EmPOWERing Mountain Food Systems (EMFS) is excited to announce that Waynesville Soda Jerks is the first recipient of the EMFS grant and loan program! The program is designed to “buy down” the cost of purchasing equipment or infrastructure for farm and food businesses, and is a partnership between Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIFund) and EMFS, which is funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, NC Cooperative Extension, and Cherokee Preservation Foundation. The EMFS funding provides a grant match to loan funding through NCIFund, a community lender providing loans and assistance to small businesses and farms that are unable to access financing from traditional sources.
Waynesville Soda Jerks is an independent, locally-owned soda company based in Haywood County, North Carolina, that works closely with regional farmers and producers to source local farm products for their sodas. The company, owned by Megan Brown and Chris Allen, plans to put the funding towards an expansion phase to scale up the business, purchasing equipment to increase production in both their wholesale and retail markets.
“We both grew up in Haywood County in Canton, both went to Pisgah High School, where we met, and after we both moved away for college and travel, we were able to reconnect when we both moved home,” Megan said. “We had dreams of getting out of the grind of working for others and running our own business, and we started out really small at the local farmers’ market for a few years before we were able to move into bottling in our third year.”
Being connected to the farmers’ market allowed the team to build relationships with area producers, including KT’s Orchard and Apiary in Haywood County, JW Mitchell Farm in Macon County, and Deal Family Farms in Macon County. They source as much of their fruit, herbs, and ingredients locally as possible, purchasing everything from peaches and strawberries to honey and grapes from between 10-12 area farmers each year. The expansion funding will allow them to increase their purchases with local producers and, in some cases, even begin planning specific seasonal orders with their primary farm partners.
The team also works with an array of small wholesale distributors in the region and hopes to increase their products in these locations as well as diversifying into larger wholesale markets across the state, such as grocery stores.
“We are super appreciative to have started in Waynesville and continue to grow here. The culture here is really supportive of small businesses and especially food businesses, and it really ties in to the history we have with the agricultural economy and we can fit into that market of small farms and farmers in a unique way,” Chris said. “Being from Haywood, it used to be hard being young here and seeing a lot of potential to sustain yourself. That’s changed a lot just in our lifetime, and there are a lot of opportunities for small business entrepreneurship that weren’t here when we were growing up.” The couple plans to continue supporting others, especially farmers, as they grow.
If you are a small farm or food business interested in a similar grant and loan program, learn more about the program here and apply to see if you are eligible: