Talking about Farms Popcorn, Community Gardens and Beer: Updates from Previous Episodes (Episode 309 Transcript)

February 23, 2022

We catch up with three guests who have previously been on Grounded by the Farm with Updates on Three Popular Episodes: Popcorn, Community Gardens & Beer Oh My!

We talk to:

  • Popcorn farmer Matt Helms about Ella & Ollie Popcorn the local, premium quality product the family is selling in online and in the St. Louis area as well.
  • Community builder & urban farmer Natasha Nicholes tells us about how things are growing in Chicago with We Sow We Grow
  • Tennessee Brew Works’ Christian Spears tells us about the craft beer with a farmer connection that took a medal in the Great American Beer Festival and how they continue to



popcorn, people, beer, grow, talk, growers, farm, nice, customers, community, ipa, year, tennessee, janice, natasha, movie theaters, space, shops, good, craft breweries


Janice Person – Grounded by the Farm, Matt Helms, Christian Spears, Natasha Nicholes


Janice Person  00:03

Food is more than just what’s on our plate. It’s the places where it’s grown. It’s the people who grow it and so much more. Join me, Janice Person, your host on Grounded by the Farm every other week as we talk about the foods we love. With this episode, we are going to catch up with three of our previous guests love, seeing what they’re doing, how things have changed all of that.

So we’re gonna start off with one of the first interviews I ever did before the podcast got launched, going to talk with Matt, have Ella and Ollie popcorn about some of the things they’ve been seeing. Then we’re going to go to Chicago, we’re going to talk to Natasha at the urban farm up there with Lisa, we grow, and then down to Nashville and talk to Christian spears at Tennessee brew works. Getting caught up on all three of them seeing what’s happened. Hope you guys will enjoy this. And please let me know if you’d like an update from some of our other guests.

I thought maybe this would be something we’ll do periodically.

Matt Helms Talks about Growing the Popcorn Business


Alright, let’s go ahead and get started with these interviews. For this segment, we’re talking to Matt Helms. And some of you guys may remember Matt, he was on the show before anybody even knew there was a show one of our first episodes ever, we’re gonna talk about popcorn. So Matt, when we’ve talked to you before, you guys had just put in a pretty huge investment of like extra storage and stuff on the farm. Tell me Is it paying off? How are you guys doing? What’s happened?

Matt Helms  01:38

Well, Janice, it’s great to talk again, I remember the day we were driving out to the farm fall two years ago of 2019. It was a windy, cold day, and we were out there checking everything out. It’s been quite the journey. Very fun. Lots of hard work, you know, as we talked about, we’re a local small little business here. But we’re really trying to do this the right high end quality way. So we invested our own brain Ben storage system, so we can monitor and get the moisture just right for popcorn. That is the number one most important thing after the variety selection to make sure you have high quality popcorn. So looking back, it was a great investment. I’m glad we’ve done it because we can take control of that piece to make sure we’re delivering high end quality popcorn to our customers.


Janice Person  02:26

Yeah, so when we did that you had a mushroom and you had an heirloom that people like me would like so the mushroom is used for like flavored popcorn. So now are you still with those two varieties? Or what are you doing?


Matt Helms  02:39

Well, it’s, we’re not we’re growing. You know, you can’t do everything. But if what we really do is try to listen to our customers. You can’t serve every single request, but you look for what are the common themes. So we’ve grown from that signature heirloom popcorn and one mushroom bowl shaped popcorn to adding in a really nice white popcorn, something we’ve been wanting to do, even at the time we first visited, but it took me a while to find the right quality white popcorn. And what I mean is white popcorn tends to have a little bit of a little less hole and stuff that gets caught in your teeth. But the popping volume is quite a bit less usually, we found one that we just really love. And we actually grew quite a few acres of it. And it’s growing very nicely. We added a second mushroom for gourmet shops and then we have a modern butterfly for movie theater customers. So we actually now have five varieties of popcorn Janis that were you utilizing those brain bins to store and get just right.


Janice Person  03:45

I think we blew my mind saying you had to in the past. So I’m sure five is crazy. So you guys are now at movie theaters and specialty shop. If somebody really likes popcorn in St. Louis, and they go to a local shop. They may have the popcorn. That’s Ella and Ollie.


Matt Helms  04:03

Absolutely. You know, we had a fun little experience where we had a radio station, two radio stations that that were interested in our little pop form. And they they rated us compared to other popcorns the best popcorn St. Louis, which was really cool. And we are now and I haven’t added it up. But I think we’re close to about 100 different locations between gourmet shops. One local grocery store Dierbergs here in the St. Louis area and then several specialty shops as well as movie theaters. So and then of course we do have direct sales online which is very popular these days as well.


Janice Person  04:38

I also want to mention is there another grocery store that you guys have?


Matt Helms  04:43

There is one actually down in Texas. Yeah, we kind of crazy but through some of the articles that people been writing on are l&l a popcorn Central Market which is a real nice high end. Texas based grocery store has brought us into all their local as well, so yeah, we’re, we’re excited, we’ve actually picked up, I’ve got a little cluster of gore May and kettle corn customers in Florida that love the product again, it all comes back to relationships I’ve been able to establish with about three of the popcorn breeders really look at their next generation, look for, you know, a quality product that hits the attributes. And it’s kind of crazy. But I feel like we have found a product for that segment, we can ship it all the way to Florida. And it’s providing a better value than what those customers are able to get locally. So it’s been really fun. Actually, I was just texting a customer today on is order here in a couple of weeks, that’s going to ship out to Florida.


Janice Person  05:39

I love it. I love it. So in some of those places, they may or may not say whether it’s ln Ali popcorn, some of them, they may have smaller bottles on the shelf if you wanted to pop it home. But on the website, it’s all Ella and Ollie all the time.


Matt Helms  05:53

That’s right, anything in retail, or a burlap bag is Ella and Holly several actually, um, every single one of the movie theaters that we work with, because what’s really fun about this is every single business we’re working with, except maybe one of the grocery stores I mentioned, but it’s predominantly independent and family owned businesses. And we relate really well so long story short, Janice, the theaters and many of the gourmet shops are also selling our jars as a retail opportunity for them but they’re also promoting locally grown l&l a pop their business. So, you know, it’s really cool. When you can see, you know, this drive in movie theater, the Sky View driving who has 80,000 followers on Facebook when they put a plug in for your business and you can see customers enjoying your product there.


Janice Person  06:45

I love it. Well, I know I’ve bought more than a few things. Christmas i Yeah, we like to eat in my family. And so food has always been a great gift in my family. So this year, I went to one of those shops that sells it locally and they a lot of the specialty shops sell a lot of your product line. So it’s not just popcorn anymore that you can get on the website and some of the specialty shop tell people what else because you know that popper is like big, big time and my family now in multiple states.


Matt Helms  07:20

Well, we’re actually deliberate because our journey started is what we call ourselves popcorn lovers, we multiple times a week. It can be a meal. We play around with different seasonings, oils and recipes. We make it as an appetizer on Thanksgiving. And there’s several others that are what we call popcorn lovers or popcorn aficionados. Even popcorn junkie is what I do. But one of the things through again, interacting with customers and potential customers is having that experience is is honestly how we we got started, I grew up eating popcorn with my grandpa Oliver or Holly, and our family, my wife, Michelle and daughter, Lily Ella. That’s what we do. It’s a cherish time. So it’s all about that experience. And as we thought about how we’re doing things, and we listen to some of our customers and like oh, you should really look at this, we decided well, let’s add some cool experiences called some infused olive oils and some neat seasoning. So my wife Michelle actually took that project on. And again, we’ve looked at a wide range of options. We work with a small California farm family on the olive oil products and then locally infused to deliver a very high end and there are differences in olive oil and we didn’t go the cheap route and we have a garlic jalapeno and a butter infused olive oil and we have five customized seasonings that we’ve provided for our family as well. So now we have the microwave popper. If you’re a popcorn junkie, but you want convenience and you want to put that in the dishwasher. We got that or you can use the stovetop to


Janice Person  08:56

one of my nephew’s really has the jalapeno olive oil. He’s like in that one. We really like the spicy flavoring that you guys have. I don’t know what it is, but it’s different right? butter flavor seems like something we have a lot of right like butter flavoring on popcorn seem so normal. But then there’s also some sweet ones like a cinnamon sugar. So we’ve played with every one of the flavorings in my family.


Matt Helms  09:24

We had about 15 seasonings, Janice and we actually reached out to some customers that had been repeat customers over time. And we either mailed them or dropped off and and labeled things and then it was great as they sent us pictures, scorecards and videos and we had them describe so literally we’re getting text messages and emails of their feedback and honestly that’s how we came to the final five. What’s always fun with this especially when you’re working with your your spouse here, you know I’m always wanting to do more. Michelle is good at keeping it realistic and focused and I think we came to really Good, happy medium. We really like these five, we may tweak something, one or two little things in 2022. There’s an Italian seasoning, one that we wanted to go with as well. But there were some packaging constraints. So yeah, we’re we’re really excited and getting really nice feedback from retailers and consumers, folks


Janice Person  10:17

can always find you on Facebook. But the website is Ella Ali, popcorn, that calm. And they can check out everything you have there. If you’re in the St. Louis area, you can find lots of local stores that you could go to and kind of shop in those stores. But you can also buy it online. And that works really well for a lot of us. I like go into some of the shops now. And then some days, I just want to have something delivered to my door. So it works. Always thanks for coming on the show and keeping us up to date. I appreciate it.


Matt Helms  10:44

Absolutely. Janice. Thank you. And looking forward to having you out the farm again sometime soon.


Janice Person  10:48

Yes, definitely. When are you going to be planting?


Matt Helms  10:52

Well, we’ll see what happens. They’re saying it’s going to be a wet March. That’s what the forecast is. But you never know. Hopefully, we usually plant a few other crops before popcorn, we like the soil to be a tad bit warmer. So probably late April or early May.


Janice Person  11:06

Alright, I’ll try and make it up then. Take care.


Natasha Nicholes Updates We Sow We Grow & Community Gardening

Janice Person 11:10

For this part of the show, we’re talking to Natasha Nichols. And some of you will remember she does we so we grow and has a great urban farm community gardening kind of effort there in the south side of Chicago. It’s been two years since we’ve talked her on the show, though. And she’s had so much going on that I keep up with it online. But I’m afraid some of you may have missed it. So I wanted to talk to her about two big areas. One is the physical property side. And the other is sort of online education and really cool community building she’s been doing so Natasha, where do you want to start?


Natasha Nicholes  11:50

Oh, let’s start with the land. That’s, that’s a harder thing to talk about. The community building is the greatest, greatest aspect.


Janice Person  11:58

When I was talking to you before you guys live on the south side, and there was some land right across from you you’ve been using. And quite frankly, it was pretty limited, right? Like, I know, you’re still using that land, but you want a bit more. So tell me where tell me where you are.


Natasha Nicholes  12:17

We always want more. We are currently still on that land, it’s about a quarter acre. And we are working now with Paul University to make it more efficient than what I did when I first started. Because of course, when I first started, I was just gung ho about it, there was no formal training, and then I got a formal training. And now we got to go back and fix all of the things that I didn’t do properly. So we still have that land, and we’re looking to acquire three more lights. And one of the larger lights will be where our production farm will hopefully go, we’ll do a learning space. And then we’ll have a play space for the kids who happen to come with their parents who want to volunteer because kids, you know, their their boredom hits real fast, and they lose interest in stuff quickly. So we want to have a space where they can still run off that energy, and their parents don’t have to wait. So that’s that’s where we are right now. And if you’ve been following, we want to acquire a firehouse. And there are parts of me that wants to start like a mini online campaign to get the city of Chicago’s attention. But then, you know, I don’t I also don’t want it to blow up in my face. But it will be perfect because that that firehouse has everything that we need, including a kitchen, that will be up to production standards, and office space, and then feed starting and get our space for the community. So keep your fingers crossed, of course, that if we don’t need that, yeah, who get that we get something comparable to it. But I still really really want that firehouse


Janice Person  13:56

so you have a few lots now. It just like percentage wise, what what kind of growth on the footprint Are you looking for?


Natasha Nicholes  14:05

Oh, gosh, um, right now on that quarter acre, we have 37 dates, that is not using it at all, we’d like to probably double the bets on that space in that space, because we can and then use a lot more vertical. So I would say that we’re probably at about a 45% usage, proper usage of it. But we weren’t also at large scale composting. And then we got to get our chickens back out there. Because, yeah, chicken backyard. They’re cool at all, but I like my backyard space. And I know, you know, for a lot of home growers, they want you to use every inch for growing. I actually want to use my backyard for gathering space and the chickens have to go but we need to be able to keep the chickens. We want to put them back out there and they’ll probably take up. That’s not I don’t think that would be even a 10% Yeah, usage of the land if they if they get over there in their, in their fancy digs that we’re looking at right now.


Janice Person  15:08

Are you looking at increasing the number of foods you’re growing the different crops that you’re growing? Or are you looking like you need a lot more tomatoes? You need a lot more watermelons, you need a lot more peppers. You need all the things?


Natasha Nicholes  15:23

Yes. And we want to be able to grow what we have been growing, because we currently think, I think currently we grow about 45 different different foods out which, which is a lot, which is a lot. But yes, you know, you know how I am. It’s like, yeah, that’s not enough. That’s not enough. But I think to be able to grow the same number of crops just at a larger scale. So we can start a community source agricultural box, and start getting that what we grow out more, more people and more have more support for the farm.


Janice Person  16:00

That sounds great. And that really does kind of get into the other piece, right? Like one of the one of the things you’re talking about is wanting this building, then you have a place where you can gather with people for some of the onsite education. Right now it’s all outdoors, which is great at some times. But there’s so much planning right on staff in the winter, that would be so nice to be able to do as well as sort of seed saving and seed exchanges. And that’s why a building could be so amazing for you guys. Right?


Natasha Nicholes  16:33

Correct. And I, the last podcast that I did, I was telling someone, we connect the community through food, it’s not we use food and connect the community, right? We connect our community through the foods that we plant. And even with getting that that building, we’d still be able to have other community things that aren’t necessarily ag focus. But we’ll use whatever we grow to kind of serve to them as they’re, as they’re gathering in our space. Like we we’d like to have, you know, music for for the kids and caretakers or story hours that that may have ag background, but we want to be a resource within within West Pullman and the city of Chicago as a whole. Because it’s important. And you know, when when we did our podcast or interview two years ago, we started the farm, because we want it to be able to connect to our neighbors. And we want it to be able to know who lived in the neighborhood and also introduce them to the new folks that moved in which which was us, and I miss just being able to go into people’s houses. Now if you do that, you’re liable. You’re liable to get arrested and and the kids can’t do it like we did you know, we outside in and out of people’s homes and getting yelled at for coming in too much from playing. And now we don’t we don’t get to do that. And I need that I need that community feel again, and I need us to be connected and to watch out for each other and honestly be concerned. And if we can do that, then then we’re doing we’re doing well.


Janice Person  18:13

That’s awesome. And I do think COVID has put people at a place where they’re so worried about some of that. So this outdoor space is fantastic. But also the ability to gather is beginning to come back. And I think people may be weary of them doing it at their homes versus going someplace and coming back home. So great. All the way around. So now Should we talk about that online education and community? Sure. So should we so we grew group on Facebook has been huge. But when I talked to you two years ago, you had never done a conference?


Natasha Nicholes  18:50

No, we hadn’t done it.



Even like you talked about it. No,


Natasha Nicholes  18:55

no, I wasn’t even thinking about it at all. And I think you came the week before my brother had his car accident. Yeah, that’s that’s when you were here. So all was right in my world, right? We were happy. We were following around, we were eating bad pizza. And then a week later, a week later, my brother, my baby brother had a car accident. And then he passed away because of complications from the accident. And my entire world turned upside down. And I need it to be able to still focus on the work that we had been doing because he was helping me kind of plan and, you know, he gets suit he got super excited about about where the nonprofit was going. And it was really, really neat to see my baby brother like break into a smile or recommend me to his friends who were trying to grow food at home and that he trusted me.


Janice Person  19:49

Like there’s a lot of pride in that. I remember, I remember him saying well, you ought to see what my sister’s going. Oh man.


Natasha Nicholes  19:57

Yeah, it was it was it was wonderful. And that year, the bottom fell out. And I had already planted I think by the time you got here, too, we had already planted half of the farm. And after that, I didn’t want to do anything. So it was up to my husband and my children to kind of help keep the momentum going on the farm. And the next year, the pandemic had, and we were trying to figure out how to keep the community involved. Even though we were still a virtual community. Like, that’s how we started out, it wasn’t that they were gathering. But I needed a way to keep them involved, and to not teach everything because my brain and my heart and my energy just wasn’t there. From from breathing, and all of that other stuff. So I told my husband one day, I was like, we’re gonna have a summit. And he’s just like, what?



Of course you are.


Natasha Nicholes  20:50

Natasha, what I said, and this was in July, and I was like, Oh, we’re gonna have it in September. And he’s like, What are you talking about? And we pulled it off, we pulled it off. And we had, we had about 50 people 50 plus people attend. Yeah, over over the weekend, and we had a couple of technological difficulties. But you know, it went well. And it was really good information, you know, it was really good information. And that also, let me know that everything does not need to be Oscar worthy in order to hit where it needs to hit. You know, what I mean?


Janice Person  21:25

You know, when you’re when you’re trying to figure out how to draw a map of your garden. Yeah, you know, whoever’s doing it doesn’t have to be Viola Davis, or,


Natasha Nicholes  21:37

or whoever at all, at all. And that went well. And then the pandemic went into the second year, and I was like, I don’t know how to do this again. And sure enough, I said, Okay, we’re gonna do it again. And it went off bigger and better. So we finally got a space where we could share, we connected with so many new people in in the growing space. And now people are asking again, yeah, they want to, they want to know if we’re having it again. So yes, it will be taking place in October of this year, we promise and it will set you up for the growing season for next for next season. And the reason we do it, after everybody’s done growing, is because we want people ready when the time comes instead of getting ready when they are already should have been. And for those of us who live in zones five and six, we don’t have a really long grow season anyway. And all the wonderful people who live in eight, nine and 10 do so in October, that’s a perfect time because they can still be growing. And and it just works. And it’s just nice to be able to connect to people that way. And to to see so many growers have different spaces and areas.


Janice Person  22:53

So the conference is that one time of year, but you’re looking at doing more things every month, right? I correct. You’ve got a new thing come in now.


Natasha Nicholes  23:04

Yes. So we’re trying to we’re trying to offer workshops every week to keep people on task with their with their growth schedule. So they can jump in wherever they need to. I tried to stay away from having any type of paid service. But we did move to a paid platform where for $15 a month, you get access to a workshop a week, at least. And then if you don’t want to join the platform, you do got to pay for the workshop. So you can pay separately, and it’s obviously more than $15 a month. So the smartest thing to do would be a monthly member. And we’re making sure that we kind of hold the hand of growers. And our plan for the future is to actually have more intense modules. So if somebody wants to become a market grower, or they want to start their own urban farm or community, it’ll, it’ll be another platform that they can go on. So those will be our specialty growers. And we’re still trying to figure out what that chart would be. But I saw the conversation that went on about whether or not people growing their own food would be sustainable. And I hate that it’s become a and small growers versus you know, the Farmers of America. And when we think of Farmers of America, we always think rural, right? When there’s a place for everyone.



Oh, absolutely space for everybody.


Natasha Nicholes  24:30

It shouldn’t be in us versus them. It should be Hey, we can absolutely do this to help alleviate some of our grocery bill or give us access to fresh food and produce because we don’t have a grocery store that does and you know, shame on America for that right? Instead of I’m going to grow all of my food and you know the large scale farmers are crap because we know that’s not the truth either. And vice versa, urban farmers aren’t I I’m definitely not trying to be a commodity farmer at all, I don’t want to do it, I don’t like waking up, and there’s no way I’m waking up at four o’clock in the morning to do anything, I’d love to be able to ride in the combine, but we don’t have the space to do it. So, you know, I’m not trying to take that job at all. But we need to understand that there’s a space and a place for for everything that we all do.


Janice Person  25:22

Well, and there’s a certain amount of power to knowing how things grow, and how food is produced for each of us. I mean, I grow the most expensive tomatoes in the world in my yard, because the squirrels get half of them, and God knows I probably over you know, like, I have to plant more seeds than possibly needed to make sure I actually get them and things like that. So I think for me, gardening is not necessarily a way to really feed myself, it’s, it’s a good way to get some good tomatoes now and then and that for me, it’s also a really good reality check on how much work is involved. So maybe I reduce my food waste at home a little more, and some of those kinds of things. So, and I know you guys talk about all those kinds of things,


Natasha Nicholes  26:10

and what we’re doing a composting series this year, because I do want people to start, you know, understanding how rich and and necessary and good compost is, and how you can help do that regenerative growing and not have to become a full blown hippie or live off grid or any of that if you don’t want to do it, right. If that’s your gig, go for it. Yeah, more power to you. But some of us do, like, and are okay with, with having electricity, and not having to work so hard. When you when you allow the things that you produce to work for you and learn how to use them to your advantage. It feels awesome. It feels awesome. And, you know, I think city folk get get a bad rap sometimes like, like, we aren’t able to survive without, you know, the luxuries of life. And it’s nice to be able to do but to be able to do both, and then to help people, you know, be okay with being able to do both. And yeah, I mean that it’s not that one better, you know, once I better than the other thing.


Janice Person  27:23

Yeah, I love it. You’re so good at summarizing Why, what you do matters. So if people want to find you, there’s the website,


Natasha Nicholes  27:32

correct, which I broke. So we are we are currently fixing that. So if you get on and you see nothing, that is my fault, I take full responsibility for it. But you can also find us on Instagram at WWE. So we grow Twitter, and we saw we grow. And even on Facebook, we so that’s where we are.


Janice Person  27:52

And then you’ve got the mighty networks coming soon,


Natasha Nicholes  27:55

correct the works is actually launched and and we’re tinkering around with that still, but we do have things up already. And you can go in and make yourselves comfortable. And we’re working on our March workshops, we have to out of the fourth slot field. So we will be talking about backyard and kitchen composting on the 14th of March. And then we will be speaking about Burma composting. So if you want that, that, order your worms now, and get all set up. And we’ll we’ll help you, we’ll help you through that. And that’ll be taking place for the seventh, the seventh of March. And then we’ll close out its large scale composting, and then soil amending. So you can figure that out. And then, um, I have just a mini workshop that’s coming up talking about water soluble fertilizer versus granular because a lot of people use them the wrong way, and are then completely shocked when when their plants either die on them or do not do anything. So we want we want to, we want people’s money to go where it needs to go. And for folks to stop hemorrhaging cash because they’re doing the wrong things with what they’re growing.


Janice Person  29:12

Alright, and I’m going to last thing, I want to make sure that when we leave here, I get the link so that if people want to support we saw we grow with a contribution by Pay Pal or any of those things. They can get it in our show notes. Okay, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it Natasha, and I’m fine. I can’t wait to get back to Chicago. I’ll be there this summer and I’m planning to come to Pullman yay so here we are.

Talking to Christian Spears of Tennessee Brew Works

Janice 30:00

We’re with Christian Spears. Christian is with Tennessee brew works in Nashville and some of you may not have heard. We talked to Christian first when we also talked to one of the farmers that grows barley for him. It’s that episode we did with Brandon went and then we went in and talked to Christian at the brewery. And later because COVID started changing everything in the hospitality world, we went back and asked Christian to help us understand what was going on. It’s been a year and a half, I think, or something since we caught up with him, and I had to include him here. So Kristin, can you catch us up on what’s been happening with you guys?


Christian Spears  30:23

Well, first of all, thank you for including us, we appreciate it. And, you know, I think the the moral of the story or summary of where we are right now is we are surviving. And so I, you know, I was saying before we started recording, you know, I’m just happy to still be doing what I do. And I, you know, I have friends who weren’t as fortunate come out the other side of this, there is very good demand for our products. And I think I mentioned we have been at capacity on the production side of our brewery since March of 21. It’s a wonderful feeling, in one sense, but the other, the stress is strangely trying to create enough product to meet demand in concert with, you know, all the supply issues that everyone experiences, we certainly could see the writing on the wall, you know, coming out of 2020 with the demand and still are invested in capacity increases. But you know, like everything else, we have experienced delays, everyone else, we’ve experienced delays and getting that equipment it so it’s been a it’s been a blessing, and a curse, you know, to have that have that demand. And the team was excited. And there’s that level of frustration too. Because here we are, we have this great opportunity, our dreams are coming true. People love what we’re doing. Oh my gosh, we got to get it to like. And so there’s some of that going on. But I feel like all of us are coming out of COVID with PhDs in supply chain management. So I have a nice season battle tested team here to to handle all obstacles going forward after this. So I


Janice Person  32:02

I definitely think people had to learn about supply chain management over the last couple of years. When we last talked to you I can remember, beer and wine sales and stuff in the grocery store was really like the top spot, people weren’t going back out very much. It was it was still pretty locked down in a lot of places. So you say this growth has happened. You were you were having the growth before Wuhan and COVID. Then you had this weird period where all you were doing was retail sales. So when you say you have this, this great growth and you you’ve needed to expand, I have trouble getting all the equipment. Are you seeing that more? And sort of the retail side? Or is it more other bars that are carrying? Because we’ve talked about you guys have a kitchen and all there but you really do supply a lot of different people with Tennessee brew, right?


Christian Spears  32:57

Yeah, it is. There’s different components that answer you right now the manufacturing side is really where we would see like this almost anomalous demand, you know, versus other products, maybe for alcohol, the restaurant itself had to close down for a while, you know, we were, we were keeping the the tap room alive. And we I think we’ve talked about before by delivering one six pack at a time out to the street and putting it in someone’s trunk. And that’s how we’re making revenue. And so it’s strange, because there was a lot of camaraderie that came from that we definitely connect a lot more with our community. You know, I would see the picture, you know, on someone’s Facebook account that they’d come by to support their local brewery. And the owner walked out and put the thing in their trunk and, and then we started even doing beer deliveries, you know, and somebody’s there on a Sunday afternoon, get some beer, and they take a picture of me, you know, walking it up to their porch here, like, wow, you know, and I think they people start to really realize that, that it is still very small business. I think we look big, in so many ways because of the the length, the breadth of our distribution, but we’re still very much a small business and I think it kind of click when you see the owner, just scrap it away, you know, trying to keep things going. And so that was really nice for us. But that’s the man really was on the manufacturing side. And even then we were we were certainly competing with big beer and not just even big beer, I should say. Big seltzer. Yeah, you know, we we shared a distributor with truly and white claw seltzers which I mean, I you know, my mother was drinking that and I couldn’t stop I mean that the wave of spikes outs are climbing during the shutdown was unbelievable. And so while craft breweries did experience good demand in their what they call off premise sells the grocery stores that can be stores. We were fighting for that space with big organizations that yeah, which with a lot of influence over the stores. So you just see the hallways at the at the grocery stores packed up with more product because they were just trying to stamp on demand. And you would notice that the craft breweries were pushed into the corner and a little harder to find. So we did all right. You know, we definitely saw demand, but we it was it was a different dynamic. And there was some kind of specific issues that coincided with that environment. And then of course, most craft breweries, small ones, we majority of our sales come from what’s called on premise, which is bars and restaurants and they were closed. So the manufacturing saw this demand for off premise sales, and then a massive decline in on premise sales. But, you know, just we had these pockets, you know, in East Tennessee, were we up double digits, you know, 2020, and that was after being up triple digits in 2019. And, you know, so there was just these bright spots. And, you know, we we had to really focus on those bright spots, you know, keep ourselves, you know, feeling okay, but, but that period was, you know, did create a lot of camaraderie that followed us as the market opens. And that camaraderie between Dutch Star team was in survival mode, but the community itself, some of the tourists started coming back and 21 locals didn’t stop coming. And so overall, we saw it, we had an awesome 21 And both the manufacturer and then the retailer, the tapra. So, so yeah, so that, and then, like I said, you know, getting the equipment in and everything going it’s, it’s, it’s been challenging, but it looks like it’s, it’s gonna be a good year. So


Janice Person  36:44

we’ll probably need to talk about beer a little bit. Right, like the actual, so. So you guys, I love watching you guys on Instagram. Like it’s so much fun. Um, you guys have a award winning beer now? Is it called farmers beat? That’s right. Okay.


Christian Spears  37:05

So, you know, we’ve won awards before, you know, we’ve you know, but this one, where is it? I mean,


Janice Person  37:12

it’s kind of I have it handy. You know, he’s got his metal on. So it’s from the Great American Beer Festival. And this is one that connects directly back to a local farm, though, too, right? Like a Tennessee farm is engaged in this


Christian Spears  37:28

good hand, pick the better beer to represent. What Tennessee brewers, you know, like, it just was awesome. This one was particularly special. Because the Great American Beer Festival is the biggest beer competition in the world. It had the most entries in the history of the competition. And our category had the most entries in the history of the competition. And then cherry on top. It was a beer that was made in partnership with Hank Delvin Jr. So Telvin farms provided us with beats. And we made a beat Farmhouse Ale called farmer’s beats, you know, it still be at double meaning. And I mean, wow, it was beet red, it was made with real beats all natural coloring. And flavors are add ons were actual beats that he handpicked. So what better way to showcase the brewery that, you know, supports the local farms and valleys that tradition, culture history of Tennessee? I mean, it’s it’s perfect. So we were very, very happy about that. And I think Hank was was was digging it to, you know,


Janice Person  38:42

farmers be so. So what are the beers that you have right now that are kind of going to be coming out or that are currently available that are kind of exciting.


Christian Spears  38:53

So we actually have a beer that is coming out in cancer the very first time. By the way, one of the pieces of equipment that we bought was a two in one bottle or canner so we can do all these different types of offerings for our beers. And today, we’re actually taking our number one beer, and we’re putting in a can and we’re releasing it out to the world. So this is the hippies and cowboys IPA, the face on it is actually Tim shields, he worked for me. And he actually looked like that when we made that that photo that we took the photo. So that is a that is not just a rendering. It’s a it’s a rendering of a real person who looked like that at the time. He was very proud. He we like to reward our our team for sticking by us and like to honor them, like give them the option to be on a beer label. Yeah. And he took it. He was very proud of it. But then like two weeks later, he shaved off the chops. I don’t know so that I don’t know why I did that. And then so we’ve worked on him every once a while. We


Janice Person  39:54

have to put this photo on the blog so people can see it.


Christian Spears  40:00

real person. He’s awesome. He he was actually did a lot of acting work prior to joining our team and he, you know, is run east Tennessee Sales and Marketing for us and yeah, it’s a great guy and if he’s in cowboys IPA, and I mean, this beer is over 50% of our sales right now, so we’re pretty excited. And then actually, I got another one for you are 1927 IPA? And 27 Yeah, 9027 IPA and we just released this to Cannes as well. So hippies and cowboys. Let’s go back to that. It isn’t cowboys. The name came from every year. For A Weekend. The whole town thinks they’re cowboys, CMAs cama fan fanfare, and everyone’s got cowboy boots on jean shorts, cowboy hats. Every year, for a weekend. Everyone thinks they’re hippie Fonterra. And often they’re in the same weekend’s so this whole town absolutely explodes with these two cultures. And it’s it’s an art we’re on the edge of downtown or brewery. So it’s it’s pretty funny. And so this name is perfect. Yeah, it’s so Nashville. But this one is actually meant to be so Tennessee 1927. Oh, it’s the birth of modern country. The Bristol sessions. Oh, yeah. So July, July, August 1927, Ralph Pierre basically took a lot of folk singers and brought them into the studio and laid out some tracks. Jimmy Rogers, the Carter family called the Big Bang of modern country. So it honors the Bristol, Tennessee, that Bristol sessions in the birth of modern country. So it’s just a big old awesome IPA. It does very, very well. And people are pretty excited to see it cans now too. So those are all offerings a new package. So


Janice Person  41:58

it’s kind of neat that you guys have the staples that go year after year. And then you have the seasonal. And so farmers beat was sort of a special beer sort of seasonal


Christian Spears  42:09

was. So it’s a, we do it every other year. And it kind of takes a long time to make, you know, we like to sell it for a little while. When the beets come out. They’re super earthy. And then what happens over time they transition to much darker red berry. Okay, and so so the yeast does very well to time some yeast, you can have some beers like an IPA, you want to you want to drink it fast. But Saison yeast, which is what we use to French stays on yeast does very well with time. And, and you know, these beers are really good after a year, if you as long as you condition them correctly, you know, put them in your fridge, you know, don’t leave them out on the counter in front of the window, you know. But yeah, so this beer did very well. And we brewed a lot of it and we sell it it so of course, it you know, it wins this metal and, you know, good luck getting it. I mean, it was gone in a heartbeat. We actually had people coming on our tap and trying to buy it because they said they’re shipping people the country would ask for it. It’s pretty cool. But this year, we’re talking about our version of the safe zone or the farmhouse sale this year, as we want to do Hanks harvest. So not it’s a nod to Hank and the Delvin family butternut squash Farmhouse Ale, so it’s our answer to pumpkin beers.



Is that the year then?


Christian Spears  43:29

Yeah, it’ll be the fall beer. Yeah, it’s got a time Well, and, and the reason why we’re probably going to do it is this man wants to make sure he gets the right, you know, right gradients, you know, he’s just, it’s got crops got to be good.


Janice Person  43:42

For and he does not play when it comes to the ingredients,


Christian Spears  43:46

he does not play, you know, and look, I know my role, you know, I’m the CEO of the company, and so forth. But he has, you know, he is a Final Cut, as they say on the beer, you know, and, you know, I might need something out. But if he says the beers not ready, doesn’t go out. And so that’s, that’s a little QA thing from our sample stamp side, you know, to make sure that the beers always the best quality, but anyway, yeah, so the special release in conjunction with something like farmer’s beat would be Hanks harvest this year.


Janice Person  44:17

Very cool. Very cool. So if people are traveling around Tennessee, they should look for Tennessee. bruleur. So they can always ask. Yes, right? Yes. Especially if they’re in Nashville. I mean, they’re like right in your backyard. They’re waiting to see his has come up quite well. Yeah, you


Christian Spears  44:35

know, we, East Tennessee has been very, very good us. Particularly Knoxville, Pigeon Forge Gatlinburg, you’ll see our beer all over the place. It’s been great. You’ll see some of the Tri Cities a little bit. Cleveland even down the Chattanooga, Lena Tullahoma. But actually when you go west, I mean really Clarksville. We have nice presence there but you really aren’t going to see us in Jackson or even Shelby County. I mean, all at the moment. And this kind of goes back to we’re, you know, we didn’t really have much of a presence there, we hadn’t really made a push much out there. And we can’t because we don’t have the product, you know, we have to manage what we have right now. So it’s been a little bit paralyzing, you know, to not be able to move beyond where we are. But it’s, it’s our reality. So,


Janice Person  45:20

Memphis has some great craft beers. In the meantime, if people can always hit me up, because I’ll be in Memphis again, as this comes out. Even so,


Christian Spears  45:30

yeah, we I mean, there’s some there’s some great ones there. And we’re friends with them and share distributors with them. We, we just can’t set our finger there right now. Until Until we increase the capacity within our building. So high class problem, right.


Janice Person  45:50

Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Is there anything else I needed to make sure you got in before we take this?


Christian Spears  45:58

No, you’re the best. I appreciate you giving us focus. It’s it’s really awesome. You know, we’re, we’re fighting a good fight. We things I think the winds that are back right now it feels good. But we always could use all the help we can get getting the word out and bringing people to our place trying our beer. So thank you.


Janice Person  46:18

And that’s a wrap for this three part episode. Is that what we’re going to call it, I guess, thank you so much for all of you guys who’ve shared previous episodes with friends and family recommended us to other people. We’ve been really excited. We broke into the top 100 in food podcast a couple of times recently, which is a massive bit of growth for us from where we started. So thank you so much. Don’t forget you can always find us on social or on the website grounded by the farm calm. We’ll talk to you soon. Bye.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.