To Kimchi or Not to Kimchi? That was the question.
Spirit Creek Farm owners Andrew and Jennifer Sauter Sargent love living on the South Shore of Lake Superior near Cornucopia. But, as many can attest, life on the big lake isn't always easy.
"We know we want to stay in this region," says Andrew. "But, it is not always that easy. Jobs are scarce and the economy has made it even tougher."
Like many couples on the South Shore, they knew they'd have to be creative to make things work. To them, this meant starting a business - but first, they needed to decide how to begin.
"We always knew we'd end up starting a business," says Jennifer. "But it took us a while to figure out which direction to go."
The answer came to Andrew while reading the book "Salt: A World History." This, followed by several other books about the art of fermenting foods, inspired him to start researching a business focused around kimchi and sauerkraut, utilizing primarily local produce.
Kimchi, a spicy pickled cabbage, is the national dish of Korea. Sauerkraut is a less-spicy pickled cabbage with mostly German roots.
"I love food," he says. "And, I loved the idea that we'd be pulling from recipes that are over a thousand years old."
In the summer of 2006 the couple began to grow their own cabbage and test recipes. By 2007, they had committed to the business, which included building a certified kitchen and pre-ordering vegetables from other local farmers. By the fall of 2007, Spirit Creek Farm had gone from a business plan to reality.
That first year they started with 1,000 jars, which were quick to sell out. They began doubling their annual production for the first few years. Now, five years later, they anticipate making nearly 10,000 jars of fermented food. To do so, they'll be purchasing nearly 10,000
pounds of cabbage, 1,400 pounds of carrots, 400 pounds of radishes, along
with garlic and onions from farmers in the region.
"The community connectedness in this region and the support and advice
we've received from other farmers has been a tremendous help," Jennifer says.
A distributor in the Twin Cities has been a key player in getting their
product in food cooperatives around Minnesota, Wisconsin and even Iowa.
Their number one retail source is Whole Foods Coop in Duluth. Approximately
10 percent of their sales are generated online, with another 10 percent selling at local farmers' markets.
The Sauter Sargents are constantly looking for ways to expand or diversify
their business. This year, Spirit Creek Farm will offer ginger carrots, beets and dill beans, in addition to their sauerkraut and kimchi.
Regardless of how they diversify their product, the one constant is utilizing organic, local product -- whether by buying it or growing it themselves.
"This is important to us," Jennifer says of using local produce. "We want to provide healthy food to people that was made with products from the local food network."
The couple hopes to build the business to the point of sustainability. "In
five years, we'd like to have the ability to live off the income of the farm," Andrew says, with true entrepreneurial spirit.
Beth Probst is a freelance writer in Iron River, Wisconsin.