To make soup you must first make a table…and a sign

When we started Black Bear Soups, our idea was very simple, or so we thought. We had been farming and freezing what we grew during the summer so we could eat food made by our hands year round and we wanted to share this with others. It seemed the best way to do this would be to make soup; a delicious, versatile food that suits so well the needs of our bellies during the coldest months. And so we began to test out our idea by bringing together many different ingredients and friends to try our soups.

Because soup is so versatile and broad, we knew we would be able to use almost any kind of produce grown in Montana. This was crucial for us because we not only wanted to provide soups during the winter, but year round as a quick healthy meal option and we appreciated the thought of serving our customers in a way that helps them feel more in sync with the natural progression of the crop season. We also felt the versatility would allow us to maintain a changing menu of recipes that could ebb and flow with the harvest season.

We expected challenges along the way, and some of the ingredients ultimately necessary to realize our dream have taught us valuable lessons in creating more than just soup. Our dream required compliance with state and federal regulations. I guarantee you’ll never find that in a soup recipe. In this process, there are inevitable challenges. Due to a clerical error, our business was registered for a short time as Black Bear Soaps. As we got closer to debuting our idea at the Hamilton farmer’s market, we realized we also needed to design and create a physical space to hold our idea. Market vendors are given a ten by ten space to work with so we began contemplating the balance between logistical efficiency and the beauty of a market stand. What we came up with is still a work in progress, but it includes a small trailer that we can pull into the space, hand-made wooden tables with blue stain tops, a hand painted Black Bear Soups sign, and three very large soup pots. Having created this physical space we were ready with our first batch of soup earlier this June.

To assume and hope that customers would just “get it” was not enough. As the creators, we were completely immersed in a world of farming and soups so it was easy to feel frustrated when others did not seem to understand the effort that goes into making the soups. It is easy to want empathy from customers, to expect them to understand how hard you have worked and to want them to be so grateful for the soup that any small detail we might be missing is acceptable. But I have come to realize this attitude rejects the basic currency of human interaction; a mutual care and empathy in which both individuals, the customer and the creator, exhibit every possible kindness toward one another. This meant creating what we felt was a beautiful, hand-made space with every detail taken care of. We purchased paper bags for customers to carry hot soups in, we allowed kids to have more than just a few samples. We took care to remember that our idea was about more than just a food product and a business. It was about enlivening a food system and serving customers in a way that built community.