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Humboldt County clearly has a thriving food scene. In this region, with our mild climate and entrepreneurial spirit, there are seemingly countless restaurants and specialty food producers; a wide assortment of farms, ranches, dairies and fisheries; and 13k+ members in the Facebook group Humboldt Foodies.

With September being Local Food Month, this abundance of food love is certainly something to be celebrated. But this doesn’t mean there won’t be some surprises when starting a food business here. In this week’s column we will explore some things to consider if taking the food business plunge in Humboldt County through the experiences of local food business owners Lauren Sarabia of Comfort of Home Catering and Patrick Gaskins of Simmer Down Caribbean Café and Gaskins Family Foods.

For Sarabia, who has run a successful catering business in Humboldt County for 20 years, one of the first big decisions she had to make was how far she was willing to go to expand. She was running a cookie business and selling to local stores when she realized to make this business a truly viable livelihood she would have to sell beyond the county. In a sparsely populated region, growing a manufacturing business often leads to this ultimatum – expand or close up shop. Ultimately, Sarabia decided she didn’t want to sell out of the area, focusing her energy instead on cultivating her catering skills; she hasn’t looked back since.

Local food truck and specialty food business owner Patrick Gaskins recently found himself traversing the other route; while he got his start selling food hyper-locally, from events to a successful food truck, Gaskins is now focusing his energy on getting into the wholesale industry, enabling him to start selling products outside of the area as well.

In addition to determining desired market, running a food business requires making decisions about values. A common value both Gaskins and Sarabia share is sourcing local ingredients whenever possible. Gaskins, who specializes in Caribbean cuisine, has a set menu and ingredient lists for his products, which means the ratio of local to out-of-the-area ingredients he is able to incorporate fluctuates throughout the year. Sarabia in contrast has made locally sourced foods her specialty. Operating with a seasonal menu means her offerings are constantly changing, allowing her to follow the locally sourced model fairly extensively year-round.

Regardless of varying business models, a lesson that came through loud and clear from each of my conversations with them is the importance of building relationships with your source. I found this fitting; I frequently hear running a successful food business in Humboldt County requires building close community connections –including getting to know your local farmers, ranchers and fisherman.

So what else have Sarabia and Gaskins learned? Lots! But in light of limited copy space, they also emphasized the importance of self-care and valuing your work and your products; valuing what you do can make all the difference in whether you make it or break it.

Learn more about Local Food Month at facebook.com/humboldtlocalfoodmonth.

May Patiño is an anthropologist, food systems specialist, and Coordinator of the Humboldt Food Policy Council. You can contact her at maypatino@gmail.com

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