Fenton neighbors Joel Austin and John Sikorski grow tomatoes, hot peppers and cucumbers in a large garden that straddles both of their backyards. One year’s bumper crop paved the way for their salsa and pickle business, Two Men and a Garden.
They converted their wealth of tomatoes into salsa and started giving it out as Christmas gifts to their friends and family. The salsa was so good they were encouraged to make more and sell it.
Austin said the salsa business is really just a hobby--and a way to support their gardening habit. They make and promote the salsa in their free time. Since they've outgrown the capacity of their home kitchens they borrow a friend's restaurant kitchen and make huge batches on Sunday mornings.
Two Men and a Garden products are only available at Fenton’s , but they also make a private label salsa sold at . That salsa is sold under musically themed names like Hot Jazz, Cool Classical and MangoLin. The company can create private labels for any customer and Austin joked that pints of salsa can be used as gifts, giveaways or giant business cards. They charge $25 for a custom label and request a minimum order of 10 jars.
“We’re not quite worldwide, but we do have a customer in Sullivan,” said Austin. If Fenton opens its they would be interested in setting up a stand there.
Austin said they approached Green House Market when its owner, Chris Manes, was searching for shelf stable products to add to her lineup of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We gave her a case figuring it would last a month and she called the next week for more,” Austin said.
Sikorski said that everything in their first batches of salsa came from their combined garden. Now they’re at the point where they need to buy extra tomatoes from local farmers to keep up with demand, but they can still supply all the other ingredients, including cucumbers for their line of pickles.
“We have 40 to 50 tomato plants, 30 to 40 pepper plants and dozens of cucumbers,” said Sikorski.
“When we make salsa, we make a lot!” said Austin. “The biggest chore is cutting.” They make salsa in 25 gallon batches, which requires four to five hours of prep work. When they were only making smaller they would peel and chop tomatoes by hand. They’ve since upgraded to a commercial chopper to speed up the process.
Austin jokes that they might soon need a helper, but then they’d have to change their label to Three Men.
Another hobby—golf—has led Austin to sell “green golf balls” at the Green House Market. Austin had accumulated a box full of lost balls picked up in the woods. As a joke, he labeled them “recycled” and gave the box to Manes to sell in her market, which is known for its locally grown and organic products.
“I don’t think she’s sold any of them,” he said with a grin, but he said Manes refuses to give them back because children play with the balls while their parents shop.