Community + Farmers = Success!

In December 2013, we held our first Fair Food Business Boot Camp, a three-day intensive program for food entrepreneurs. The session wrapped up with a pitch session to a panel of investors. We were blown away by The Pickup, a multi-farm CSA and local food café in Skowhegan, Maine. We sat down with The Pickup’s founder Sarah Smith to hear her take on the Boot Camp and her advice for other food entrepreneurs. Here’s what she had to say.

What led you to join Business Boot Camp?

The timing could not have been better. The Pickup is a multi-faceted local food business running a weekly CSA (community supported agriculture), offering bulk wholesale produce deliveries, and running a restaurant on site. As the manager, with no formal business training, I was really interested in getting tools to help me look at the numbers from the three different tiers of our business with more confidence. Our café has been the most struggling part of our business and also is the piece I have the least experience with. I was thrilled to be accepted into the Boot Camp. I was able to glean so much of what I was looking for PLUS a lot more.

Fair Food Fund's Business Boot Camp in session

What was your biggest ah-ha moment during the three-day session?

There were several, but if I had to choose one I would say that it was right after the board sessions when I got a chance to have a food consultant look over my Quickbooks with me. In about 5 minutes she was able to show me how to look at my expenses as a percentage of sales. That one moment gave me concrete information about where we really needed to start focusing in our café.

The Pickup Cafe

What are your top three tips for food entrepreneurs just starting out?

First, don't be afraid to ask for help! Everyone has weaknesses and strengths. If there is something you need assistance with reach out to get the help you need.

Second, remember what your passion is in your work. Every food entrepreneur got into it because they love the work. However, I find that the path of a food business can take you in directions you may not personally want to go. Remind yourself of what you are passionate about as you move forward, OFTEN.

Finally, all enterprises are inherently risky. Know how to calculate how big of a risk each decision is to your business.

January 2013 CSA Share from The Pickup

What’s one mistake you’d want to caution other entrepreneurs against making?

Plan realistically! Before we opened our business we conducted a feasibility study. In that process we hired a consultant to help us with projections. I felt like the predictions he created were unrealistic and I should have been more vocal to our board about that. Whether you are planning or you are paying someone to write a plan with you, be as realistic as you can be! I would even say err on the conservative side.

The Pickup retail store

What three words best describe your aspirations for The Pickup?

How can I say in three words all that we desire!? We want to provide access to local food for our community, we want to support more farmers in Maine, and we want to be successful for our community, farmers, board, and employees. I guess saying that all in three words might look like: Community, Farmers, Success! Maybe it is Community + Farmers = Success!