Beginnings Inspired by Love
When Meredith de Vera brought her family recipe sugar cookies to a dinner party in Rogers, Arkansas, in 2013, Rachel Harris took a bite and nostalgically exclaimed, “My granny made the same cookie!” From that first bite and a mutual regard for the recipes and kitchen moments that had nourished their families for generations, the women’s friendship grew.
Meredith grew up on a farm in Girard, Kansas, cooking and baking with her family. Meredith describes her grandma as “a farm wife who made everything from scratch.” The brand name is inspired by her great grandmother’s red farmhouse cupboard from the 1860s. “The story goes that my great grandparents bought it at the train station in town, where people would sell their belongings so they could travel or continue on their way. The cupboard isn’t anything fancy. I just love its story.”
An Arkansas native, Rachel shared, “I had a strong relationship with my grandparents. My Mother and ‘second moms’ in the neighborhood were all incredible bakers and entertainers. So I was fortunate to grow up with an understanding of how food can impact other people, and the joy of serving family and friends.”
As the pair grew closer, Meredith shared with Rachel her longstanding plan to launch a baked treats business. Meredith’s father had perfected a recipe that she felt confident would draw customers as a flagship cookie. “I’d thought about this for so long. When I moved to northwest Arkansas in 2000, I began working in a corporate office in product development. I started putting together a plan, but my job kept me so busy I never seemed to have time. In 2006, I had my first baby and began thinking of it again. In the fall of 2013, Rachel and I joined forces, and a friend encouraged us to test the market. We decided to give it a shot, and sold 3,000 cookies in 2 days at a local craft fair.” Following that success they became vendors at the Bentonville Farmer’s Market.
Baking Honestly and Mindfully
Since, Farmhouse Cupboard cookies have been drawing customers and winning over tastebuds throughout Arkansas and beyond. Like a previous Featured Producer, Pink House Alchemy who introduced the pair to The Savory Pantry, Farmhouse Cupboard relies on the Arkansas Food Innovation Center. Part of The University of Arkansas system, it is a facility designed to encourage and support food entrepreneurs by providing a public, licensed, and inspected facility where makers can safely prepare foods. Rachel shared, “Producers at the Arkansas Food Innovation Center all learn from each other and it’s a community. It has helped our business tremendously. Working there two days a week twice a month, we can bake up to 3,000 cookies per day.”
And many of their ingredients have memorable stories of their own. Meredith shared, “Our ingredients are all mindfully sourced, and we like to get high-quality products from small growers. For example, all our pecans come from Prothes Pecan farm in Kansas. Originally planted by Native Americans, it is now run by a couple in their 80s I met through my dad. Rachel and I head to Kansas whenever we need more, and haul them back in our car. Another example is the dates we use, which come from a family date farm in Thermal, California. Our coconut comes from the Philippines and is sulfite free and all natural. We know where all our ingredients come from and have to have an understanding of weather and how it impacts harvests.”
Working moms Meredith and Rachel strive to ensure that “Honest, inspired, and loved” shines through their product and their brand. “If it’s not fun, we said we’re not going to keep doing it. Whatever it is that you want to pursue, it has to have elements of fun that make you happy,” Rachel shared. “We want to do something that makes us happy and still be able to pick up our kids from school.” Meredith added, “Flexible is our middle name. We appreciate each other’s work ethic and trust that when one of us has other obligations, the other will step in. We’re a team.”
And what do their families think of this growing endeavor? “My dad is proud,” Meredith says, “and our kids want to work with us some day. Passing a highway sign recently, my daughter said, ‘Mom, do you think you and Rachel could adopt a road?’ I think in her mind, once we’re able to be a business adopting a road, we’ll really be a big deal! Our husbands have also been very supportive. They’ve also looked at us cross-eyed at some points, but with a smile and a laugh because they know everything we are working toward we are doing with the good intentions.”
What’s next for Farmhouse Cupboard? “We are gluttons for punishment. That’s why you get into the food business,” Meredith laughs. “But we’re in The Savory Pantry, and the coffee bar at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. Proudly, we are in the final stages of being certified by WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council), so the icon will soon appear on our packaging. We never know what each day will bring, but we’ve learned to do it all from baking, to business, to marketing . . . we are constantly thinking two steps forward.” And what does the pair agree are the keys to success for any food entrepreneur? “Deliver great taste and never be afraid to hear no.”