The HVADC Cultivator
FFFA Peer Spotlight:
The Ardent Homesteader
Life is sweet for Kristin Nelson, current HVADC Farm and Food Funding Accelerator (FFFA) Peer and owner of The Ardent Homesteader in Arden, New York. The Orange County business hand crafts its signature Cara-Sel salted caramel sauce in small batches with just five all-natural ingredients, or as Nelson would say “no preservatives, and not a bunch of ingredients you can’t pronounce.”
Nelson, along with her husband Dave and three boys began homesteading in earnest in 2010 starting with their first chickens and now also raise a small numbers of cows, pigs, and guinea fowl in addition to fruit and vegetable crops. While not their main focus, their pork herd has grown so that for the past few years they have been able to offer half and quarter pig shares, as well as sell eggs.
Years ago, after Nelson fine-tuned a recipe for homemade caramel; it became a signature gift for family and friends. In 2014, with encouragement from other Hudson Valley farmers and food entrepreneurs, she launched The Ardent Homesteader Inc. to produce and market Cara-Sel salted caramel sauce. With a belief in hard-work, the strength of families and enjoying ice cream sundaes at the end of a hot summer day, Cara-Sel is now sold wholesale throughout the state, in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as direct to consumers at select festivals and on the Ardent Homesteader website. While the wholesale demand is growing steadily, Nelson has identified that there are additional opportunities to sell direct to consumers online and is developing plans to increase sales in that channel – as well as launch a new product – more sweetness.
Nelson learned of the FFFA program first through Hillary Lindsay who had been a Peer in the 2016/2017 program, and then Karianna Haasch, owner of Local Artisan Bakery in Kingston, who had participated in the 2018/2019 FFFA program. Haasch was able to provide her with additional insight about the program, and encouraged Nelson to apply. Cara-Sel is one of the local products that Haasch uses in her creations and features in the Local Artisan Collective at the bakery. The caramel sauce has found its way into Haasch’s cheesecakes and cupcakes among other recipes.
Nelson was just considering scaling her business at the time of her application, and said that she “entered the program at the point where I was considering getting into new markets, expanding production, or perhaps launching a new product, and uncertain as to whether I would be looking for funding, but certainly interested in learning more about the possibilities and how to approach them. It has given me the possibility to learn how other food makers are approaching the process, and what the options really are.”
More sweetness: Now mid-way through the FFFA program, Nelson is testing recipes for a new product, caramel popcorn with a twist, and evaluating packaging and co-packing options. She has been testing it at markets, and as an FFFA Peer, at both the fall 2019 and spring 2020 Hudson Valley Restaurant Week Industry Day kick off events.
“Kristin and Karianna were at similar junctures in their businesses when they entered the FFFA program – already established and growing - but planning to ramp up. One of the hallmarks of this program is the support and mentoring that the Peers from the past classes jump in to offer the newer participants,” said Mary Ann Johnson, Deputy Director, HVADC. “We see that level of comraderies and sense of community running through all three classes,” she continued, mentioning that a three-class networking event is in its planning stages.
“We believe that if you are going to treat yourself, you should do so with something that's worth it, something honest and undeniably good” Nelson said. She reinforced that wherever the journey may take The Ardent Homesteader, whether it be a production increase or new products, that natural ingredients will always be a priority, and that quality will always prevail over quantity.
Nelson echoes Johnson, and cites that one of the most unique elements of the FFFA program has been “the incredible support from our mentors and great learning opportunities and camaraderie among Peers. Meeting the others in the cohort and being able to see how our businesses all face distinct challenges has been reassuring...no matter if our issues are similar or different; we all have something to learn from each other's experience.”
For more information about the HVADC FFFA Program, visit https://www.hvadc.org/farm-food-funding-accelerator.
Photo/logo Source: The Ardent Homesteader