Homemade Sauerkraut Inspired Full-Time Business

When Andrew Sauter Sargent made his first batch of homemade sauerkraut, he had no idea he was launching a whole new business. Seven years later, he and his wife Jennifer are making and selling sauerkraut and other “lacto-fermented” vegetables by the case across the upper Midwest.
  “When we bought this land and set up our home off-grid, we just wanted to grow food for our family,” says Jennifer. “A friend tried the sauerkraut Andrew made and thought it was pretty good. He suggested we talk to a friend of his in upstate New York who made sauerkraut for a living.”
  The couple talked with the sauerkraut maker and others and decided to give it a try. They had built their house with a large attached garage for a future boat repair business. Instead, it was turned into a commercial kitchen and office. The first few years, the two raised vegetables in the summer and processed them along with what they purchased from other local growers in the fall and early winter.
  Growing demand has forced them to turn to still more growers, mostly local, for produce. Three employees now handle the processing, which spreads out from August through March.
  Andrew keeps busy managing the business. Jennifer homeschools the couple’s children, runs the household and works part-time with the business. Marketing is one of her responsibilities.
  “Our biggest challenge is planning,” she says. “We are so involved in running the business day to day that we have little time for planning.”
  What started with a few local sales has grown to nearly 60 stores in 7 states. Jennifer credits her local food co-op manager with helping them get started.
  “We asked him where he got his products, and he sent us to a regional co-op food supplier in St. Paul, Minn.,” she recalls. “We also took a road trip and visited about 20 stores around Minnesota and Wisconsin.”
  Word of mouth referrals have been important sales tools, according to Jennifer. A produce manager at one Whole Foods store has encouraged other stores in the chain to carry their Spirit Creek products.
  “Employees of stores will pick it up at another store and suggest their manager carry it,” says Jennifer.
  The homegrown nature of the business doesn’t hurt. Occasionally a customer will call and the couple’s 5-year-old will answer the phone.
  “People like the connection to family,” says Jennifer. “We work mostly with small stores and co-op food stores. The big chain stores and distributors are a different world.”
  The business and the product line have grown fast. They make green and purple sauerkraut as well as fermented beets, ginger carrots and green beans. The most recent addition is Curtido, a mix of cabbage, onions, carrots, oregano and red pepper flakes.
  Customer demand has also grown, perhaps too fast, admits Jennifer. “Last year we started running out in May with no product available until October,” she says. “You don’t want to run out of product, so this year we are increasing production by 50 percent.”
  That means increasing their sourcing as well. Since they only raise a fraction of what they process, they rely mostly on growers in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Spirit Creek, like most of the farms who supply the raw vegetables, is not certified organic. However, they all follow organic standards, and some larger suppliers are organic.
  “It’s too costly and time consuming for small producers to get certified,” explains Jennifer. “We considered it, but the paperwork was overwhelming. To get organic suppliers, we would likely have had to go to California. We want to stay as local in our region as we can.”
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Spirit Creek Farm LLC, 24255 State Hwy. 13, Bayfield, Wis. 54814 (ph 715 742-3551; andrew@sauter.com; www.spiritcreekfarm.com).


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2014 - Volume #38, Issue #1