I am thinking about starting a small foods business in Cape Charles, Virginia and I thought I’d make it a multi-purpose venture. First my goal is to produce wholesome, delicious, and affordable products that everyone will want to buy, second it is to discuss the benefits of the food I’ll be making, and third, to write about the entire process, following it until I’ve either been able to legally start up my company or until I throw my hands up in despair.
Do I really think I’ll have to give up the idea of starting a company? Probably not, but those of you who read my articles in early 2015 in the Cape Charles Wave about Virginia Food Freedom will know that I think that there are just too many regulations on small food producers which stifle innovation and creativity and crush the development of a thriving artisanal economy on the Eastern Shore. I recognize that many good people in our State government only want to keep people safe but I believe that the fulcrum has swung too far in the interests of safety, creating a mono-food culture favoring industrial foods which make up the majority of our food at every grocery store. So here’s an opportunity for all of us to explore what it takes to start up a local food company and to have some discussion about the process and whether it makes sense or not. We still might end up with different conclusions, but at least we’ll have some facts.
Some of you know that I’ve been performing science experiments in my kitchen. On my counter at any particular time there are jars of bubbling effervescent and odiferous ferments. Come to a dinner at my house and you’ll be urged to try the flavor of the month and I must admit some guests have raved while others have blanched at the thought! The ferments I have been making are flavored sauerkrauts, traditional, but liberally infused with organic herbs and vegetables. Just about everyone has heard of sauerkraut, but most have only eaten the pasteurized version. The sauerkraut I and other artisanal makers create is full of life and helps to fortify the community of microorganisms in our gut to boost our immune system and build health. A food revolution is building and all over the country people are looking for healthy, local, and minimally processed food. It has started slowly on the Eastern Shore with the advent of some of our small, sustainable farms and continues with the growth of local catering operations, and companies like Blue Crab Bay Company, Machipongo Trading Company, The Bakery at Riverside Farm, and Cape Charles Confectionery.
Sauerkrauts are only one type of ferment. Bread, cheese, wine, tea, and beer are all fermented foods which were originally prepared by traditional societies to preserve food. In my mind though, krauts are special because the fermentation process creates new nutrients including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin, and augments vitamin C, and K2 which makes the food more nutritious. Pasteurized or canned sauerkrauts have been heated, killing most of the beneficial microorganisms. I’ve been reading Sandor Ellix Katz’s inspiring book, “Wild Fermentation”. In it, Katz states “By fermenting foods and drinks with wild microorganisms present in your home environment, you become more interconnected with the life forces of the world around you.” This sounds pretty high-minded and esoteric, but most of us know that great food can be a spiritual experience. That’s not to say that my kraut will transport you to heaven, but it may help you with digestive issues and at the same time improve your health. Even if you discount the benefits of kraut, we all may find it enlightening to walk through the process of starting up a small business together.
What sorts of topics will I discuss in this series of essays? I’ll start with describing the actual products and then talk about my original thoughts about how much investment I am planning for and how much I actually spent. I am concerned about the regulatory part of this as I mentioned above. Will the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) want to help me get started or will they insist on having a 3-part sink in my home, if I decide to make my kraut there? What are my sales projections, and how will I market my products? There’s a lot of discovery to be made here. I’m hoping that our readers feel free to comment on my good and bad decisions, and even offer advice to a novice business person.