Preserving a Taste of Montana
Becky's Berries sweet and savory jams, jellies, syrups & sauces
To see Becky Stahl at her stove cooking jam, is akin to watching an accomplished artist at work. Her kitchen is her studio and the rich juice and berries are her paint. She’s meticulous, precise, and knows the process like she knows her own children – and loves it maybe only a little less.
Becky is the founder and owner of Becky’s Berries, a small, but expanding, jam and jelly enterprise located in Absarokee. In a small, stand-alone, 14 by 20-foot kitchen she has made hundreds, make that thousands, of batches of jam and jelly. Her products – 15 varieties of jams and jellies, two syrup flavors, and two honey blends – are a hit at farmers’ markets, and local retailers have a hard time keeping her delicious varieties on the shelves.
“I believe everybody has a gift and you’re very fortunate when you can take that gift and make a living at it,” Becky says.
Becky and her husband Tim were born and raised at Flatwillow Ranch, a Hutterite community north of Roundup. Becky helped cook for the community since she was 13, and it’s given her the confidence to tackle big cooking projects.
“If somebody said they wanted me to make a meal for 50 people, I’d have no problem doing it,” she says today.
While she was living in the community, Becky set up her first independent jam stand at the Yellowstone Valley Farmers’ Market, selling wild berry flavors made from the berries she hand-picked. She sold out within a few hours and made $600. She never stopped going to the farmers’ market, and still sells her product each summer on the streets of downtown Billings.
“I had an entrepreneurial spirit and it was something we as a couple wanted to do,” Becky says.
Becky and Tim saved up their money from farmers’ markets and other small sales opportunities and, in 2006, moved to Absarokee. They left with the blessing of their Hutterite family and friends. Women from the community still help Becky pick wild chokecherries, Juneberries, buffaloberries and wild plums for the company's sweet tasting line of products.
Becky and Tim fell in love with Absarokee’s people, mountains and streams, and with two teenagers, they were quickly accepted into the community. They found a place with a small outbuilding, which Tim converted into a commercial kitchen. Her kitchen is certified by the U.S Food and Drug Administration and is inspected twice a year by the Stillwater County Health Department.
Every batch of jam and jelly is fresh and made to order. In addition to the berry varieties, Becky makes four jalapeno jellies and two chipotle pepper varieties. A Harlowton apiary supplies her with the two varieties of honey, a huckleberry and creamed peanut butter.
“We pride ourselves on making a quality product that everyone can enjoy,” Becky says.
The blend of wild berries, which she’s named Traffic Jam, is one of her top sellers, but so is the jalapeno-Traffic Jam blend, which is called Road Rage. One of Becky’s regular customers named it in a contest she had at the Yellowstone Valley Farmer’s Market. He said that when it’s hot and you’re in a traffic jam you get road rage. The name stuck, Becky says.
Although big wholesale shows are where she sells the most jam, Becky says her target market has always been locals – her friends and neighbors and the people who come to her farmers’ market stand.
“I knew that if I could get the local people I’d get the tourists because if the local people enjoy it they’ll tell others about it,” she says.
Becky’s Christian faith is central to her business, and a different proverb is written on the label of each variety of jelly, jam and honey.
“The whole business from the beginning was all God,” Becky says. “I believe He gave me this idea and He’s blessed it step by step.”
It wasn’t long into her venture that Becky realized she needed help running the business side of Becky’s Berries, especially in sales and marketing. She reached out to Joel Bertolino, at the Beartooth Resource, Conservation and Development. He and others at the agency helped Becky learn to manage finances, launch a website, and develop a marketing plan.
“It opened a whole new world for me,” she says.
Joel is continuing to help Becky and says she’s a great example to other aspiring business owners.
“She’s got a fantastic skill-set. She’s an extremely hard worker, and she has a ton of passion and drive for what she does,” Joel says. “You can’t be a success in business without her work ethic and that passion and drive.”
Like all business ventures small and large, Becky started with some help – her husband primarily paid the bills and kept the family fed while Becky built the business. Becky’s Berries is not a one-woman operation, she says.
Frequently on big days when there are lots of orders, Becky will prepare 500 jars of jams and jellies. Tim helps prep everything before he goes to work. During the day, Becky does all the cooking and canning. When Tim gets home at the end of his day, he helps label the jars and pack gift boxes. On every weekend of the summer, he heads on over to the Gallatin Valley Farmers’ Market to sell jelly and jam there.
“He’s a born cowboy, but when he’s helping build the business, he’s a natural at it,” Becky says. “He loves the marketing part and he’s great with people.”
Tim says he enjoys helping with the business, and as it expands, he’ll be doing more, someday working alongside Becky full-time
“I’m only doing about a quarter of what I could be doing to help,” he says.
That may happen sooner rather than later; Becky is looking to expand. However, she is particular about where Becky’s Berries is located. She doesn’t want to leave Absarokee and ideally wants a location with a home on the same lot so she can keep her flexible hours. She’s got one in mind, but is taking her time. Expanding the business is a huge step, she says, and will require hiring at least one full-time employee as well as a few part-time employees who are willing to work when seasonal demand is up.
“It’s a big step," Becky says with passion, "but failure is not an option.”
GRAB THE FLAVOR OF HAND PICKED GOODNESS
Where to find Becky's Berries
Do you want to find out where you can grab a jar of Becky's Berries? Visit beckysberries.com to keep tabs on where she'll be during the summer months. You can also hit the Contact Us tab to find area retailers that stock her jellies, jams, syrups and sauces.