Iowa West Coast Initiative Feature: Hungry Canyon

Short description of your business:

My name is Melissa Nelson, and my business is Hungry Canyon. I’m a Nebraska farm and cattle gal who transplanted to Northwest Iowa after college to build an agricultural education non-profit and marry an Iowa farm boy. My farm background and creative, entrepreneurial spirit allow me to put a unique spin on everyday items. I create authentic and accurate agriculture-related cards, gifts, and home decor from the farm and beef cattle operation my husband and I are so proud of owning and operating. My husband, Mark, and I have two boys–Roy and Charlie–seventh-generation farm kids and lovers of tractors and cows.  

What motivated you to start your business? What drives you each day? 

I started Hungry Canyon to solve a problem I had. Nine years ago, I was dating my now husband, and it was almost Valentine’s Day…so I started to look for a card to give him. We were both farm kids through and through, ag majors at Iowa State and Nebraska, and had a future in the ag industry. It only made sense to me that the card for a day celebrating love would match the very things *we* loved. I started to look…and I found my problem. I was disappointed with what I saw. Everything online and in the card aisles was fine…but it didn’t speak to Mark or me. Dairy cows are cool, and I love a glass of milk and a cheese stick as much as the next Midwestern farm gal…but that’s not what we raised on our farms, but it’s what I found on any card depicting cattle. And I felt like it would be grounds for a break-up if I had given him a card with a green tractor on it. So I started making my own cards, and then friends started asking if they could buy them for their significant others. What began as sort of a hokey hobby turned into a full-fledged business, making greeting cards and gifts for all walks of life in our industry.

What’s unique about your business?

My target market for Hungry Canyon is the tiny, little percentage of people involved or interested in production agriculture. According to the USDA, only about 1.4% of employed Americans work directly on farms or ranches. There are only so many people out there who can appreciate a greeting card with a manure spreader on it, but I’ve found those people. I also have an arm of my business that focuses on community events and projects for small, rural communities and organizations. 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome as you’ve grown your business? 

The biggest challenge I’ve faced from the beginning of my business is the evaporation of time each day! I’ve juggled a full-time job since the beginning of Hungry Canyon and have added children, farm responsibilities, and community events here and there throughout the years. 

What has been your greatest reward? 

I love knowing that my customers and those who receive my products smile or chuckle to themselves when they open a Hungry Canyon card. They truly speak directly to those of us in agriculture, and I enjoy feeling the secondary joy of those who receive a Hungry Canyon product.

How have you benefited from the startup community in Sioux City and the region? What resources did you use?

I am continually inspired by the small business owners in this region…they’re everywhere! The network I’ve been able to build has been beneficial in many ways. Siouxland Magazine has also been a big supporter of the Rural Route Ramble event, which I helped co-plan. They help promote it through their channels each year. 

Are there any experiences that were particularly influential in that regard?

I’ve also benefited from conversations with the Iowa West Coast Initiative over the years about how to grow my business and the resources available to entrepreneurs in the region. It’s always nice to be able to brainstorm with someone who has a different perspective than you.

Why is it important for the community to support startups and small businesses? What more can be done to help them?

Small businesses are run by folks just like you and me. Your neighbors, friends, family members, and others who make up your community need support to continue being successful. Next time you need to purchase something, take a second to think about if you can purchase that locally or from a small business. It makes a big difference!

What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when starting your business?

I wish I would have known how important it is to keep track of your bookwork and accounting processes. After all, you are running a business! 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a business?

My biggest piece of advice for those looking to start a business is to simply start. I think so many ideas get tossed to the side because the fear of starting something new or fear of failure overcomes. Just begin and worry about the details as you go. 

How can the community continue to help your business?

The community can continue to help Hungry Canyon by being supporters of small, local businesses. I co-plan an event each year called the Rural Route Ramble with my friend, Marissa Molland of Hardly General. This event highlights 50+ local businesses in Rural Siouxland and encourages shoppers to shop local before the holiday season. This event has become a super fun way to support locals and enjoy a weekend in Rural Siouxland!

What are some future goals for your company?

My current goals are related to community projects in rural areas. I find great joy in planning and hosting events in small towns that can run with the likes of events in larger cities. My hope is that I can help inspire and teach others in small, rural communities that we can do really cool things where we live if we just do them.

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