Kyle Player, Executive Director of Agribusiness Center for Research and Entrepreneurship (ACRE) talks about the ACRE curriculum and funding and introduces grant recipients Lover Farms in Pickens County and The RobinHood Group’s Farmers Market Flavors Ice Cream Company in Union County.

    ACRE was established in 2017 with a goal to promote agribusiness in South Carolina, particularly innovative, out-of-the-box thinkers. ACRE helps small-business owners stay in business longer, reach more people, find new markets, and supplies grant funding. The main goal of ACRE is to support entrepreneurs in realizing their dream of having an agribusiness in South Carolina.

    ACRE provides two programs to support entrepreneurship. The first is the Curriculum program, taught by the Clemson Agribusiness Extension Team. Businesses learn how to prepare a business plan and a business pitch. Upon successful completion of the program, a panel of judges selects multiple businesses to receive up to $5,000 each.

    The advanced program offers larger grants and other support to those who have an established business or product but are struggling to get to the next step.

    ACRE also offers free webinars and workshops to connect businesses with additional funding, provide business plan assistance, form connections with retail markets, and learn to create new revenue streams. Relationships are cultivated over years to help agribusinesses be the best they can be.

    ACRE has assisted 600 South Carolina residents and funded $490,000 to 35 entrepreneurs over their first three years.

    Kyle introduced Lover Farms and Farmers Market Ice Cream, two recent grant award recipients who have been through the ACRE curriculum.

    Lover Farms

    Brittany Arsiniega and Brit Hessler met last summer after Brittany had purchased a farm, her lifelong dream. Brit had been managing a farm in North Georgia and their skills (and names) seemed to match up well. The name of the farm signifies their love for the land, the animals, and the people they serve.

    Brittany and Brit were excited about farming and other opportunities for people to come together. Brit is also an artist, herbal practitioner, and has developed classes and other opportunities for community building and resource sharing, teaching skills to take home and share with wider communities.

    Lover Farms has a variety of products and services, including a CSA (community supported agriculture) program. Included in your weekly box of veggies are unique items like locally made jerky, natural soaps, tinctures, syrups, and screen-printed textiles.

    Lover Farms is adapting as ideas are suggested. A CSA subscriber asked if he could bring his company to have a COVID-safe event, and this became a large revenue stream for the farm. Someone asked if they have underwear, so over the holidays their biggest seller was screen-printed undies!

    Farmers Market Flavors Ice Cream Company

    Elise Ashby of RobinHood Group manages the Union County Farmers Market. A couple years ago Elise offered to do cooking demonstrations to help farmers sell their produce. During the summer, someone mentioned ice cream and Elise remembered seeing okra ice cream on “Iron Chef”. Although she is not a lover of okra herself, she created an okra-blueberry ice cream and people loved it. Next she tried cantaloupe-tomato ice cream.

    Elise wanted to encourage disadvantaged youth in Union County so she designed a program to encourage kids to garden and consume the produce. After receiving a grant from the USDA to start Farmers Market Flavors Ice Cream Co., Elise decided to go one step further and won a grant to get kids in the garden this spring and make ice cream in the summer. The kids will grow the produce, make the ice cream, and create marketing materials, packaging, and the website.

    Kyle: What was most important thing you took away from the curriculum?

    Brittany: It was so extraordinarily helpful to be forced to create spreadsheets with actual numbers; having to calculate what cost of goods sold was and how we were going to distribute our overhead costs, things like utilities and insurance, across our products, and then being able to see what we actually needed to charge. You can actually calculate the minimum amount you need to charge to cover your costs.

    Brit: I just called Brittany the other night and said, ‘I just crunched some numbers!’ The program taught us to think more creatively about how we spend money and to value our own skills and time, and delegate some things to other people.

    Elise: The accounting course and finance was the most challenging and the most important, but also important was the marketing aspect, packaging, labeling and creating a website. I am hoping that in creating, kids feel ownership, and find potential future jobs.

    Kyle: How will your business benefit the Upstate?

    Elise: I think ice cream benefits everybody. When you are feeling bad, get an ice cream! Farmers Market Flavors ice cream is something parents love getting for kids because it is healthy. Kids are eating a serving of three of vegetables. You can eat it for breakfast! It is the perfect food!

    Brittany: In the short term, having a place that people feel safe gathering feels like an immense asset for our community. We have had family events and work events. The Furman Women’s lacrosse team is coming to do a teambuilding event. In a time when every social activity is loaded with guilt and danger, having a place where you can genuinely enjoy socializing feels really important. In the long run, we see the network of relationships that we are building just beginning to grow.