Startup Profile: Farmented Foods
This story was originally published on the Techstars blog. View here.
Say “Hey Vanessa!” and two heads will turn. Vanessa Walsten and Vanessa Williamson are the co-founders of Farmented Foods, a local Montana vegetable fermentation company. They met in 2016 in college at Montana State University (MSU). Little did they know that a class project was going to launch them into a career they could never have imagined.
A Montana native, Vanessa Walsten enrolled in MSU’s Sustainable Foods and Bioenergy Systems program in 2015 and soon thereafter met her future cofounder, Vanessa Williamson, a Business Marketing major at MSU originally from North Dakota.
“We were randomly paired together in a course called ‘Farm to Market’,” said Vanessa Walsten. “We were tasked with creating a new product for our partner farmer out of the produce he already grew on his land. I was always fascinated with fermentation and we decided fermented vegetables were the way to go.”
Searching for a Sustainable Solution
One major problem on many farms is food loss in the form of ugly and excess crops that can not typically be sold. Furthering the issue is that “ugly” vegetables don’t just represent lost money on crops, but growing and ultimately extracting this produce also results in a waste of labor and water. The Vanessa’s realized quickly that ugly crops were a widespread issue.
And so, Farmented Foods was born.
Farmented purchases the ugly and excess crops from local, organic farmers. They chop, shred and dice them, ferment the result, and then BOOM: tasty, locally cultured vegetables ready for enjoyment.
Scaling their Success
The Vanessa’s entered a few startup competitions in the spring of 2017, where they often won and were awarded all startup capital initially required for their business. And they haven’t slowed down since. In December of 2017, they sold the first batch of jars at the Bozeman Winter Farmers Market, ultimately selling out of product. As a result of this evident demand, they quickly expanded, and then expanded some more.
“We love what we do and we love saving all the ugly veggies we can. Through Farmented we hope to not only save the veggies but also help spread our love of ugly vegetables and their important role in creating a more sustainable food system” says Williamson.
With the help and support of the Blackstone Launchpad & Techstars Virtual Mentorship Program, the Farmented Foods team has expanded their foodservice accounts to include Yellowstone National Park, Kalispell Regional Hospital, and more. The Vanessa’s have received $14,000 in Growth Through Agriculture grant funding and started the process of searching for a new fermentation space.
LaunchPad Entrepreneurial Experience
According to Walsten, “LaunchPad’s Virtual Mentorship Program has really allowed us to focus on areas of our business that were getting pushed to the side for too long – it’s easy to keep our heads down and just focus on growth to meet demand. But LaunchPad’s Virtual Mentorship Program allows us to dive deeper into the operations of our company and plan strategically for the growth ahead.”
Today, Farmented Foods can be found all across Montana and Wyoming in stores, restaurants, and hospitals. Their partner farmer network stretches just as far and is growing. With four products, Farmented Foods is constantly working on developing the next product for their line of locally cultured vegetables and have saved over 20,000 pounds of imperfect vegetables.
Impact of Coronavirus Pandemic
As the manufacturer of a food product sold at events, and in restaurants and retail, the Vanessa’s have noticed a major slow down. “With our current farmers markets cancel, we transitioned to a delivery system with other vendors. Our mentors also recommended operating as lean as possible until things return to normal.”