Oregon is known for its beautiful landscapes and the hundreds of trails that run through them, but all of that adventuring can work up quite the appetite. Ashley Lance sought out to eat healthier food and reduce her impact on the environment through the creation of Fernweh. Fernweh was founded on the core values of bulk dehydrated foods, low-impact packaging, and seasonal local produce. Now, adventurers could know what they are putting into their bodies and reduce their impact on the environment. Read how Ashley turned her everyday passions into a business.
What was the spark that inspired the birth of your concept?
About 5 years ago I started making dehydrated food for my own adventures simply because it was fun, I was cheap, and I knew I could make food that was better than what was available at the time. However, the company came about as an idea for a side hustle. Earlier this year I was laid off from my job and figured it was a good time to give this side hustle a real go.
What problem does it solve?
There is too much single-use waste in our lives, and especially in the outdoor food sector. When you go to an outdoor store to buy food for your adventure, it’s all made to be used and disposed of. I wanted to give folks the option to not have to buy a product that they just throw away. We are proud to offer 100% reusable containers. You can wash and reuse our bags for your personal use or bring them back to us for a refill at our market on Thursdays. I also love offering seasonal, rotating products. It’s so great to preserve the best foods our region has to offer when it’s at its best plus we get to support local farms and agriculture and reduce our carbon footprint by not bringing our food in from elsewhere.
How did you come up with the name?
It started with googling/ pinteresting “travel words and phrases” or “fun food words”. I made a list of my favorites and what stuck out to me every time I looked at the list was “Fernweh”. It is a German word that means a feeling of far-longing, a desire for places you’ve never been, a feeling even stronger than wanderlust. It just resonated with me. Plus I love the alliteration! I love the beautiful word combined with our amazing logo ( thanks to Mary Lytle) and feel it really represents the brand.
How are you better/different than your competition?
We are different from what’s out there in three ways:
- We use a low-waste packaging system
- We use local and seasonal produce whenever possible
- We offer bulk, so you can get the exact amount you need
How do you make money?
Right now we are only selling direct to consumers through our website and at our pop up market every Thursday through September. I am planning to schedule a few pop up markets and classes later this summer and into the fall. We are excited to work with other local makers and businesses and are open to combining education and experience with our retail pop ups. We would love to connect with more folks who would like to work with us in this way or who are interested in carrying our product in bulk!
What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
Everything! I don’t know why it took me so long to jump into it. I love the hard work, the wins and learning from the failures too. But the best thing so far has been connecting with other entrepreneurs and supporting each other in our journeys. We are lucky to have so many creative and hardworking folks in Portland who make our city so interesting and unique.
What has been the biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date?
Before I even launched our online store on July 1, the Portland Monthly reached out about trying some of our meals. They had heard about Fernweh Food Company from the folks at Gladys Bike Shop after we provided food for a bike trip they hosted. It was such an honor to realize that folks were interested and excited in our crazy concept. The Portland Monthly posted a wonderful write up about us a few weeks ago. That was a really big win for us!
Do you have a failure story to share? What did you learn from this failure?
I actually have a pile of failures. As I was working on my recipes to launch with, I worked through lots of different versions of meals and ingredients. I’m thrilled about the four that I moved forward with, but I am not sure what to do with the dozen containers of failed meals. It hurts me to throw them away, but I also do not care to eat them. If anyone is brave enough, please reach out to me for some free meal fails. 🙂
As an entrepreneur, what keeps you up at night?
Fear of failure and of not doing everything in my ability to make this business a success. To somehow come up short on the vision and for it to simply be seen as a phase. I feel like what we are doing is important, and should be the norm, not the unusual or quirky thing. We should all have the ability to reduce our waste and consumption, but right now it’s really hard to do that with the systems that are in place. We aren’t presented with a ton of options that make it easy to change. I’m excited to be among the companies that are doing what we can to make a difference in how we consume so that we can preserve the greatness of the outdoors!
What is the best entrepreneurial advice you have received (and from whom)?
Be true to your brand mission and values. It is a representation of you. I can’t remember who said this, but it was from one of the OEN Angel Food Conference classes. There were so many great speakers, it’s hard to keep track who said what, but it was all gold.
What is your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur?
Don’t let fear and failure hold you back. It absolutely will happen, but you have to view failures as learning opportunities and grow from them. It’s really hard, but there are so many great podcasts about failure; I’ve listened to many as I was learning how to fail better. Connect with other entrepreneurs and talk about your fails, and help each other grow and learn. It can be lonely when you start your business so find your people and lean on them to help you through the sticky spots so you can get out on the other end better than before. There is so much to learn, so just be open to what the universe gives you and adapt to meet yourself of where you are at. You will eventually get to where you want to be or at least to where you need to be.
What song best describes your entrepreneurial journey?
Ha. Um, “Wild Wild Life” by the Talking Heads. Partially because it’s relevant and partially because this song peps me up when I’m in the thick of cooking in a hot kitchen this summer.
Imagine your venture becomes wildly successful. What does that look like?
I would love to have farms across the US where we teach folks how to grow food and all the food produced will be used in our meals. It will be part education and part business. We will manufacture all our own food on-site and transport it less than 500 miles from each farm. Beyond that, I would love to see someone enjoying our food on top of Everest, or some other far off place. I guess I just want to be able to nourish others so they can get after their own personal adventures, in whatever way that is.
What’s your favorite local business and why?
I love my local bike shops. My top 3 are Golden Pliers, Gladys Bikes and Metropolis. They are such hubs of awesomeness and support. I love the community that is built-in and around these shops.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A travel agent. For real. My mom would go to AAA and pick up maps and books and I would plan vacations for us, usually to Disney World. I’ve always loved the idea of travel, even when I was young and we didn’t have the money to travel. I think planning these “trips” allowed me to imagine what it would be like to see the world. Now that I’m older it’s fun to find thrifty ways to travel and to get as much as I can out of this beautiful life.
Do you think Oregon is a good place to start a business? How has it helped you, and what challenges has it posed?
Absolutely! Portland is an especially supportive place to try out innovative ideas. I have been lucky to take classes at MercyCorps NW and the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network through the Angel Food Conference. Beyond that, we are a group of open-minded and early adopters. I love how many folks in Portland will pay a little more to support a local business over the discounted big-box options.
Any other tidbits or fun facts to share?
I recently spoke at the PechaKucha PDX event on perseverance and was reminded of how this journey really started even before I got my first dehydrator. Six years ago, I had no home, had $800 to my name and 3 months before I would start work as a tour guide, so I decided to go on my very first bike tour. The first overnight bike tour I would ever go on would be 2.5 months and 1300 miles long as I rode to the Mexico border from Portland. During this journey, I gained the confidence, strength, and endurance to overcome internal demons and to find my true self. With the newfound confidence from this trip, I never let myself be put in a box again; I knew that I had a voice and that I could use it. I’m happy to be using this voice to now talk about how we can be better to our beautiful earth and to ourselves with tasty food that nourishes us all in a more sustainable way.
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