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Cooperation brings success 

Small businesses, or any business for that matter, have difficulty thriving during the current economic downturn as the price of gas rapidly escalates and housing values fall. But for two local businesses, collaborating with each other has aided their success.

Michele Ward-Knecht, owner of Seasonal Custom Cuisine Delivered in Atascadero, and Melanie Blankenship, owner of Nature’s Touch Organic Produce and Nursery in Templeton, along with local farmers, are working together to collectively support their businesses.

- FRIENDS:  Michele Ward-Knecht and Melanie Blankenship have found happiness in teamwork -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FRIENDS: Michele Ward-Knecht and Melanie Blankenship have found happiness in teamwork
Ward-Knecht opened a personal chef service in 2002. As her clientele grew, she decided that the way to expand was by leasing a commercial kitchen and cooking one menu each weekÜwith delivery. Her business, Seasonal Custom Cuisine, features a weekly seasonal menu online and provides meal delivery. The fare, all fresh, uses California certified and local organic produce, whole grains, lean meats, fish and includes vegetarian dishes “I wanted to provide a service that helps people to live a healthy lifestyle,” Ward-Knecht said. “There is an abundance of beautiful food grown here, and I wanted to build a business that is more than just me, as a personal chef service was.”

Nature’s Touch Organic Produce and Nursery is a specialty plant nursery and grocery store in Templeton, offering local California certified organic and naturally grown produce. How are the two businesses working cooperatively? They cross-promote. Blankenship purchases California-certified and local organic produce from local farmers, and offers weekly produce baskets from local farmers at her grocery store, according to Ward-Knecht. This provides income to small farms in the area all year. Blankenship also offers local meat, poultry, and baked goods, and displays promotional information for Ward-Knecht’s business in her store.

In return, Ward-Knecht purchases her produce from Blankenship’s store, promotes Blankenship’s baskets to her clients, and gives the baskets as gifts and prize donations to her clients.

The collaboration has been quite successful for all, Ward-Knecht said. She and Blankenship have gained customers, and local farmers and producers have increased sales.

The two women have known each other for nine years. They met when Ward-Knecht shopped at Blankenship’s store for her personal chef clients, who requested organic food.

“We had many things in common and our friendship grew,” Ward-Knecht said. “Our businesses are so complimentary, and there were so many ways that presented themselves to help each other.”

Together, they give presentations around the area to educate people about eating local and organic foods. They will present a daylong seminar in August at the Oak Creek Commons in Paso Robles about organic foods and will provide recipes for quick and healthy meals, in conjunction with the first harvest from the new Vineyards Growing Veggies Community Garden.

“We hope to build our businesses,” said Ward-Knecht. “But more than that, we hope to serve our community with education, clean, wholesome, good food, and support for our local business community at large.”

For additional information, log on to Seasonal Custom Cuisine’s Web site at

Interns Jen Ingan and Anna Weltner compiled this week’s Strokes and Plugs. Send your business news to


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