A local caregiver stood in front of Mad River Farm’s table at the Humboldt Artisans Craft and Music Festival looking at their jams. “Would you like to taste something?” Robin Bartlett, owner of Mad River Farm, asked. “No I’m very familiar with your product,” the caregiver said. “I have a client that will only take her medication if it is with your jam.” This is one of Bartlett’s fondest Mad River Farm memories and it happened shortly after she and her husband purchased the company in November of 2014.
Mad River Farm was founded in 1986. The original owner developed hand crafted recipes still used today for hand poured jams, jellies, and sauces. All products are made in Humboldt County and distributed to most markets throughout the county, and through mail order to other parts of the state. Mad River Farm produces what the FDA calls “fancy grade jam,” equal parts sugar and fruit, considered a low sugar jam. “Fruit is the first and main ingredient in our jams,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett, who grew up on an orchard in Trinity County, has always been interested in preserving; her mother canned everything and taught her how. She says that local ingredients make Mad River Farm’s product special. “I use as many local ingredients as I can possibly get.” She tries to get blackberries and huckleberries from local pickers. Berries that do not grow in Humboldt County are shipped in frozen. Their apple products are made with apples from local orchards; they also freeze their own applesauce, later to become apple butter.
Devoted to the world of produce, they also have a garden of their own. “We’re able to grow great batches of tomatoes, corn and green beans, and I can them to use in the wintertime,” Bartlett said. “Those aren’t the only things we grow, of course, we have a large garden.”
Right now, Bartlett and her husband, who devote 50 to 60 hours a week to the company, are doing all the work. “The only thing used, machinery-wise, is the cooking kettle we use to stir,” Bartlett said. “We pour it in jars, put the lids on, and distribute it all ourselves,” but they are hoping to expand the business in the near future. Bartlett said she hopes that by spring they will be able to hire someone full time. “We do all of the cooking, jarring, packaging, shipping and distributing,” she said, “It’s all us and it takes a lot of work.” Bartlett said her husband usually comes in and starts the batches, and she will help finish them — but she can start and then he will help her pour. “We both can do everything,” she said. Most of the time, though, he is in charge of labeling and distributing while she is in charge of making sure they have the right inventory, shipping and cooking materials.
Mad River Farm produces a wide variety of jams; from apricot to jalapeno to slug slime (apple butter with a twist). They also offer fruit toppings and barbeque sauces. Their products can be found in markets around Humboldt County, as well as Los Bagels, Wildflower Cafe and Bakery, Lighthouse Grill and Trinidad Eatery. Mad River Farm even ships four gallons of product, at least once a week, to a restaurant chain in Southern California called Urth Café. “People like our jam because of the real fruit flavor that’s in it,” she said. “Besides the fact that it is hand crafted. I think that is one of the things that draws people to it.”
Another great memory Bartlett has as owner of Mad River Farm is of a women in Florida telling her the reason she orders their jam is because it is the only jam her grandson will eat. “And I was just like, wow,” Bartlett said. “People love our jam.”
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