The HVADC Cultivator
FFBA Participant Sara Higgins from Raspberry Fields
Sara Higgins, owner and operator of Raspberry Fields Farm, an artisanal granola and cookie company in Marlboro, Ulster County, was a participant in HVADC’s first Farm & Food Business Accelerator (FFBA) Program.
According to Higgins, Raspberry Fields Farm was born of necessity, while she was trying to find a healthy, wholesome and delicious breakfast cereal that her kids would eat. She was dismayed by the products available on store shelves, seeing cereals that were essentially food dye and sugar, and she was determined to provide more healthful options for her family. Granola was still considered “hippieish” at the time, and she had to go to the “health food store” and purchase items in bulk in order to make her own. After lots of trial and error and mixing and matching different recipes, Higgins hit upon the perfect combination, and Raspberry Fields Farm was born.
The Higgins family was friends with many of the farmers in the area, and their neighbors’ farm stands began to sell Raspberry Fields Farm Granola. Higgins, being a true entrepreneur, began asking around at local grocery stores to see if they might carry it as well. Adams, a family owned grocery store based in Kingston with three other stores in the lower Hudson Valley, immediately agreed to carry the products. Meanwhile, the granola was a big hit at the farm stands with the Pick-Your-Own crowd that came up from the city, and people began asking where else they could purchase the granola when they left the Hudson Valley. Higgins began researching options for selling across the Tri-State area and set her sights on Whole Foods. After much persistence and her refusal to give up (calling twice weekly for six months), Whole Foods agreed to carry Raspberry Fields Granola.
Higgins runs the business out of a commercial kitchen in her 1870 circa farm house, along with a part-time baker and two packers. The house is located on the grounds of what once was part of a larger farm. When creating her first batches of granola, since the recipe that finally won her kids over was made with raspberries from the farm, the name Raspberry Fields Farm seemed like the natural choice.
The “recipe testing” that she conducted with her children helped her to develop a chewier granola than many other granolas. The secret is a roux of honey, sugar and flour. The roux not only makes for a wonderfully chewy granola, but also contributes to a long shelf life without the need for preservatives. The honey coating keeps the granola fresh for at least six months or more. In addition to raspberry, Higgins also offers French Apple Pie granola, and is contemplating a chocolate granola, which has been a popular request from her regular customers.
Raspberry Fields Farm has customers as far away as California, some of them “cult followers” who order by the case. Loyal fans are what motivate Higgins, and she vows to never stop making her granola, as she feels an obligation to her customers and promises that as long as people keep ordering it, she will keep making it.
In addition to their delectable granola, Raspberry Fields Farm also makes and sells Belgian dark chocolate sea salt cookies, using Callebaut chocolate for a truly decadent and delicious take on a traditional chocolate chip cookie; as well as wedding favors and gift boxes.
For Higgins, cooking and baking is all about having family at the table and always has been. Raspberry Fields Farm grew out of a desire to nourish her family and to provide an alternative to the products offered in traditional grocery stores. Things have changed in the 23 years since her children were young, but back then she was considered an outlier who made things from scratch. She cites Alice Waters as an inspiration; someone who set the tone and helped her to feel that she was not alone in thinking that where her food came from was of great importance.
While being featured in Whole Foods was a definite validation for the quality and deliciousness of her products, Higgins ultimately decided to scale back her wholesale production and focus more exclusively on direct-to-customer sales which she finds more rewarding, and gives her complete control over all aspects of the product, from baking to storing to shipping. The current rate of production allows Raspberry Fields Farm to be nimble and adaptive, to the point that Higgins and her team can ship an order of her fresh baked goods on the same day the order is received.
Higgin’s advice to anyone thinking about opening a small business is to seek advice from experienced entrepreneurs and to be extremely self-aware, as running a business takes incredible fortitude, discipline, and tenacity, to keep it moving forward in the face of no’s and mistakes. She also stresses the importance of having a support circle to commiserate with through the inevitable hard times and mistakes of running a small business.
Higgins first heard of HVADC and the FFBA through a newsletter and realized right away that the FFBA was the perfect program for her and Raspberry Fields Farm. The FFBA provided inspiration as well as knowledge on how to expand her business. She is very grateful to the FFBA and describes the staff at HVADC as a group that really cares, something she had not been easy to find. She found that interacting with the other FFBA participants to extremely beneficial. FFBA also provided Higgins with opportunities to partner with other area businesses and opened the door for Higgins to sell at four Taste of NY stores throughout the state.
Higgins reports that she found the guidance offered by FFBA consultants and staff to be extremely valuable, having mentors to discuss strategy with and having them present her business back to her was instrumental in helping her think about strategies and next steps.
“It feels good to get that level of support. An entrepreneur can be very lonely if you don’t have other business people to talk to. Creating that environment, let alone providing us with a direct line to professionals was wonderful. There was a level of caring, really caring about how we do. [I would recommend the FFBA] in a heartbeat, because it opens up opportunities for business growth and secondary partnerships. [These are] people who really want to see your business succeed, see farming continue, all of those things, you are lucky when you get in to that circle. I feel honored to be in that circle through the FFBA,” she said.
Taste some of Raspberry Fields Farm delicious baked goods for yourself! Support local businesses and treat yourself. Order some today at www.raspberryfieldsfarm.com.