So, remember back when I was working as a farm hand for 3 months this past summer? There was a LOT of time spent weeding which meant my mind was working, dreaming dreams, solving problems, making others.
Did you know that 30% of the food we have here goes to waste? Think about your own kitchen. How much food gets stashed in the frig, only to turn some dark green color, dripping with slime? I’m guilty. We cook too much, put the leftovers in containers and usually remember to eat as lunch the next day, but if we are out and about, they tend to migrate to the back of the shelf and then, when I realize I am low on storage containers, I look and there they are…..needing to be sterilized!
Well, on the farm there was waste also. Michelle Burger of Bethel Springs Farms has exacting standards for her customers, and rightly so. When we picked green beans only those that were perfectly straight and of course without blemishes made it into their bags. The rest were trashed! Well, not exactly. As we were picking, the curved beans got left on the ground. In the cleaning process, anything imperfect went into the compost. It all eventually gets returned to the soil as green fertilizer, but it got me thinking that much of it was edible.
I started taking the imperfect produce home. Lots of it. I got paid minimum wage but boy oh boy, I was bringing home tons more in food than I was earning in dinero. And so, I started canning. And canning. And canning. Buying more jars. Canning some more. Some recipes, like the blueberry barbecue sauce, were keepers. Others like the zucchini marmalade, not so much.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, I was also thinking about the Bethel Springs business model. When Michelle hired me she took a gamble with a 60-year-old arthritic chubbette, but she saw I could (almost all the time) keep up and what she also gained was all the insights I had learned from years of farm visits. Seeing the many different ways small farmers tried to make their work as income effective as possible.
So, I suggested to her that I could provide her another income stream. I can take those cast off green beans, not ordered zucchinis, tons and tons of excess tomatoes and can can can can can for her. She’s intrigued. So are a couple of other farmers and one other approached me.
I have to draw the line there for this coming season. I need to stretch my wings and keep it manageable.
Meanwhile, as the fields are slumbering, I am doing all the groundwork. I went to a wonderfully timed convention this week sponsored by the Northwest Food Processors Association. Walking through the exhibition hall made me realize very quickly just how “small potatoes” this business concept is. When I talked to one vendor about a dehydrator I learned his best option for me costs $100,000. Graham suggested a Kickstarter; I’ll wait a bit. The family just pitched in to buy me a $250 Excalibur. That should last a year…maybe two. Next is the Better Processing School, and a whole bunch of legal things like state and federal licenses and certifications, including business filing. Amd Curt Chiarelli, a friend who is a graphic artist, is designing my logo, bless him!
Now, I COULD do all this from home if I was selling it all myself at a farmers’ market. Perfectly legal within a certain dollar amount. But by offering this service to farmers who have no time to process their product this way and packaging it for their own label means I need to step up one notch to a commercial endeavor.
So, new venture and lots of excitement! If you want to share a scrumptious recipe you use, please do!!!