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A jam of a business

If you haven’t heard of Vanilla Spice Pear Butter or Sundae in a Jar, these young entrepreneurs have some lessons to teach

Two women holding jars of jam

When Kylie Wasiuta and Sara Porter met a decade ago, they were in their teens and into reining and horses, completely consumed with showing and competing for prizes. They still found time to share some homemade jam, however, but who then could have predicted their jam-making savvy would bloom into a full-fledged business?

“I grew up my whole life canning and preserving alongside my mother and both my grandmothers,” says Wasiuta (23), who was born and raised in Springfield, Man. “I really took an interest in it when I was 16 and began making all my family’s preserves myself… with a little help from my mom now and then.”

Wasiuta would always have ample preserves to share with friends and family, many of whom urged her to “sell them to the public.”

It’s the sort of thing that often gets said. So, what made the difference this time? Why did the dream become reality?

After all, at the time, Wasiuta had her hands more than full showing horses. But then came 2012, when Wasiuta retired two of her performance horses, freeing up some time to consider going to farmers markets in the summer with her homemade jams, and moving into production on a larger scale.

Wasiuta’s business partner and friend, Porter (25), grew up in Winnipeg before moving to Portage la Prairie two years ago to bake at a bakery while working with Wasiuta on their new business venture.

At the age of 10, Porter began taking riding lessons and fell in love with everything about it. Living in the city at the time, she spent her summers and weekends at Miracle Ranch, just south of Birds Hill Park. Later, once she bought her first horse and began showing, horses became a bigger part of her life.

After having met at horse shows about five years ago, Porter and Wasiuta soon discovered they shared many interests and quickly bonded. Since then, the duo combined forces to start up Forever Prairie.

“Being an entrepreneur is what I’ve always known I should do,” says Porter. “After trying some of Kylie’s jams and getting hooked on them myself, I knew this was it. We could go public and once people try them, they’ll be hooked on them too!”

“People want to know what’s in the food… and what’s not,” Porter says. “We knew going in that we could offer that, a healthy alternative to the sickeningly sweet stuff you find in stores.”

For Wasiuta and Porter, business start-up costs weren’t an issue, as they started small and manageable and worked hard to create a product people loved.  From there, their business just naturally grew.

It all started back in April of 2012, as the duo sat down and began planning. “In one evening we’d chosen our name and slogan, had planned which weekends we’d be at the farmers markets, what we wanted to sell product-wise, and what our goals were for the season,” says Porter.

“It was very exciting to see our dream becoming an entrepreneurial reality.”

They started as vendors at the Pineridge Hollow farmers market in Birds Hill Park for the summer, and continued into the fall/winter season doing local Christmas craft sales as well as some in Winnipeg, plus Brandon’s “Big One” Arts and Crafts sale in October.

After meeting a lot of people in 2012, Wasiuta and Porter were excited to enter the year 2013, expanding their marketing at craft sales and farmers markets while also increasing their product line.

Within two short years, the business received a lot of recognition and publicity has taken off.

The duo hopes to expand into more stores in 2014 in and around Manitoba so their brand will become more widely known. They are ready to take it to the next level.

Brand recognition

jars of jamAs Wasiuta and Porter work to get their Forever Prairie brand more recognition, their customers are taking in their slogan, “Prairie hearts and country souls, bringing the taste of the prairies to your home.”

“Going to different markets and trade shows, especially in the city, gets people talking about us, as does getting the products into more stores,” says Porter.  “Social media has also been a huge advertising tool for us… and it’s free.

“I’d love to get to the point where we’re on shelves all over Manitoba, maybe even across Canada, and we can do this full-time,” Porter says. “I really believe in us and our product, and will continue doing it as long as I can.”

Dividing the work

Wasiuta and Porter aim to split everything evenly, with Porter doing more of the financial and accounting work and Wasiuta doing more of the packaging and labelling.

When it comes to creating recipes, they bounce ideas off of one another.

Two women making jamThe duo share the work of making the products equally, carving out specific days, which they refer to as “jam days.” These days are typically long, starting around 9 a.m. and finishing at about 8 p.m. On any given jam day, they make about 22 different flavours or products that are packed in approximately 132 jars.

“Making sure we were following all regulations took some research and asking the right questions, but we managed to figure it all out,” says Porter. “As part of the business expansion, as of 2014, we’ll be moving into a commercial kitchen. Until then, we’ve been making most of our products at home.”

Adds Wasiuta, “Making sure we complied with all the farmers market and health code regulations was our first step. Updating our labels so we could sell in public businesses was another.

“Moving into a commercial kitchen will help expand our product even further, as we’d like to start offering salsas that we’ll make from our own organically home-grown tomatoes and peppers.”

Expand the lineup

When Wasiuta and Porter launched Forever Prairie, they thought it would be only on a small scale for fun. Viability wasn’t on the table. They knew they had found good business partners in one another and they began to share mutual goals for the business. 

“We learned that if you have the passion and are willing to work for it, you can make it happen,” says Wasiuta.

By the time the business took off and they realized they were really onto something good, they knew that turning back wasn’t an option. “We love what we do and that we can share our homegrown goodness with people,” says Porter.

Family support

“If not for my mom, I would have never grown up doing this or having this know-ledge, so I owe a lot to her,” says Wasiuta. “My earliest memory of making jam is going strawberry picking with my mom and making jam as soon as we got home.”

Porter agrees, “We’ve gotten a lot of advice from Kylie’s mom and grandma,” she says. “But, as far as the recipes go, we’re pretty creative and create most of them ourselves. My mom is a great resource from the business end, as she has an accounting background and is always there to help find us a deal on supplies. Both our families are very supportive.”

Wasiuta grew up picking wild chokecherries, saskatoons, cranberries and blueberries with her grandparents. She learned a lot about these wild berries from them as well as how to make large batches of jam (before her grandmother’s passing). It is Wasiuta’s grandmother’s chokecherry and wild cranberry jam recipes Porter and Wasiuta use today.

Horses first

While they will never leave their first love — horses — Wasiuta and Porter’s second love, Forever Prairie, continues to pull on their heart strings, as they grow tomatoes, peppers, carrots, tomatillos, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries, grapes and more. “We grow as much of it as we can ourselves,” says Wasiuta. “When we can’t, we support local Manitoba U-picks and farmers.”

Forever Prairie chokecherries are picked wild right off their farm, as are crab apples, wild plums, blueberries, cranberries, pin cherries and raspberries. 

Wasiuta and Porter also formed a working relationship with a family that owns several of the B.C. fruit trucks so often seen along the highway in the summer. The deal gives them access to a steady supply of local, Canadian-grown fruit on a larger scale.

“The most rewarding part is knowing, start-to-finish, we have handcrafted that jar of preserves,” says Wasiuta. “A lot of work went into growing, selecting and picking the fruit — creating each batch and developing new recipes so when people read the label, they can’t believe it’s a jam. It’s so encouraging to hear people ask if it’s us young girls who do this and ask what inspired us. Many ask if we have a team of grandmas making our jams for us and it makes us proud to say that this is 100 per cent us.”

Says Porter, “The only part we aren’t crazy about is the accounting side of things.”

That’s where their passion comes in, however, making the hours on the books a fair trade for the chance to excel at the areas they enjoy more. “We both really enjoy making the products and talking to new people at sales,” says Porter. “To hear people’s praise for our product makes us smile.”

Wasiuta and Porter swear by maintaining a positive outlook and feel that just knowing they are capable of doing this is what lifts their business to the next level, giving them the energy and drive to grow their sales.

For more information on Porter and Wasiuta and Forever Prairie, follow them on Facebook as they post which craft sales and farmer’s markets they will be at and when. Readers can also find their products at Wild West Farm and Garden Ltd. (at 539 Main St., Oakbank, Man.), and soon, in many more stores in Winnipeg and beyond.

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