity and signage, product recipes and labels, an inspected kitchen, a tent, tables and chairs, a table cloth and a way to allow people to sample the product—and lots of coaching all along the way. She spoke to us about regular fruit versus organic, and how to think about the difference between cost and price.
We were determined to get into the market within one week, and quickly gathered everything we needed to show up and be present. We took on a “just do it” attitude, worked really hard, and we were ready to set up the following Saturday. The hardest part of everything we did all summer was to get the paperwork together that first week. We had to set up a business and contact VDACs to figure out how to get a kitchen inspected. Turns out, there is a certain number of jars of jelly that are permissible to sell without an inspection, as they are “homemade.” Since we only prepare two jars of jelly at a time, we are very attentive to the process and our quantities fall under the guideline. We did not know this at first, and we got permission from St. Francis Episcopal Church to use their kitchen for our first production run. We prepared 60 jars of jelly for opening day. It took a few days to get the Virginia Sales Tax certificate. Between us, our families had a tent, chairs, table, tablecloth, etc.
Our fondest memories of the market are the community spirit that we experienced at the market. The other vendors were great. We showed up the first Saturday with our jars of jelly, but we forgot gloves for serving, a knife, bread to use for sampling, etc. Baguette Republic gave us a loaf of bread every week for our sampling, at no charge. Deepa from Aromatic Spice Blends gave us advice on how to prepare for a kitchen inspection. Jennifer of Night Sky Farm recommended an insurance broker who could give us a good rate on an insurance policy. Mike from BaDaBing gave us some plastic spoons for sampling. Janet from the Virginia Tech Volunteer Master Chef Program gave us some rubber gloves for serving samples. Pastor from El Ceibo Chocolate gave us some napkins. Jeff Rainey’s wife, Sharon, advertised our jellies on her Neighbors Network, while Jeff told us about the quantity rule and inspections. That attitude of teamwork and mutual support lasted well beyond the first day. That is one of the things that made the Great Falls Farmers Market so special—everyone is mutually supportive of each other.
We needed to change our labeling to say that we would not be making the jelly in an inspected kitchen. When we changed our labeling from handwritten to typed everyone had an opinion about it. That was so funny. Some of our customers loved the change. Others told us to return to handwritten. Everyone was trying to help us figure out what would bring us the most business.
Did we make money? We probably just broke even. We need to improve our production process, as right now we are doing small batches—two jars at a time. We have to watch it the entire time to make sure it does not burn and make sure that the jelly keeps the right consistency. If we could grow our own fruit or preserve a grower’s fruit, we could probably become more profitable. It is very expensive to purchase fruit retail from a store and compete with grocery store prices.
What will we remember most? We appreciate all of the wonderful families who came to the market with their children, and how much our customers were really delighted with our product. The Great Falls Farmers Market is a small but very intimate market, where everyone gets to know each other and enjoy a good conversation. We are back to school, but you never know, we may be back for the holidays! Thanks to everyone for a really great experience.