ELDERSBURG — Gazing at his recently leased storefront in Eldersburg, Carroll County Farm Fresh owner Andrew Wetten said he envisions a gorgeous, rustic store. He hopes to design a window depicting Carroll County's rolling fields overlaid with an image of local wine and cheese.
"Our goal is to create a quality, farm fresh store that sells Carroll County made or grown products," said Wetten, of Sykesville. "We will offer an assortment of local grass-fed meat, fresh fruits, baked goods, canned fruits and vegetables, jams, honey, candles and a collection of some of the fantastic wines and beers that are produced in the county."
Wetten is one of five finalists in this year's Carroll Biz Challenge who will compete in the Live Finale next week.
The fourth annual Carroll Biz Challenge showcases Carroll County entrepreneurs during a show similar to "Shark Tank" for local start-ups on Thursday, Nov. 19, at the Carroll Arts Center, according to Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Mike McMullin. The winner will receive a $5,000 grand prize to apply to their business costs. One finalist will win the $500 People's Choice Award and one of the original 25 applicants will be awarded the $2,000 Downtown Award.
Wetten said he applied for the challenge because the chamber has helped him network and create a road map for his business.
"They've been a huge help to me," he said. "Everyone is so nice. Within three weeks, they put me in touch with Economic Development, the liquor board, and the health and safety people."
Jason Stambaugh, a member of the Biz Challenge's advisory panel, said the finalists were scored on overall creativity, product and service clarity, market potential, competitive landscape, sustainability, strength of the management team and community contribution.
"That kind of access to locally grown goods in a retail store front makes a lot of sense," Stambaugh said regarding Carroll County Farm Fresh.
Carroll County Economic Development's Deputy Director Denise Beaver is also a member of advisory panel.
"Carroll agriculture is our top industry; and even though there are existing retail outlets, I believe that there is an unmet need in the area of the county where this business is proposed," Beaver said. "This really could be a Carroll County signature enterprise that draws in visitors and provides a convenient retail outlet that supports the growing buy-local trend."
Wetten said the idea for Carroll County Farm Fresh has been two years in the making.
"It's always been my dream to own a business. I was trying to find something really unique," Wetten said.
Wetten, who is from the United Kingdom, lived in Howard County for 20 years before purchasing an 80-acre farm in Sykesville seven years ago. He uses the farm to rescue large animals such as cows and horses, and grow hay. He also rents out his fields to farmers who raise Angus beef.
"I have an overwhelming need to eat fresh and so should everybody else. I want to see everyone healthy," Wetten said. "I personally have a hard time buying fresh, local vegetables. There's got to be other people like me who want to know where their food comes from.
"For me, I was always so frustrated with the quality of fruit at the grocery store. I got fed up paying good money for stuff that doesn't taste good."
Wetten's frustration prompted him to launch a business selling natural products that are manufactured or grown in Carroll County.
"One of the things that concerns me is that food typically travels 1,500 to 3,000 miles before we eat it. I want to put everything under one roof and sell products that are from less than 50 miles away. The products in Carroll County are amazing," Wetten said, adding, "I think farming is an art form. I love working with the people who provide our food. It's a chance to bring everything back to grass roots."
Wetten hopes to open the doors to his shop on Liberty Road in late-January. He said the location is key.
"The big draw is the traffic coming by. This location sees almost a million cars a month. We just need to capture a tiny percentage," Wetten said. "We hope to appeal to people on their way home to make dinner. They'll be able to pick up fresh ingredients right from my store."
Wetten said if he wins the challenge, the $5,000 will help pay the store's rent and go toward purchasing equipment. He anticipates complementing the store with a home delivery service. He also hopes to create a staffing service for the store's suppliers.
"It's got to be small to begin with, but I eventually would like to open additional locations near Finksburg, and in Frederick and Howard counties," he said. "I know we can do it."
Carroll Biz Challenge Finalists
During the week, the Times will profile each of the finalists for the 2015 Carroll Biz Challenge.
Today: Andrew Wetten of Carroll County Farm Fresh
Tuesday: Lisa Martin and Clare Hoerl of Create Outside the Box
Wednesday: Ryan Herbstsomer of Autumn Summer Woodcraft
Thursday: Scott Jendrek of Patapsco Distilling Co.
Friday: Chef Jeffrey Perri of the Culinary Academy of the Deaf
If you go
What: The Carroll Biz Challenge Live Finale
When: 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19
Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster
Cost: $25 adults, $10 ages 7-12, free age 6 and younger. Purchase tickets by Nov. 17
Latest Carroll County News
More information: carrollbizchallenge.startuplocal.biz