Business Name: Black River Valley Natural, LLC
Owner(s): James & Bethany Munn (75%) and Beller Farms, LLC (25%)
Year Established: 2018
Number of Employees: 13
About the Owners: Black River Valley Natural was originally founded by James & Bethany Munn. James was born and raised in Lewis County but, like so many other young people, left the area after high school. After about 20 years in the high-tech manufacturing industry, he returned to Lewis County with his wife Bethany and their two young sons. Their goal was to establish and build a local food brand focused on our regional strengths that could also provide employment opportunities and become an economic growth engine for the area.
Tell us about your start-up story: Once the decision was made to come back to Lewis County, value-added dairy processing was the obvious choice for anyone looking to establish a food manufacturing business. That’s what led us to partner with Beller Farms, a local family owned and operated dairy farm. Our small-batch artisanal dairy processing facility located in Lyons Falls, NY was born from this partnership.
From the very beginning we let the data guide us on which direction to take our business. We started with butter and ﬂavored butters since this was a growing market. At the same time, we opened up our facility to partner with other family farms that were looking to diversify and dabble in the value-added dairy processing market. This allowed us to help incubate several other small dairy businesses in the area and has helped us to fulﬁll our vision of supporting the economic growth of the area.
In 2020, Black River Valley Natural took over the management of The North Star Food Hub, a regional food distribution business supporting the North Country. The mission of the Food Hub to provide new markets and opportunities for growers and producers in Lewis, Jeﬀerson, St. Lawrence, and Oswego counties was closely aligned with the vision of Black River Valley Natural and it also provided a means of distribution for our growing business.
In 2021 we added a complete non-dairy line of products which doubled the number of products that we could oﬀer and helped us to continue to grow our wholesale business in the region. In addition, we also launched our own brick and mortar storefront, Deep Roots Fresh Market & Cafe. Located in Lyons Falls, NY, this store was the ﬁnal piece needed to help us get as much of our wonderful and delicious products in front of as many people as possible.
Why did you choose Lewis County? We chose to start our business in Lewis County because of several reasons. Not only is Lewis County our home but it also has an extremely rich agricultural legacy. We know how to grow and make food here and we have a work ethic that is hard to match anywhere else. Combine this with the small town feel and high quality of life, Lewis County was just the perfect place to establish our business and to re-establish our family.
What advice would you give someone starting a business in Lewis County? For anyone looking to start a business in Lewis County, I would tell them to be careful not to underestimate the opportunity here. This area is a tinderbox just waiting to explode. All the pieces are here and it’s only a matter of time before things start to get really interesting. Take that leap of faith and don’t give up.
What are some current projects Black River Valley Natural is working on and what are you looking forward to in 2021? With essential production, distribution, and retail components in place, we are now beginning to turn our attention to growing our brand and becoming the premier regional/national food brand in the area. We’re so proud of how far we’ve come in only the past few years but we’re even more excited about what lies ahead as we try to make the Black River Valley synonymous with great food that we can all feel good about eating.
Are there local partnerships or organizations that have helped you along your business journey? Early on we had lots of help from many great local and regional agencies such as Cornell University, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Lewis County Economic Development, The Shipley Center for Innovation at Clarkson University, the Lewis County Development Corporation, Adirondack North Country Association, the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board, and the Village of Lyons Falls. However, it was our strong partnership with Beller Farms and other impact investors in the area that put the gas in the tank to get this business moving. It truly takes a village to launch a successful business and we’re a perfect example of that.