June 29, 2012
Sarah Mackley Lamb started making her own jam from the abundant summer produce available to her in her native Montana when her kids were born as a way to offer them a healthier alternative to commercial jams and jellies. Then a few blue ribbon awards later she realized that she might have a real business on her hands!
We’ve got to start with the fact that you have six children, how old is everyone in your family?
8, 7, 5, 4, 2, and 9 months. I love having a big family!
This leads me to ask the question I’m sure everyone is asking – how do you find the time to take care six kids and have your own artisan food business? Basically, do you ever sleep?
I have a wonderful team! My husband helps with the kids and the markets and my mom helps make the jam. My family is a huge support. I am so grateful for them!
Backing up for a second, when did you first get into jam making?
I’d never liked jam or jelly as a kid, until I tasted homemade strawberry jam that my Aunt had made. I always wondered what the difference was. So when I had kids of my own, I was determined to learn how to make jam for them. I loved that I could make natural, delicious tasting jam from local fruits.
Here in Northwest Montana, huckleberries and Flathead cherries are something we’re famous for. Because of this, Huckleberry Jam and Chuckleberry Jam (my own creation of Flathead cherries & huckleberries) are extremely popular. Jalapeno Pepper Jelly is a great seller, too. Also, this year we started offering No Sugar Jams & Jellies made with Stevia! It’s been an absolute hit!
Any really out-there flavor combinations that people can’t get enough of?
I love to experiment with new flavors all the time. Strawberry Pineapple, Peach Raspberry, Cherry Jalapeno, and Banana Split Jams are just some of our unique flavors that people keep coming back for.
Your tagline is “Blue Ribbon winning jams and jellies.” Can you tell us a little bit about your blue ribbon winning experiences?
I entered the Northwest Montana Fair a few years ago and won ribbons for every jam we entered and won Blue Ribbons for our Huckleberry and Strawberry Jams, which are the most competitive categories. It really cemented to us that we were on to something with this!
When did you decide to turn your jam making skills into an officially business? What was your culinary and business background before starting this company?
Even though I’ve been doing this since 2008, I’d say this is the first year I’m making my hobby of jam making & love of the farmer’s market a legitimate business. It’s been a process.
My family was always involved with food business’s growing up, so I learned a lot that way. My husband is actually getting his culinary arts degree right now. (He’s more of a savory cook & I’m more of a sweet cook.) It’s a passion we both share. On the business end of things, I am a self-learner. I used to be an administrative assistant, so organizing is in the blood. I just try to be a sponge and soak up everything anyone will teach me.
Does House on the Hill Jam really come from a house on the hill? Where did you come up with the name for your company?
Yes, it does! When we got the idea to start this we lived on a large hill overlooking the Flathead Valley. It will always be a special place for us, so it seemed like a good name to fit the natural, Montanan feel we wanted to convey to people about our jam.
There are some people out there who argue that the ‘local/sustainable’ food movement isn’t as strong in the center of the US as it is on the coasts – as a proud Montanan, what’s your response to that?
I think that it has always been a Montanan way of life. In the last few years it’s definitely gained momentum, but it’s in our blood. It’s so exciting to see it growing!
What are your main sales channels for getting your products in front of customers? How many farmers’ markets are you in?
Right now we are in the Whitefish & Kalispell Farmer’s Market. We are pursuing our manufacturer’s license and would like to distribute in retail store and start a website eventually.
Is it true that your kids come to the farmers’ markets with you? Are you training them to be entrepreneurs too?
Absolutely, they love it! The whole atmosphere is friendly and exciting. My kids get a kick out of telling everyone their favorite kinds of jam. They are already my best salespeople! They even try to sell their drawings at our booth. (At only $5 a picture, it’s a steal! :)) I think opening them up to different experiences helps them have a broader idea of what they can accomplish. I teach them that they can love what they do!
I noticed a really innovative selling technique on your Facebook page in which you offer your followers the ability the “pre-order” certain flavors or specialty items so that you’ll have them on reserve and won’t sell out. What gave you this idea? How have customers responded to it?
It’s a great way to stay connected to my customers during the off-season, which I desperately needed. I love to make new flavors all the time and it gets them thinking about what’s new for the week. I’ve had a great reception to it and hope to gain more of a following this year with it.
As a busy mom and entrepreneur, what are some of the biggest challenges you face?
To not be afraid to ask for help. Life wasn’t designed for us to know it all or be capable of doing it all. And, most importantly to not be afraid to take chances; I’ll learn something one way or another, as long as I’m willing to try!
Where do you hope to grow House on the Hill Jam to in the next year or two? Any chance we’ll be able to order online from you anytime soon or do we just need to plan a trip to Whitefish?
Well, a trip to Whitefish is always a great idea! But, we want to get our manufacturer’s license, so we are able to sell online and get into retail stores. I’m also trying to break into the wedding market, by doing local flavors of jam as wedding favors.
If you want to learn more about House On The Hill Jam check out the company’s Facebook page.