Women in Business: Jaquelyn Ziegler Fernandez Rieke of Nutty Steph’s

Since 2003, Nutty Steph’s has been making hand-crafted Vermont granola and chocolate confections, made with GMO-Free ingredients, and inspiring to make a more delicious world. Jaquelyn Rieke began Nutty Steph’s at the tender age of twenty-three by baking maple-sweetened granola and delivering it to local establishments on roller blades. Jaquelyn is passionate about creating the best place ever to work, offering benefits for the workers that are hard to find in small town Vermont, makes certain that she employs individuals with special needs, and encourages all staff members to take part in collectively governing the company. Today, Nutty Steph’s is a busy little world, continuing to melt, mix, pour, wrap and deliver real food from the heart nearly every day of the year.

1.) What’s your business’ origin story? How did it all start?

I wish I could say that the beginning of Nutty Steph’s was idealistic, that I wanted to build an organization that would produce excellent artisan foods while building deep community, supporting healthy agriculture, and expanding the precedent for progressive power dynamics in the workplace. Had I know all that then, it would not have been such a long and bumpy and windy road, but it really wasn’t all that romantic at all! Being the product of a lost 23 year old girl, Nutty Steph’s as an organization lacked direction almost entirely. I only knew three things: One: Teaching mathematics in schools was making me cry my eyes out because teaching is the hardest, most thankless job on the planet; Two: Like many of us fumbling through the world, I needed a job; And, Three, my granola recipe was bad ASS.

2.) What is the most rewarding part of owning your own business?

NOW, after fourteen years, owning Nutty Steph’s is rewarding, but for most of the first twelve, it, like all of my journey in coming of age, was utter chaos and almost constant discomfort. The main reward I have found is coalescence with my coworkers. We are like a living organism, feeding each other intuitively and gently bumping up against each responsibility like the cells that dwell so innocuously within the imprecisely defined confines of my skin. I’m interested in learning more about theories of Organic Enterprise and whether and when the machinations of governance nobly serve or inadvertently harm an organization.
Another extraordinary reward of working at Nutty Steph’s is the unfettered access to our Peanut Butter Magic Chunks, especially fresh from the cooling cabinet.

3.) What are some of the challenges?

Finances are always tight in an artisan food business because the ingredients are simply priceless, and with anything leftover, one strives to provide utmost reward to the worker, because what work better deserves compensation than artistry? (Well, teaching, perhaps, and parenthood, but that’s about all I can think of!)

A big challenge for me, which is compounded by the tightroping along a would-be profit margin, is to fend off the internal voices that tease me with the possibility that I’m a loser. I am always fighting the entrenched perspective of business as a game, as something you win by making profits, as a sort of mechanical fruit tree for the owner to generate ever more proverbial apples until they are blizzarding down upon her head and pounding her into a deep and sweetly sticky apple crumble grave. It is not. Money is like oxygen and business is a set of lungs. It’s meant to move money in and out in appropriate amounts, while feeding many other systems as it maintains its own. In fact, as a pacifist, it is a goal of mine to resist taxation, and thus defer profits strategically always… even when we do someday face a surplus of them! But like I said, the simplistic definition of enterprise that have gobbled up Earth and culture through the dismal steamroller of Industrial development, simply haunts me. Less and less, as I am able to articulate the alternative. But periodically, still, I find myself weeping at my Balance Sheet like a baby wanting candy.

4.) Name one company or business owner that you really admire and why.

Digger’s Mirth Collective was the first cooperatively owned business I ever learned about it blew my mind. I have endless admiration for their work: building the soil, giving more to it than they take out, and all the while generating equally distributed profits. The farmers I met from Digger’s Mirth were, of course, women. Thank you Hillary and S’ra!

5.) What advice do you have for other women out there that might be thinking of starting their own endeavor?

Even if you don’t have a business plan, or know your precise statement of mission and values, or have your perfectly-drawn logo, get started anyway! Once you have sold your first item or service, then you have a business, and the longer you have a business, the better you get at it. So stop talking and start selling. The rest will follow, and it is a phenomenal journey of self discovery.

(Oh! That reminds me: your business is a perfect mirror of your self. When you are frustrated with a worker, a vendor, a customer, or a loss, sit alone and look within, congratulations! You were just given the gift of knowledge.)