The Basics of Starting a Homestead Canning Business

Reader Contribution by Monica White
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Marie’s products feature prominently on sales location Photo credit by Rosemarie Garrison

Few things in a baker’s kitchen rival the smell of hot fresh bread coming straight from the oven. As hot loaves are being carefully pulled from the oven racks, most will have already decided what they’d like to put on a slice or two.

In my opinion, homemade bread at the peak of freshness deserves a spotlight all its own. I would not want to risk spoiling the experience by putting too many ingredients on the bread. Instead, a light touch of butter with fresh jam hits all the right notes!

It just so happened that one morning while enjoying a simple breakfast of toast with jam, I noticed that the delicious jar of mulberry jam was getting close to half empty. Concerned, I wondered if I would be able to order another jar, because my son had purchased the jam from another city four hours away. I noticed a website address printed on the lid of the jar. After leaving an email through the website, I received a prompt reply with phone numbers for further communication. I was very hopeful that I would reach someone personally and that the company was still in existence.

Marie’s Story of a Home Jam and Jelly Business

Meet Rose Marie Garrison, owner of Marie’s Jelly Jams & Herbs. Marie operates the canning business from her north Florida homestead. Before starting her business, Marie had been making jams and jellies for family and friends for well over 35 years. Over the phone, Marie shared with me that she had not seriously considered the idea of going into business, because she was satisfied with making the jams and jellies and giving them away as gifts, for free.

It was not until friends and family, especially her kids, suggested that Marie start selling her jams and jellies, that she began to seriously consider turning something that she enjoyed into a business. From there, Marie received the necessary training and licensure to operate her delicious homestead canning business.

Marie began her business selling jams and jellies at a local Farmer’s Market. Marie answered a few  questions that I had about her business and I learned interesting pointers. I have shared that information below, along with basic considerations when starting a homestead canning business.

In 2014, Marie contacted a local neighborhood improvement association, which guided her through the necessary preliminary steps to open and operate her business. Although a Cottage Food License permits preparation of products from a home kitchen, there are times when Marie will use a local commercial kitchen to prepare and package large quantities of products.

Marie grows her own fruit, herbs and peppers in her backyard garden. She’s especially fond of a particularly cold hearty variety of lemon, known as a Meyers lemon. The fruit is added to some of her products for taste and acidity. When it comes to pesticides, Marie prefers a general purpose pesticide, mixing crushed garlic, water and a mild liquid soap solution, which she adds to a sprayer.

Not shy about foraging, Marie will ask neighbors who do not appear to be fully utilizing their fruit trees if she may take some of the fruit. Oftentimes, those casual contacts will become reliable sources of seasonal fruit for her operation. Marie will source tropical fruits, such as mangoes, from relatives living in areas where the fruit grows abundantly.

When I asked Marie if she could change anything about the canning business, she simply answered, “more jars.” She further explained  that the lack of jars and lids are sometimes unavailable, due to the increasing popularity of home food canning.

I was curious if Marie was satisfied with current size of her business and wondered if she had considered scaling the size of her business up or down? Marie said that she’s perfectly happy with the size of her business as it is. She has 40 flavors of jams and jellies and occasionally will offer special flavors for a limited time or make custom recipes to suit individual customers.

When it comes to her business, Marie has always preferred quality over quantity. This core principle has served her well with repeat business and strong customer relationships.

Listed below are 10 foods which have long expiration dates:

  • White Rice
  • Honey
  • Salt
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sugar
  • Dried Beans
  • Pure Maple Syrup
  • Powdered Milk
  • Hard Liquor
  • Pemmican

Considerations When Starting a Homestead Canning Business

Name. Carefully select a name which best suits the product and/or communicates some aspect or philosophy of the business.

Licenses. Obtain all necessary licensure.

Add a complimentary mix of products to jump start sales. Photo credit by Rosemarie Garrison

Products. Fruits and pickled vegetables are ideal foods to start with, due to their high-acid pH values. The higher pH value foods are safer and have longer shelf lives. Also consider adding a customized mix of seasonings to shelf-stable foods, like salt. Combining other shelf-stable ingredients to create an original recipe of seasoning salt. Keep in mind that products may not stay as shelf-stable once other ingredients are added.

Sourcing.You may be able to grow your own fruit and vegetables for your products with adequate land space for your operation. Raised beds and pots may address poor soil conditions. Vertical gardening may allow certain plants to be grown in tight spaces.

Negotiate acceptable pricing at local retail and wholesale farmer’s markets. Follow best practices when selecting quality fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind that a gently bruised tomato may be perfectly acceptable for use in some marinara sauce recipes, but totally unacceptable when used in pickled tomato recipes. Negotiate your best price according to quality and use the degrees of ripeness of quality produce wisely.

Demand. The extent of which there is favorable response to the product. Collect data to get an idea of the potential demand for your canning business.

Sell-ability. Factors which make the products highly attractive to customers and their ability to be sold.

Profitability. Product profitability depends on many factors. Primarily, the overall cost to produce the products versus the actual sales generated by the products. Profitability factors may be influenced by demand, associated business costs, availability of products, past, present and future sales performance should be carefully considered.

Keep business and personal banking accounts separate. Photo credit by Pexel 

Feasibility. Generally, the product is feasible if the effort required to produce the product is adequately rewarded. Each person’s feasibility threshold is different. Ask yourself are the products relatively easy to obtain, produce and sell repeatedly?

Seasonality. Are there known seasonal sales periods characterized by high or low sales? Are there ways to offset poor sales or capitalize on the profits? Plan and prepare for these periods accordingly.

Marketing. Consider broad and narrow approaches to effective marketing opportunities. Monitor Google search and other factors influencing customer accessibility. Make sure that labels are visually appealing and appropriate for the product and provide customer service contact information.They should also include any necessary product information, as well as any promotional information about the product as desired.

Online Sales. Use a visibly attractive, highly functional website. Promote/act on favorable branding opportunities.

In Person Sales. The shop should be set-up to perform and function well and its appearance should positively reflect the brand. The shop should always strive to be customer friendly.

Location. Choose the best possible location for your type of business. Make sure that your signs are performing their jobs well at all times. Make adjustments as necessary.

Customer Service. Adopt a “customer first” approach with many aspects of your business. Strive to make the entire process as seamless and as satisfying as possible for customers. Make every attempt to resolve any issues with courtesy, fairness and respect.

Hardware for Business. Consider all available sources to purchase quality phones, cell phones, tablets and computers which support your business. You may find suitable used or refurbished models with acceptable data options for typical business functions, performance, capability, etc. Select the quality and design of packaging, printed custom labels with contact information. Choose your best delivery /or shipping methods. Select mobile pay terminals that accept different payment types. When starting out, carefully/conservatively order custom printed paper, packaging, labels, receipts, etc. If possible, you may want to use standard, non-customized paper products at first. This allows time to work out any kinks in the beginning stages of the business. Later, you may choose to invest more in this area of the business.

Software for Business. Start with a quality website that is visually appealing, organized, with well-spaced text and has a shopping cart feature. Use high quality, well-lit digital images. Select an effective business and tax software for all record keeping. Make sure to keep business and personal banking separate by establishing a business bank account. Compare mobile payment terminals that accept and link multiple forms of payment to your cell phone, tablet, computer, etc.

If a homestead canning business is what you desire, give it your all. Learn all of the safety concerns regarding home canning, experiment, have fun and you will be on your way. Wishing you much success and may your favorite jam jar never reach the half empty mark, but always stay half full!

Monica Whiteis a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she’s growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on heroutdoor lifestyle blog, onFacebook, TwitterandInstagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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