FAIRFIELD — Jocelyn Engman and her husband, Tim, made a life decision in 2004 that led to a thriving business today.
Engman and her husband met as lab partners at Central College in Pella.
For a while, they both worked as chemists until Engman’s father asked if she wanted to move home to Brighton and convert their family farm into an organic farm.
In 2004, the pair moved back to Iowa and grew produce on the land, but at the time, gas was around $4 a gallon, making it hard to drive produce to farmers markets and make money.
“We said, ‘What is some way we can be more efficient and turn this into something where it doesn’t matter that we live in the middle of nowhere?,’” Engman said.
They started to grow herbs and creating herbal-infused products under the brand Pickle Creek Herbs.
Pickle Creek Herbs has a variety of products from olive oils and vinegars to soaps and deodorant.
Engman said having the chemistry background allowed them to experiment.
“Because I grew up in chemistry I was never afraid to experiment,” Engman said. “Just try something. If it doesn’t work, adjust something and go back.”
After jumping around renting kitchens, the pair converted a portion of an apartment building they own into a commercial kitchen in 2009. In 2018, they added a shop and tasting room.
All of the products are made, bottled and labeled by hand.
“I still chop my garlic with a knife,” Engman said.
The olive oils were first introduced because Engman became interest in food and cooking.
The first oil was infused in 2006 and now the oils make up a large portion of Pickle Creek Herbs with one oil, the Prairie Fire Infused Olive Oil, winning first place in the 2019 Chili Oil Scovie Award.
All of the recipes are created by Jocelyn Engman. She started with four types of infused olive oils, and the rest were added due to customer requests or experimentation.
“We didn’t have a roasted garlic oil when we started, and then people asked, ‘Do you have a plain garlic oil?’” Engman said.
Other oils were a project of Jocelyn’s to create creative combinations such as the Blueberry Lemon Thyme Infused Balsamic Vinegar.
Some take a long time to create the recipe, some are successful on the first try.
“They’re very touchy oils to make,” Engman said.
A lot of the ingredients they use for the oils, such as the Greek basil, can’t be bought at the store, Engman said.
“There were years when we would run out of Greek Basil Olive Oil because when it was gone, it was gone,” Engman said.
The business is broken into two areas — Jocelyn runs the kitchen side of the business, and Tim runs the farm side.
“If you’re going to be married and in business, it’s just best to have your own domain,” Jocelyn Engman said. “It’s not a good thing to have two bosses.”
When they started, Tim only grew a few beds for oregano, but now it is being planted in 300 footlong row. Over the years he has also experimented with different plants.
“I try a couple new things every year,” Tim Engman said. “I like to grow things for a couple of years and get a feel for how the plant works, how it lives and what it responds to.”
All of the growing is done during the summer and sustains them throughout the year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jocelyn Engman said they were unable to market at farmers markets, and they closed the shop, but their shipping orders went up.
“All of a sudden we had to get way better at shipping,” Jocelyn Engman said.
People who would have normally purchased from farmers markets are now finding their website and purchasing online or wanting to visit the shop.
Being a child of the farm crisis, Jocelyn Engman said she knew to prepare for the worst. Jocelyn Engman said it is interesting how the farm shaped the business, both in how the products are made from the farm, but also how they operate.