This week we interview first-year farmers Quinn Richards and Theus Weiskopf of Farm Punk Salads in Portland Oregon. We’ll discuss how they got into farming, how did they start their farm business, and what that was like as a couple. We also discuss how they differentiated themselves in a crowded Portland marketplace and how starting a salad dressing business helped them stand out.
After meeting and traveling together, how did you segue into farming? (7:00)
We kept asking the question as we were moving through the world “But, where is your food coming from?” And as we experienced this fresh food there was no turning back, it was a one-way street, and we couldn’t imagine going back to something not as tasty. As we returned to Oregon we kept finding we wanted to connect with food and to live rurally while supporting ourselves.
Did transitioning from traveling for a long period of time, while you must have been working to live within your means, lend well to transitioning into a start-up farm business? Was that budget consciousness a good trait to have? (12:30)
Absolutely, hands-down. It’s been the basis for us to be able to do this. We didn’t have to float a mortgage, we weren’t burdened by having to support all this stuff. And the dynamic of living in a van makes it so you can’t hide from each other. It’s like weeding, the more you do it the less it gets out of control. It’s allowed us to have open communication which has lent itself to starting a business together.
When did you realize you wanted to start a farm together? (16:15)
Theus was on a farm internship and we both were starting to talk about what it would be like to start a farm. Over the course of a year and a half, as we asked people about our farm model selling salad dressings with our greens, we realized that we were onto something. The process of putting an idea out there and letting it settle and seeing if it came back up was important. We went to other farms and found that people kept commenting on how challenging it was to use a diversity of vegetables and they were looking for something more ready-made. The competition of being in Portland is what pushed us to have a unique business model.
What do you feel like have been your challenges in starting a farm? (21:10)
It can be easy for young people to idealize farming. They don’t like the book-keeping or the hard work that farming can be. People can also be stuck on out-dated or saturated business models, like the CSA model that is everywhere here in Portland. The financial side has been difficult and we’ve had to maintain off-farm jobs along the way. We also didn’t have a lot of savings since we had been traveling. We’ve had family and friends along the way who have given us a lot of support and guidance.
We were at first set on buying property, but realized instead what we needed to do was establish our business and get cash flow going first. We took the offer of Quinn’s dad to help us seriously and had worked through a lot of the details before we approached him. We were looking at about $15,000 in terms of start-up capital.
What were your target sales like for your first year? (29:30)
We were aiming for $30,000 through farmers’ markets and our unique CSA model. We had a 6-month growing season. We’re on track so far this year to exceed these numbers. Next year we are excited to try and double it.
You’ve alluded to Portland being a crowded market-place, what was your plan to stand out? (35:30)
We first thought a lot about our logo and made it black, green and white so it stands out. We wanted an abundant and strong presentation with our product and at our market stands. We wanted to be ourselves and use that to stand out with the branding Farm Punk. Quinn wears block letter rings that she makes because she doesn’t want to commit to one phrase on knuckle tattoos and felt so much like herself when she wore ‘Farm Punk’ on her hands.
People ask about our name and its story a lot. You can either stand out or blend in, and farmers don’t often take the risk of standing out in a crowded marketplace.
It’s not just us and our branding that stands out, it’s our product. You can’t find salad dressings like ours out there. The quality of our ingredients that stands out as well. We have people try it at the market and they will tell us our dressing makes them reconsider salad dressing.
With salad dressings, you have a higher level of food safety standards you have to adhere to, what has that journey been like? (46:15)
It’s been a lot of personal research and working for other small scale vendors. Thankfully we had the internet we could rely on as well to research what we needed to do. We wouldn’t have been able to afford to put up a kitchen ourselves, but we have a kitchen we rent out space in and it’s $17/hr. It’s difficult to always get the times that you need in a kitchen with so many other small scale vendors so you have the choice of investing in one yourself.
You are selling these salad dressings through a CSA, at markets, and in grocery stores? (50:35)
We have a grocery store here called New Seasons and we are in all 18 of them. We use a bike delivery system called B-line and they use electric tricycles in inner-city Portland and trucks for metro areas. They have a relationship with New Seasons where they take 7% of your total invoice and New Seasons give them an additional 3%. We’re also at some smaller co-ops as well. We even share the kitchen building with B-line so all we need to do is walk the product down the hall.
How competitive is the salad dressing space? How do you stand out? (53:30)
It’s not as competitive as it should be. If you want to have a vegan, canola/soybean oil-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, nut-free dressing there really aren’t many options out there for you. Our dressings are not shelf-stable so it stands out since it’s in the refrigerated section. We made the shape of our bottles unique compared to other narrow neck bottles, and our labeling has high contrast which helps it grab your eye.
At the farmers’ market how many people are buying the salad dressing kit vs. just salad? (1:06:00)
Lots of times it’s easy to upsell the salad dressing with the greens. You offer them a sample and say it’s just $5 more for the dressing and they’re happy to do it. We’d say it’s about 40% of people who are buying greens who opt for the dressing. They get .5lb of greens.
As you look back at this year can you see tough moments that you overcame? (1:07:30)
You come through these moments and it’s like you molt. Each tough moment is like losing a shell and then you’re soft before you get another shell, but then you’re molting again. Being there for each other as we’ve gone through all these stages and changes has been the most important aspect of getting through these stresses.
You can find the Farm Punks online on their excellent website here at FarmPunkSalads.com or find them on Instagram @FarmPunkSalads. If you’re in the greater Portland area be sure and check them out on the shelves of New Seasons, at local farmer’s markets, or participate in their CSA share.