Ithaca, N.Y. — Brad Marshall and his wife started The Piggery in 2008. They processed 1.5 pigs a week.
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A lot has changed since then. The Piggery now processes 100 pigs a month and reaches markets as far away as Boston and New York City, in addition to running its own CSA program.
The Piggery has also closed the restaurant portion of its shop on Franklin Street and gotten USDA certification, which has allowed it to sell its meat products all over the country.
“We learned what not to do, and what to do,” says Marshall, a Cornell graduate who runs his farm in Trumansburg.
Marshall spoke Thursday at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works in downtown Ithaca about the challenges and accomplishments of his young company as part of an event held to encourage growth in food-related entrepreneurship in the Ithaca area.
About 120 people and 16 businesses attended — a strong showing that speaks to the potential for local economic growth through food production and distribution, says Tom Schryver, executive director for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement at Cornell University.
“It’s no surprise that there’s a lot of entrepreneurial interest in food businesses,” Schryver says.
“…It was great to see the expression of that interest and activity in a full house last night, and we’re excited to see this industry grow.”
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Schryver has reason for optimism: Tompkins County’s food and beverage sector grew at a rate of 7.5 percent from 2009 to 2014, according to a report from the Tompkins County Area Development, making it one of the fastest growing sectors in the local economy.
“This was impressive growth for a relatively small sector with about 400 jobs in 2014. This compares to 1.6% growth rate for New York State and 0.4% for the US,” says the report, which the Ithaca Voice reported on in March.
“The sector also grew from 20 to 24 establishments. Growth was supported by the regional strength of the alcoholic beverage industry: wineries, distilleries and breweries.”
The event at Rev on Thursday was intended to tap into and encourage that growth. (Full disclosure: The Ithaca Voice is a member company of Rev and operates out of the incubator’s office space.)
“People often associate the words ‘entrepreneurship’ or ‘startup’ with really complicated high technology that gets patented and is only understandable by someone with a PhD. That’s not correct – entrepreneurship and startups can take a variety of different forms, and success can come from a lot of places,” Schryver said.
For example, Schryver pointed to the major growth of Chobani yogurt.
The company — founded by a New Berlin, N.Y., native — is the fastest to grow to $1 billion in annual revenue, according to Schryver.
“We’d love to see the next Chobani start here,” Schryver says.
“Maybe it’s Emmy’s Organics, or Ithaca Hummus, or Gimme! Coffee — Ithaca-based companies that have shown great growth and job creation.”
‘Showcasing what you love’
All three of the businesses mentioned by Schryver — Ithaca Hummus, Emmy’s Organics and Gimme! Coffee — set up stands at Rev on Thursday to offer samples of their products.
But there were others, too: South Hill Cider, which produces hard cider in the Fingerlakes; That Indian Drink, which produces yogurt lassi drinks; and Cayuga Crunch, a granola company started by a group of Cornell stduents.
In addition to Marshall of The Piggery, speakers at Thursday’s event included Rob Salamida of Salamida’s Marinades and Emma Frisch, who helped found Firelight Camps and recently appeared on a Food Network show.
“As you’re growing, you have to think about your business as showcasing what you love,” Frisch said.
Frisch explained how Firelight —which aims to create a luxury camping experience on the grounds of La Tourelle in Ithaca — had both narrowed and improved its offerings by getting more discerning about its products.
She also noted that the “glamping” campsite will be able to offer plenty of local food products, and then she ticked through the list one by one — Copper Horse Coffee, fresh bread from the Wide Awake Bakery, pastries from Krums Corners …
“This region is just so ripe for this,” Frisch said to the crowd about growing food entrepreneurship. “I feel this wave of energy that’s just building and building.”