There is much talk of buying local and trying to eat more sustainably, but how is a small regional food system actually created? How does that really happen? It seems that it may just be built one jar of delicious sauerkraut at a time.
Three former Evergreen State College students turned their respective diverse passions into a small food company that is helping to create positive change, and strengthening the local food system here in Washington. The idea for the business germinated while the entrepreneurs were still in college, initially as a fermented vegetable CSA. They then got lots of feedback and insight from teachers and others, who helped to shape and refine the company’s structure and priorities, which has now evolved into a successful small organic sauerkraut business based in Olympia.
OlyKraut is the brainchild of Sash Sunday, Summer Bock and Kai Tillman; their paths crossed because they all shared interests in healthy food, fermentation, organic agriculture, supporting a local economy and sustainability. While they were still students at Evergreen, the three of them collaborated to start the small food company, which makes the best tasting kraut that I have ever eaten. Kai has since moved on to Mexico, leaving most of the daily business operations to Summer and Sash.
Summer also runs a related business, Seed of Life Nutrition, which helps people to become and stay healthy. The work allows her to draw upon her extensive knowledge of the benefits of fermented food, so she can help:
“…people make the changes necessary to create amazing health and well-being through balanced intestinal flora.”
Supporting Local Organic Farmers
OlyKraut is sourced, made and sold locally in western Washington. Most of the ingredients come from local organic farmers, which are then processed and packaged in Olympia, and sold at nearby stores in the region, like the Olympia Food Co-op. The nearby farms and businesses support one other, and build strong personal links by working together through the seasons. Each local connection is one more link in growing a more sustainable regional food system and strengthening the interconnected web of small economies of scale.
Nearby Wobbly Cart Farming Collective provides the fresh organic onions for the day’s sauerkraut recipe.
As OlyKraut’s mission statement explains, they are “committed to producing and selling delicious, nutritious and cultured foods for our community while practicing good stewardship of our land and resources”. One of the ways that they fulfill that mission is by helping to make fresh healthy food more available to the populace, as well as spreading the word about the many benefits of fermented foods. Olykraut offers some insight into their process, and why the fresh vegetables are so good for you:
“We make our delicious ferments mostly from cabbage, but we use many other vegetables as well. We chop them up, add salt and compress them in a large antique ceramic crock, and let them sit for two to four weeks depending on the temperature. The Lactobacilli (probiotics) are naturally present on the raw veggies and when given the right conditions, they flourish.
This means they digest the fibers and make the vitamins and proteins more accessible. During the fermentation process, the Lactobacilli produce lactic acid, which stabilizes and preserves the final product, while also supporting better digestion in your body.”
Sash compacts a batch of Eastern European flavor sauerkraut in preparation for the fermentation process.
Help Along the Way
Many people have helped to support and shape OlyKraut into the small success story that it is today, including: Evergreen staff Melissa Barker and David Muehleisen, microscopic organism guru and author of “Wild Fermentation”, Sandor Katz, retail outlets like the Olympia Food Co-op and 8 Arms Community Bakery, who help to distribute their finished product, as well as Olympia business-owner Caroline Huber, who rents the fledgling company her commercial kitchen.
Northwest Natural, a small local organic fish burger company, shares the commercial food processing facility with OlyKraut; and they have also helped promote it, encouraging people to eat their product with the kraut. I actually had a Northwest Natural wild Alaskan halibut medallion with a large dollop of curry kraut yesterday — it was an amazingly delicious combination.
Evergreen also helped teach the young entrepreneurs how to make a solid business plan, navigate the bureaucracy of organic certification and the importance of keeping organized records. The Washington Tilth Association has been a continual source of networking help; and the Washington State Department of Agriculture has also given the fledgling business useful connections and marketing insight.
Helsing Junction Farm (run by two more Evergreen alumnae, Anna Salafsky and Susan Ujcic) not only includes OlyKraut as an option in their weekly CSA, the small farm also grows some of the organic ingredients that are used in the locally made sauerkraut. These links with other small businesses help to further strengthen the interconnected regional food system network, and fortify the area’s economy.
Another organization which has helped OlyKraut to become more established is Enterprise for Equity. They are a community supported nonprofit that helps people with limited incomes start and sustain small businesses. Enterprise for Equity schools novice entrepreneurs in how to create a sustainable business, assessing the competition and available resources, as well as which pitfalls and mistakes to avoid. The program also gave Summer and Sash an opportunity to re-work and fine tune their business plan.
Lots of hard work and constructive advice have helped Summer and Sash to nurture their small business and allowed it to thrive. There seems to be a spirit of communalism and respect for shared resources that permeates the entire company and their extended community; helping out other fellow small businesses and supporting nearby farms helps everyone to succeed. If we can focus on working with what we have nearby, and making an effort to aid our fellow neighbors, maybe there could be hope to revitalize our nation’s tattered economy.
OlyKraut is a good example of how to transform what inspires you into something real and sustainable that makes a difference. By utilizing local available resources, these women demonstrate that it is possible to create a small responsible business which can help to grow a local food system. Who knew that sustainable progress would taste so good?