Lake Norman & Mooresville

Cooking up a home business

If you're one of the many who've dipped a chip in "Yah's Best" local salsa, you've eaten a piece of history. The tomato, with its accompanying herbs and vegetables, grew in soil rich, not only in nutrients, but heritage.

The "Yah" of "Yah's Best" is Suzanne Crawford, the third generation of McCords who has had her coffee, bathed her children and grown her tomatoes on the familiar McCord Road many pass everyday. Her granddaughters gave her the nickname.

It's not habit, laziness or fear of change that has kept her address the same. It's pride. You can hear it in her voice.

"I'm a rare individual to be living on the land that my grandfather farmed," she says. "Grandfather moved here in 1895. One hundred and fifteen years later, there are still McCords on this property."

But while the scenery outside her bedroom window has never changed, almost everything else has. Most people couldn't imagine having the energy and courage to launch a new business, raise two children and fight cancer, all after the age of 50. Luckily, Crawford has energy and courage.

A terrible accident

Crawford's changes began with a phone call 13 years ago. Parked roadside in the pouring rain a few miles outside Charleston, she was told her only son and his wife were both dead, struck by oncoming traffic when their vehicle hydroplaned. "It still takes my breath away," she says quietly.

Crawford's two young granddaughters, also in the car, were unharmed. Less than 24 hours later, she brought home the girls, ages 3 and 11 months. Since then, Crawford has raised Molly and Claire alone.

"It couldn't have been any other way," she explains. "They were just two babies in hospital gowns, because their clothes were soaking wet from the rain, so I brought them home. It was home to them."

Homegrown business

Now, 13 years later, McCord Road is still home for Molly and Claire. But it's more than that. It's the birthplace of a grass-roots, homegrown, blossoming food business involving all of the family.

"I had no idea it would turn into this. This wasn't our plan," said Crawford. "We are a faith-based family and very assured that this is (God's) plan."

A mix of homegrown vegetables began as experiments, gifts and fundraisers. Fifteen years later, people spoon out "Yah's Best" salsa everywhere. Farmer's markets from Davidson, Charlotte and Raleigh stock it, and Crawford ships it to fans in Montana, Guam and Germany.

All together, she sells 35 products, including jam, "Carolina Caviar" and herb seasonings. Many of the ingredients are home-grown, with Crawford, her daughter, Paige Key, and the granddaughters cooking, packaging and selling.

The legacy

Crawford's goal for her business is simple - to pass it on. "This business has been put together for the grandkids."

Now, Crawford and her family make salsa, soups and jams. It began in a family reunion experiment. "I had gone out in the garden and gathered stuff up and put together a concoction. I didn't know it was called salsa, but people loved it," she said.

"Then when Claire was in preschool, they had a fundraiser," she recalled. "The moms took in cookies and stuff like that, and I took salsa in jars. Boy, it was sold immediately."

One of those mothers later came to Crawford with a proposal: "If you make that," the mother said, "I'll buy it."

Crawford laughed. "I thought, 'Oh my gosh, somebody wants to buy this.'"

Soon after, someone suggested the Huntersville Farmer's Market. Crawford made a batch and took it. It all sold. Next week, she doubled the recipe. It all sold.

As much as she loves her work and her family, Crawford's approach to the breast cancer she discovered in October was courageously stoic.

"I'm a positive person," Crawford said. "I don't one time think about what was, because it doesn't take me anywhere. I think about what is and what can be."

Surgery removed the lump and other than the estrogen-blocker she'll take for the next five years, her days on McCord Road are back to normal - pickling cucumbers, canning jellies, raising teenagers. For now.

"There's nothing I can't do," Crawford said. "I'm not afraid of new avenues. I don't know that this salsa is the last thing I'll ever do."