After Brad Indoe graduated from Ohio State University, he lit out for California. It wasn’t that he was unhappy here; he simply couldn’t find a job.
But when he decided to leave the corporate world and launch a food business, Ohio welcomed his return.
“That’s what really brought me back to Ohio. Not only are my family and friends here, but I knew I could make it happen here,” he said. “Just given the resources that are available and Ohio is a more business friendly state, a little more entrepreneurial friendly state.”
Now Indoe is expanding his company, Urban Raccoons, which makes gluten-free granola bars and other products.
The whimsical name was inspired by the critters that pilfered produce from his small garden in California. But the business plan was sparked after Indoe found out he had an intolerance to gluten—a protein found in many grains, and in many of his favorite foods.
“Instead of feeling bad for yourself—I have to live with this the rest of my life—see how you can turn it around and make something good out of it,” he said.
Already, he’s outgrowing his small Medina County production facility, where a stainless steel table holds a display of ingredients: sunflower seeds, almonds, oats, amaranth and flax seed.
To bind it all together, “The only thing I use is Ohio honey, which is local honey. I also use maple syrup—Ohio maple syrup, which comes from my family farm.”
He’s referring to the dairy a few miles down the road where he grew up watching crops grow and tackling gardening projects through 4-H.
“That ties into what I’m doing now, taking some locally made ingredients and turning it into a finished product that I can sell to my local community,” he said.
He believes the more Ohio products he can use the better—a nearby company provides his packaging, and he recently found a local source for applesauce, which he plans to use in cookies.
“I had no idea how much of the food industry exists here in Ohio, but it does,” he said. “And I’m just glad that I made the move back to Ohio, because I don’t think I would be where I’m at today if I was in some other state.”
Ann’s Raspberry Farm
Ann Trudel is sitting at her kitchen table. She holds a raspberry between her thumb and forefinger and places it upside-down in a half-pint container. It forms a foggy ring on the clear plastic.
“Do we hire someone to do this or do we stop doing it?” pondered Dan, her husband, watching over her shoulder.
For eight years, the Knox County family built its business by paying attention to details like this—stacking berries one by one to keep them plump on the way to market.
Now Ann’s Raspberry Farm is facing the question that every growing business has to answer.
“We cannot grow enough berries and we cannot make enough jam and it’s been like this every year. At the end of the day, it really creates anxiety about ‘Oh my gosh, how are we going to meet the demand?’ ” Dan said.
Don’t get him wrong. It’s a great problem to have. Ever since they’ve made a business out of Ann’s longtime passion for homemade jam, they’ve been pressed to keep up with the opportunity that unfolded.
They are repeat winners of the national Good Food Award for their Red Raspberry Gourmet Jam and Savory Brussels Sprout Gourmet Relish (Dan is bent on proving the virtues on the veggie maligned by childhood memories).
Choosing The Path
But with their early success came challenges.
On their 5-acre plot, the Trudels walk between rows of 8-foot-tall berry plants in a greenhouse-like structure called a high tunnel. They go over decisions about hiring, distribution, marketing plans and price points.
“None of that has to do with growing,” Dan said, grasping a nearby raspberry cane, “taking care of these things.”
And there’s a more fundamental question: if the harvest disappoints them, do they dare take a blemished berry to market?
As Dan frequently reminds them, “Quality is what brought us here.”
Ultimately, the intensity of the work is what reveals Dan’s passion.
“You saw how crazy it is. It’s 7 o’clock in the morning and I was up at 5 going to get stuff for the kitchen. And we had an avalanche of berries yesterday,” he said.
Despite his early morning scramble, he has a message to get out to anyone who will listen.
“For me the biggest reward is growing up in the city in Montreal and then years later I’m somewhat successful in growing berries,” he said. “Wow, I really can do that? If I can, anybody else can.”
He recently received a grant to build a second high tunnel where he will track production information in hopes he can help other beginning farmers.
“For somebody to do this in their midlife it has to be beyond money,” he said. “Because there will never be enough money and it will never be easy.”
For Ann, it’s about the simple gratification she gets from customers in a scene repeated at farmers markets.
“They pick up the samples as they’re walking by and they’re really not that interested. But you can count 1-2-3-4-5,” she said, marking off their steps as they taste the jam. “They turn around and look at you, and they’re like ‘Who made this?!’ ”
“It’s just so fun,” she laughed.