Jane Janovsky, graphic arts designer, photographer and teacher, has always had a strong desire to create. Whether it was with a computer, camera or the mind of a student, this South Hadley, Mass., resident was always working toward making a vision a reality. Living in an area widely known as Pioneer Valley, famous for its vast and fertile farmlands, it should be of no surprise that Janovsky’s creative juices were also sparked by the lands surrounding her, giving way to a long love of picking berries and fruits and turning them into home-made jams. This year, Janovsky has decided to hang up most of her well-worn hats and trade them in for a kitchen apron, making what was once a creative hobby into her full time career.
While jam making was something Janovsky had always loved to do, it wasn’t until she and a friend of hers, Donna Poli, started talking about their mutual love for the process that really changed everything for her.
“Donna and a neighbor and I would take daily walks and talk about all kinds of things and we started talking about jams that we were making and we both loved doing that so we decided, lets make some together and have fun with it,” remembered Janovsky. “Then one summer we ended up with a stockpile of jam. We had more than we could possibly give away so we gave to everybody we knew as gifts and then we started getting requests for more.”
As the requests for the home-made jams continued to roll in, Janovsky and Poli decided to start what they called a “berry picking fund,” coming up with a price for their jams and putting that money away for the next berry picking season. With Janovsky’s graphic design experience, they decided to make a little brochure to hand out to friends and family describing the different jams they made and at one point reached the hands of a very interested owner of a new restaurant.
“He got really excited and he told us that he wanted to have our jams in his restaurant to both serve and sell,” recalled Janovsky. “So that’s where all of the commercial side of things started. That’s when we started thinking about, how do we make this a legal business?”
Knowing neither of their kitchens would pass a legal inspection to create a product for mass commercial production, Janovsky and Poli looked for an outside kitchen they could rent. They quickly found the Western Mass Food Processing Center, run by the Franklin County Community Development Corporation (FCCDC), a nonprofit organization that provides educational, developmental and capital resources for local small businesses. So intrigued by the resources available to her through the FCCDC, Janovsky found herself enrolling in a business class there and eventually also discovered another helpful organization, Valley Venture Mentors, a place for budding entrepreneurs to fine tune and develop their business plans with mentoring programs that often lead to investment connections.
Through their research, it seemed to Janovsky, that though a lot lay ahead of them, it was indeed possible to take their jams from hobby to profession. Calling themselves DJ Mix Jams, Janovsky and Poli were traveling fast down a new and exciting road, though just as their company was about to make a turn into unknown territory, Poli decided she wanted off.
“It was mostly me with the entrepreneurial urge and Donna, my partner, not so much,” said Janovsky. “She really wanted to keep it at a hobby level, you know, just do craft shows and that kind of thing and I wanted to go forward and get into stores, so we clashed at that point and eventually made this decision that I would take it to where I wanted to and she would continue making jam for friends and family.”
Suddenly alone, without both the camaraderie and support of a partner, Janovsky found herself disappointed but otherwise undeterred. Renaming her brand, Just Jane’s, Janovsky made the most of her situation and played it for what it was. Though solo, she continued cooking jam, going to farmer’s markets to sell, and keeping up with the local resources when in need of guidance and advice.
“It is just me, I mean everything at the moment. I’m hoping to be able to afford some temp help in the near future, at least when I’m making bigger batches,” said Janovsky. “It’s unreal how much time it takes when you’re doing everything. You’re producing, you’re calling stores, you’re delivering to stores, going out and doing demos at farmers markets – it’s just pretty extraordinary when it comes to taking up time.”
And so, with time being her biggest obstacle, Janovsky decided to retire from her full time teaching job of 10 years at South Hadley High School in favor of devoting herself to this new venture.
“I’m basically jumping off a cliff, career wise,” laughed Janovsky. “I’m hoping to float but you know I do have a graphic design and photography background so I’m hoping to fall back on that until I really get this business rolling. But at least I’ll have the time to really keep up with it now.”
And time is what she’ll need, as her website claims that all jams are made the old fashioned way, so while it may be a relaxing and soothing outlet for Janovsky, it’s a process that in no way can be rushed.
“The traditional way is to use a kettle on a stove and you mix in the berries and the pectin and all the ingredients and then you set it to a boil, full boil, and then you add in the sugar and then you bring it to another full boil, so it’s just the old fashioned process,” explained Janovsky. “It’s just relaxing, it’s soothing, it’s creative for me to figure out what works together and try different things in the kitchen. I just find it’s something that takes me away from reality, rather than a job.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating where I’ll have to be up all night doing one order of jam but you can’t beat the taste, it’s nothing like what you get on the grocery store shelf. It’s full of flavor, it’s very vibrant and so it’s worth it,” continued Janovsky, who currently has at least 25 flavors, all of which are not limited to your typical breakfast fare.
“I have one that’s called Harvest Harmony and that’s kind of my signature one and maybe that would be my best seller. It’s apples, cranberries, pecans and maple syrup and it’s unbelievable with any kind of cheese. I’ve made it on a grilled cheese sandwich, it’s unbelievable but even as just a sandwich spread, it’s really good,” mused Janovsky. “The White Chocolate Razz Jazz, I have a lot of local bakers buy it to use in their cookies and stuff, or it can go in a coffee cake. I mix it with yogurt or you can top it on ice cream – so there are a lot of uses for that. I call that more my dessert jam. Something like Tropical Mango Tango, which is mango, pineapple and strawberry, makes a great glaze on chicken or ham and when you throw it in the oven, it’s – delicious.”
Creating different mixes of flavors is Janovsky’s favorite part and something she’s quite good at, otherwise she wouldn’t have the following she has now. With the recent uptick in interest for local grown, non-processed foods, Janovsky’s jams are smack dab in the middle of some kind of revolution.
“I think people just want to know where their food is coming from,” claimed Janovsky. “So much is imported in the grocery stores. We have a grocery store that is a local chain but they get their strawberries from California. It’s like why would you get strawberries from California when we have delicious strawberries here? It’s a short season but even during the season they’re still transporting them all the way over from California.”
Noting that more and more people want to support their local agriculture and are noticing the fresher taste and quality, Janovsky is quite certain that she is on to something. After all, she did leave the security of a full time job to pursue this.
“I know I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart and I haven’t made it in other areas because I doubted myself in the past but I think this is the first time I feel like this is something I actually can – I can make it with this. I just feel good about it,” said Janovsky. “The other thing is, for the first time, I’ve learned how to ask for help, because there’s a lot of areas in business that I’m not good at, like the financials, projections and that kind of thing. Asking for help, I think, is huge. And I didn’t know how to do it before, I wanted to do everything myself and I realized that that’s just not possible because nobody’s good at everything so you need help along the way.”
Following her gut and asking for help when she needs it, Janovsky has found something of a groove. With frequent appearances at farmer’s markets, taste testings at stores, a presence on social media and with a website that enables her to ship her jams anywhere throughout the country, Janovsky is opening herself to opportunities to expand. Though her focus remains in Massachusetts for the time being, her hope is by next year to start developing relationships with stores beyond her local borders.
“I’m proud that I’ve gotten this far. Working full time and going through all the chaotic change in the partnership – I’m really happy to be saying that the business is still stable. It still has a long way to go but I’m in stores, I’m doing business and people are happy with the product. I’ve got a great product, I’m really proud of that and I’m excited to see where it goes,” said Janovsky, determined to keep picking, keep cooking and keep pushing forward, knowing this time, she’s following both her heart and gut and no matter what the outcome, nothing beats the feeling of going after a dream.
“I don’t know ultimately if I’ll make it on the big scale,” said Janovsky, “but, who knows? I’m going to go for it, I’m going to try for it and see what happens.”
And isn’t that what being an entrepreneur is all about?