Maker's Remarks

Running a Business that Sustains Your Heart, Body, and Community

Q&A with Jessica & Brandon of Carrot Dirt Organics, Inc.

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. 

Jessica and Brandon Parker, owners of Carrot Dirt Organics, Inc. in Fort Smith, Arkansas

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.  

colorful sandwich board at Carrot Dirt Organics, Inc., Fort Smith, Arkansas' first organic juice bar

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.

fresh, rainbow salad from Carrot Dirt Organics, Inc.

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.

healthy energy bites from Carrot Dirt Organics, Inc.

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.

bottles of freshly made, cold-press juice from Carrot Dirt Organics, Inc.

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.

Cordial Carrot and Pink Dragon - organic, cold-press juices from Carrot Dirt Organics, Inc.

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

Blog News, Westervin Shop

Summer 2014

If you’ve wondered where Brian and I have been all summer, well, let me tell ya.

Sarah West Ervin graduates from Columbia College Chicago and moves to Arkansas

1. I graduated! In May of 2014, after three long years of evening classes and weekend papers, I donned my billowy gown and square cap to receive my masters hood and my Master of Arts Management degree in Arts Business and Entrepreneurship from Columbia College Chicago.

2. To celebrate, Brian and I spent a nice weekend with his parents and sister and a few of my classmates-turned-best-friends. We laughed. We cried (from laughter). We drank a lot of margaritas!

3. THEN WE PACKED UP OUR LIVES AND MOVED TO ARKANSAS. That’s right, folks. If you haven’t heard, we’re living in Fort Smith now, and we plan to be here for the next two years.

4. Arkansas, the land of fried-foods-a-plenty.

the new Arkansas home of Sarah West Ervin and Brian West

5. We’re living in this beast of a house, which is just a short walk and an evener shorter bike ride from the downtown strip and the Arkansas river. The house belongs to my mother, and Brian and I are doing our best to fix it up for her while she and my little brother live near my grandmother in Louisiana. This will be an adventure.

6. As an historic home—close to 100 years old, I believe—it’s full of old timey charm and interesting quirks. More on that to come…

7. My favorite part? The house is big enough for me to have my very own studio! It’s a dream come true. It’s all a bit of a mess right now as we search for furniture and storage solutions, but I can’t wait to show you the progress.

8. We also love having our own outdoor space, complete with a porch swing and our little herbs. Pictured above are Umberto, the chocolate mint, and Dilly, our sweet baby dill plant.

Sarah West Ervin's new haircut and birthday fun

9. Not long after we got here, I decided to get a haircut. Yup, I had it all chopped off!

10. This is Sugars! We found her on our porch during a rainstorm. She was near death, so we rushed her to the emergency vet clinic, got her some medicine and nursed her back to relative health over a few days. Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep her, nor could we find anyone to adopt her. In the end we had to take her to the Humane Society, where they said they’d take good care of her and find her a happy home. It broke my heart to say goodbye to her tiny precious face, but our own two cats (the little rascals) are about all we can handle.

11. I turned 28! My birthday celebrations were just perfect and included many beautiful handmade presents, breakfast in bed, flea market fun, digging in the mud for diamonds at the Crater of Diamonds State Park, and a picture-perfect picnic. I’m so grateful to everyone who called, texted, visited, and sent happy wishes in the mail!

12. We didn’t find any diamonds, but we did find a lot of mud!

Brian West and Sarah Ervin attend the weddings of Sarah and Patrick Staub; Carolyn Sybesma and Ali Porter

13. We got to travel to Miami for the wedding of Brian’s very nice cousin Patrick and his sweet bride Sara. The guests were warm and friendly, the food was delish, and music was lively. We had a blast!

14. After the wedding, the Wests took a family vacation to Key West. Man, oh man, was it a perfect trip.

15. & 16. A week later, we got to travel back to Chicago to be a part of the wedding of two of our dearest friends, Carolyn & Ali. I even got to be the flower girl! It was so nice to spend time with our besties again in Chicago. I miss you all already!

 

Westervin Handmade Shop Update

17. & 18. Since we’ve been back, I’ve been busy as a bumble bee making some new items for the Westervin shop.

19. & 20. And I’ve been making plans for selling at craft fairs this holiday season. Brian helped me whip up some booth displays.

So that’s what we’ve been up to. Now that our lives have settled down a bit, you’ll be hearing more from us regularly. Stay tuned!

Out & About

Out & About: Antique Trains (and Trolleys too!)

antique train car at the Fort Smith Trolley Museum

I like trains. I’m not entirely sure why, but I always have. Trains are fun. Growing up, I had a little model railroad in our basement and a train conductor hat that I would wear around the house. Coincidentally, my grandmother has a house abutting the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) rail line, which was turned into a walking trail. I loved walking along that trail with my grandma and looking for old railroad ties and pieces of forgotten tracks. So, as you can imagine, it was with great excitement that Sarah and I stumbled upon some train cars and a caboose from the MKT line just sitting around in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.

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Out & About

Out & About: A Long Weekend

Sarah and I have been on the road since Wednesday, visiting family in Missouri and Arkansas. “Why should I care?” you say. Well, because we also happened upon some pretty cool stuff in between spending time with the family.

We took many a photo during our extra-long excursion, but I think the one above sums up the entire trip. There were good times. There were bad times. There were old-timey times (at the Fort Smith History Museum! where this photo was taken). There was enough food to send one into a self-induced coma and enough family drama to make one want a little somethin’ to take the edge off. Not that one partakes in such degenerate deeds… unless said deeds include Monster Margaritas, which were, by the way, partaken of.

We’ll both be posting more details of our adventures as the week goes on. In the meantime, you can see a few more pictures from our southern sightseeing on our Flickr photostream.