Thursday, September 17, 2015

Heritage Harvest Festival 2015: What I Learned

This event at Monticello is one, like Maymont's Herbs Galore, that I look forward to for months. I only attended two classes this time, a free one on fermentation by Sandor Katz and a paid workshop with Lisa Kivirist (pictured above) and John D. Ivanko, authors of Homemade for Sale: How to Set Up And Market a Food Business From Your Home Kitchen. The Wisconsin couple has made a living by gradually building up a market for their processed foods. Along they way they became writers, relying upon their experience in marketing to effectively craft words and lobby politicians to change state laws that hurt small businesses.

They answered a question I had about amortizing equipment costs. I guess it surprised them that I'd spent so much already getting started, but my project does not involve merely canning a few cases of pickles in the kitchen or selling home-baked goods. To farm, I needed equipment to cultivate, protect, and water our first cash crop. The idea of selling some pickled peppers or honey have been there all along, and this is where the authors' advice is pure gold to a beginner.

States have gradually loosened laws for "Cottage Foods," though anyone trying to get raw milk will tell you how difficult regulations can be. Luckily, that's not in the works for us. At most, we'll sideline our honey, pickles, and a few other things to supplement our income when the field is not producing vegetables or herbs.

What craft brewing has done for the drinking landscape, Cottage Foods and the broader local-food movement could do to big agriculture, an industry that exacts a heavy toll on the soil, water, and diversity of food.  It may feed the world, but I've yet to be convinced that we could not feed ourselves in a more sustainable manner.

Sandor Katz has me happy that I've been fermenting food from my own soil; Kivirist and Ivanko make me proud that our little LLC has a business plan. As I felt last year, at Heritage Harvest 2015, I came away optimistic about a better world waiting to be born.

An actor portraying Thomas Jefferson strolled the grounds and talked to visitors. I didn't get a chance to ask Mr. Jefferson what he thought about today's local-food movement, but he was a fan of the American yeoman and our self-reliant streak. That philosophical stance, as much as his Deism or the founding of my alma mater, makes Jefferson one of my culture heroes, despite the contradictions and compromises of his personal and political life.

I think that he would approve of how entrepreneurs are taking on the established tyranny of factory food to bring commerce to our communities and variety to our pantries.