I wish I’d known Jessica Parker, née Robinson, better in high school. We graduated the same year from Southside in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Her husband Brandon graduated one year earlier. Though we sat next to each other in Ms. Rush’s physics class, Jessica and I mostly kept to ourselves. Shy, introverted teenage Sarah didn’t like to invite much conversation, and I suspect Jessica was the quiet type, too.
When I moved back to Fort Smith last summer with Brian, I was amazed at how much my hometown had changed. One welcome addition to the area was Carrot Dirt Organics, Inc., the city’s first organic juice bar, which opened its doors not long before we got here. While reading a local magazine, I flipped to an article about the exciting new store and its owners. I instantly recognized Jessica and Brandon. Though I hadn’t gotten to know them well when we were younger, I remembered Jessica as sweet and Brandon as friendly (I’d met hime once or twice). I was proud to see two classmates improving my hometown with their healthy business and happy to see these two deserving people succeeding.
Image above: Jessica and Brandon Parker, owners of Carrot Dirt Organics, Inc. in Fort Smith, Arkansas
In their interview with Do South, Jessica and Brandon explained how Carrot Dirt began. After they married, Jessica’s mother was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called Huntington’s Chorea and Brandon was diagnosed with Miyoshi Myopathy, a type of muscular dystrophy, both in the same year. Their lifestyles had to change — getting and staying healthy became their focus. They became more active and began eating more organic, whole foods. They discovered juicing. It wasn’t long before they started feeling better, their love for juice became a passion, and Carrot Dirt (which was Brandon’s nickname for carrot juice) opened its doors.
“Carrot Dirt,” explains the couple on their website, “developed from the idea that people not only desire but also deserve to live an energized and well-balanced lifestyle.” Jessica and Brandon managed to turn lemons into lemonade, transforming their lives and community through their passion for juice and healthy living.
Image above: colorful sandwich board at Carrot Dirt Organics, Inc., Fort Smith, Arkansas’ first organic juice bar
Oh, and the juice is downright delicious! I put down that article and made Brian drive straight to Carrot Dirt to sample their “lemonade.” The Autumn Harvest (squash, apple, and cinnamon) and Sweet Roots (carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato, and ginger) blends we tried put our own homemade juices to shame. Since then, we’ve tried to up our juice game at home, have sampled a few more of Carrot Dirt’s juice creations, and decided to share their story with you and all our Westervin readers. Jessica and Brandon kindly obliged to answer a few questions about overcoming challenges, sustaining their community, and being creative in running their business.
First of all, can you tell me how long you’ve been married and a little about how you met?
We just celebrated our 8-year wedding anniversary and have been together for 11 years. We met through friends who are brother and sister — it was a matter of proximity and time. We became best friends, fell in love, and the rest is history.
Image above: Carrot Dirt also sells fresh salads, as well as smoothies, nut milks, and healthy desserts and snacks
What prompted you to open Carrot Dirt?
Health. Around the time that we were married, my Mother was diagnosed with a neurological disease, Huntington’s Chorea, then Brandon was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy called Miyoshi Myopathy. From those events it became clear that we all need to do the best for our bodies in order to live well and also for our bodies to be prepared for what may come. We wanted our community to have availability to this as well. After all, our health is the best investment we can make.
What personal skills and/or talents have you and Brandon relied on most heavily (or had to develop) to run your business?
We have a wonderful time together and we feel that reflects in Carrot Dirt. Personally, I love preparing food and decorating, so I’m able to combine the two with the salads, desserts, and snacks we offer. Both of us are very time-oriented and detail-oriented but not in overlapping ways. This allows us keep on schedule with both day-to-day operational stuff and long term planning.
Image above: Carrot Dirt’s energy bites
What has been the biggest challenge of working for yourself and how have you overcome it?
The lack of a guidebook, it’s freeing and frustrating at the same time. It can be a challenge when trying to get answers for regulations and codes, but the freedom of creating and offering our product to the community makes it all worth it. We absolutely love what we do.
What have you found to be the best tools and/or exercises you’ve relied on in opening and running your business?
Our patrons love social media, Instagram followed by Facebook. It allows us to share, back and forth, the fun things we’re creating in real time. We also really like Square. It’s easy to use and update, allows us to be mobile, and offers tons of great information about sales and item trends.
The atmosphere at Carrot Dirt is very laid back. When we are making juice and nut milks every morning and throughout the day, we listen to some good tunes and just go with the flow. Running your own business can be stressful, but we do our very best to keep stress at bay. After all, stress is very detrimental to health.
Running has been a passion of mine for the past several years. I always make sure I make time for my run. Since we have opened, the time I run daily varies, but I make it a priority. This is my time for me, to reflect on my day, pray, and breathe in some fresh air.
Image above: bottles of freshly made, cold-press juice in the Carrot Dirt fridge
What role does community play for Carrot Dirt?
Carrot Dirt stems from a desire to do better for ourselves and the community. The community has embraced us, and they are our biggest champions. We see new faces every day who heard about us from the regulars. The community is showing us that Carrot Dirt is a great healthy alternative that needs to be here. The desire for healthy organic options is here. We are just so happy to be able to provide them to our wonderful community.
Does running Carrot Dirt require you to be creative? If so, in what ways and how often?
Yes! It’s allowed us to use parts of ourselves that get minimized in the day-to-day school/work routine. It’s freeing to have a juice recipe in your mind and have it taste like you envisioned. From creating and naming the juices to engaging the community to growing the business — it requires creativity to take Carrot Dirt from an idea and actually execute it. Our creativity juices are flowing on a daily basis.
Image above: Cordial Carrot and Pink Dragon – organic, cold-press juices made fresh at Carrot Dirt
What does the future hold for Carrot Dirt?
As Carrot Dirt approaches the 1st anniversary, we’ve been listening to our patrons. In the short term we’ll be offering sandwiches and creating new juices. In the longer term? Well, that is just a surprise!
If you’re in the area, get down to Carrot Dirt NOW and grab a bottle of their sweet, energizing juice or other healthy foods. Otherwise, follow Carrot Dirt on Instagram for gorgeous shots of whole foods to inspire your healthy lifestyle. You can also follow along with Brian and I as we share a few of our homemade juice recipes here on the Westervin blog with our series Get Juiced.