Creating Local Markets: Lettuce to Burritos, Salsa to Honey

By:
Ford Burkhart, Chris Richards photo

Clayton Kammerer brought his own goal to the McGuire New Venture Development Program: getting food from local farms to the complex network of farmers markets in Southern Arizona. 

Since then, he has branched out to serve other small businesses, creating and managing events from festivals and block parties to bowl games and Tucson’s Downtown Saturday Night celebrations.

But it wasn’t easy.

Before coming to McGuire, Kammerer had discovered he wasn’t a good fit for his engineering classes — or for most jobs. “I wanted something to do with food and to make things better in the world, in life, in a business,” he recalls. “I knew the McGuire Center was good, highly ranked. I was a self-starter, so I got in. I developed my venture concept over my nine months there. I knew when I finished writing it that I wanted to keep it going after I graduated.”

Clayton Kammerer

In 2011, he earned his B.S. in business administration with a major in marketing and entrepreneurship and founded the company he designed at McGuire, called Food In Root, or FIR.

During the 17 months before he earned a dollar, he invested time researching, networking and overcoming obstacles. “Which is how you learn,” Kammerer says. “We had a first meeting for clients, and five showed up. Today, we have 1,000 vendors.” 

His clients include small-scale food producers in Tucson who bring goods to events like the St. Philip’s Plaza Farmers Market. One just makes blueberry muffins. “All of them need to know how to get products to markets and sell them at a profit,” Kammerer says.

From his class project, Kammerer has developed a business with “the widest tool kit in the region for this kind of work.” He helps create up to seven events a week, 12 months a year, employing seven people in a $250,000-a-year business. “We are growing every year and making events where we estimate $3 million a year is spent.”

“At McGuire, we learned that you have to understand who your customer really is. I had thought the customer was the person who came to spend money, but no — the real customer was the vendor who came to rent space. A secondary customer was the buyer. And a tertiary customer was the community of Tucson as a whole. 

“We want to keep the dollars here in town rather than going out of state,” he says. “And we help create an avenue for local businesses to start up. We know how to bring in the people who make burritos, salsa or honey, or people selling their paintings, or small businesses with locally made wares.”

Social impact, for Kammerer, means fresher foods, strengthening health and wellness, sustainability, the environment, and the local economy. “And,” says Kammerer, “we expose this community to quality heritage food — natural, organic food.”