Brandon and Jessica Parker
(Note: this is the third in a series of stories on UAFS alumni entrepreneurs. If you are a business owner and a UAFS alumni and would like to have a story written on your business, please contact email@example.com)
For UAFS alumni Brandon and Jessica Parker, the story started out simple enough: first came love, then came marriage. But instead of a child, the news the couple received was much grimmer: two diagnoses of serious illnesses.
Six months after Parkers got married, Brandon was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, and Jessica’s mother was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease.
In this trying moment, the newlyweds went searching for their silver lining in life, and the result of that search was Carrot Dirt, the first organic juice and smoothie business in Fort Smith.
In an effort to lead healthier lifestyles, the family began to eat healthy food and found they gained energy and lost weight without even exercising.
Not only did they notice their results personally, their friends did as well, according to Jessica.
“All of our friends started asking, what we were doing and if they could try it,” Parker said. “So we just started cooking and introducing them to these natural fresh foods that we had fallen in love with.”
Not long after starting this new healthy lifestyle, the couple noticed a void in the Fort Smith community. They were forced to travel to Fayetteville and other neighboring cities to get pressed juices and whole foods without any local options.
“That’s when I took a step back and said, ‘Let’s go out on a leap of faith and bring these products to Fort Smith,” Parker said.
The idea of juicing wasn’t new to Parker. Her mother strictly enforced the “eat your vegetables” rule and served fresh-pressed carrot juice all her life.
So when the couple decided to open their juicing and fresh produce business, it was a natural fit to call it Carrot Dirt.
“Growing up my mom made fresh pressed carrot juice,” Parker said. “Then when Brandon and I got married and I would make it, he would say, ‘I don’t want any of that carrot dirt.’ He always referred to the earthy taste as dirt.”
Now closing out its second year, Carrot Dirt has already exceeded the five-year plan for growth the business owners had set for it initially.
Brandon recalled their surprise at how busy the business was when they first opened.
“We started out with the goal of selling 10 bottles of each juice a day and thought we would only be open a few hours a day,” he said. “But we underestimated the need for something like this in Fort Smith. Jessica was getting up at 4 a.m. and going to the shop to juice all day long. She would be there until 10 p.m. most nights.”
At this point they took a step back and made a new plan. They now employee three workers and are open 60 hours a week.
Starting and growing a small business was no easy task, but the two were ready thanks to their education from UAFS. Their degrees are in very different areas – Jessica’s in biology, Brandon’s in business administration – but their knowledge complements one another as managers of an organic juice business.
The Parkers say it’s rewarding to help people in the Fort Smith community improve their well-being.
“I always tell people if it has a commercial or flashy advertising, it’s probably not the best for you,” he said. “All of the products we use and sale we use at home. We have a relationship with our products. There are a lot of fads in the health industry. Kale is the new spinach and so on, but the best thing you can do for your body is get the biggest variety you can so that your body gets this great spectrum of vitamins.”
The couple’s passion for their business is spreading throughout the community. They continue to look for places to expand where they feel Carrot Dirt is a good fit and are offering juicing workshops as the demand increases.
Carrot Dirt is located at 4300 Rogers Avenue. For more information about Carrot Dirt contact 479-222-6625 or visit http://carrotdirt.com.