A Win-Win

Fermentation parties offer value for all involved

On the Monday in early October when I visit Heart Beet Organics in Darlington, it’s a drab, overcast day complete with a biting cold wind. The weather, however, has done nothing to dampen the spirits of Heart Beet’s friendly farming duo, Amy Smith and Verena Varga, or the six women and one man that have assembled for a three-hour fermentation party. The party is just one in a series of fermentation-focussed workshops launched earlier this fall through a partnership between Heart Beet Organics and the PEI Food Exchange.

“It’s been a win-win coming together because we had a real need as farmers because we’ve been incredibly busy, but this time of year our produce is ready and we’ve been wanting to process it but we just haven’t had the time,” Smith says, referring to the vegetables they’ve been growing specifically for use in their line of fermented products which include sauerkraut, dill pickles, and kimchi to name but a few. These ferments have become a staple part of their market enterprise, but preparation is labour-intensive, involving lots of chopping, peeling, and cutting.

Hot peppers are prepped for hot sauce//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Varga and Smith reached out to Pauline Howard of the PEI Food Exchange, hoping she might be able to provide the names of some possible leads for their labour shortage. Their intent was to find someone that was comfortable working with produce and had good knife skills and hire them for twelve to eighteen hours a week. Howard, however, pitched a different way of resolving their labour problem.

“She said ‘Well I think there’s a lot of interest in doing these workshops’, so I’ll just put it out there, I’ll just organize it as a workshop and see if anyone is interested in doing it,” Smith tells me. It turns out Howard was right.

“This is our fourth fermentation party and every one has been full within twenty-four hours,” Howard tells me. The petite powerhouse is in attendance at this week’s workshop, where hot sauce and kimchi-making are in the works.

“There’s a lot going on here. First of all you’re building community around the theme of food, so it’s just fun to be with other like-minded people. Amy and Verena often take them around the farm and show them what they’re growing and how they’re growing it, so they’re introducing people to how a sustainable farmer does their farming, so that’s really important,” Howard says.
Indeed there is a lot going on in the small workspace where the magic is happening. The volunteers are standing around a table, cutting boards and knives at the ready, while Varga and Smith explain their first task of the day – chopping the tops of the chile peppers they’ve harvested for the hot sauce.

“Because salt comes in fine and coarse, we have found the best way to find out how much salt to add is to go by weight rather than volume, because a cup of coarse salt is very different than a cup of fine salt. And it’s very easy to over-salt a ferment or under-salt it,” Smith explains to the group. The hot sauce is comprised of two percent salt, which in turn requires a little bit of calculation based on the weight of the other ingredients.

Coarse salt is weighed to ensure a proper ratio for each ferment recipe//Photo Credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

As the workshop continues, the farmers provide further instruction on how to make hot sauce and kimchi. At the same time, their produce is being prepped for fermentation by the group of workers, who all appear comfortable and skilled in the tasks they’ve been given.

I do a little math. With seven volunteers, the three-hour workshop equates to approximately twenty-one hours of labour for Heart Beet Organics. Each volunteer will go home with a sample of the final products, a wealth of valuable information, and, hopefully, some fond memories of an afternoon spent on the farm making healthy, organic ferments.

“It’s really a win-win situation, we are helping Heart Beet here get their fermentations up so they can sell them at the market and they’re helping the community by teaching us how to do fermentation so that people can do it at home,” said Howard, echoing Smith’s sentiments. I suspect the volunteers that are laughing and chopping their way through this chilly Monday afternoon share the sentiment too.


The PEI Food Exchange partnered with Heart Beet Organics this fall to offer one-off workshops in fermentation at the organic farm//Submitted photo from previous fermentation party.

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon is the co-founder of Salty and was its editor-in-chief for the publication's inaugural year. When she’s not writing about food, Shannon's either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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