From Inspiration to Commercialization: Local Food Producers Share Their Stories
Oct 01, 2015 09:57PM
By Sheri Hatfield
Fresh from Our Heritage
Connecticut’s food history is rich with stories of people who took things into their own hands to grow, create, cook or harvest the best quality food for themselves, their families and their communities. With the growth of the local artisan food trend, Connecticut’s present and future is ripe with possibilities for people interested to do the same thing. From local farms supplying fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables to new farm-to-table restaurants to parents caring for their families and family traditions by producing locally grown and produced foods, citizens are blessed with an abundance of options for good food here in Fairfield County.
Connecticut’s Caring Past
During the 1930s, Westport resident and mother of three, Margaret Rudkin, was not only battling the Great Depression, but also struggling to deal with the severe asthma and allergies that plagued one of her sons. She limited commercially processed foods and decided to bake him some all-natural, stone-ground wheat bread that still had its natural vitamins and nutrients. Rudkin then started selling the bread to her son’s doctor and local grocers; her husband even carried it on the train to New York City to be sold in specialty shops. Now, the company built on a mother’s love for her son’s health is owned by Campbell Soup Company and has become one of the commercially processed foods Rudkin was trying to avoid.
In 2000, Kelly Flatley and Brendan Synnott took their passion for good, wholesome granola and started Bare Naked, Inc. Flatley started making her own granola in college as food fuel for her daily life. Using her own preference for soft-baked moist cereal with lots of extras like whole almonds, raisins and walnuts, she launched Bare Naked in Connecticut in 2002. She began baking wholesome granola at night and delivering it to stores the next day. Flatley was soon joined by her friend, Synnott, who had bigger plans for the little company. They eventually attracted Stew Leonard, Jr., who was impressed with their enthusiasm and invited them into his office and stores. It wasn’t long until Kellogg’s, a competitor, became interested and bought the brand to complement its Kashi line of products (Source: Money.CNN.com/2008/02/05/
While these are two examples of good-hearted intentions gone big, they are also examples of what can be done with an idea, a passion, a lot of love and some faith. There are hundreds of other local growers, farmers, food producers and entrepreneurs currently working all over Connecticut.
Connecticut Locals Creating Artisan Food
There are many people today creating a business out of their passion and the desire to feed their families something better, or nourish the soul along with the body. These homegrown food producers are visiting farmers’ markets, craft fairs and food expos to sample their wares and start a following.
They have moved from testing out recipes on family and friends to creating or renting commercial kitchens so that they can bake, bottle and distribute their creations. They work long hours day and night to create their food. They create their own packaging, websites and marketing materials to get their products out to the public. They are chief bottle washer and CEO at the same time. They are neighbors and friends and, quite often, parents.
Sarah Galluzzo, creator of GourGanics salsas, is one on them. As she started her family, Galluzzo began to take note of what was in her food. The more she learned about food, the more her family began to eat organic. She started by making her own baby food then began to think about other, healthy alternatives she could create for her growing kids.
Eventually, she turned to her family’s heritage and love of food. She was inspired by her French-Canadian grandparents, who shared their love of gardening and celebrated the fruits of their labor at the family dinner table in the form of salads, soups and homemade meals. She began to ensure her children were “eating off the vine”. With her family heritage of using fresh vegetables in cooking, and some free time on her hands, Galluzzo started making salsa. One evening while enjoying her homemade salsa with a neighbor, she asked, “What’s next?” Her neighbor responded with, “Why don’t you just bottle this salsa and sell it? It’s amazing!” Then and there, GourGanics was born.
GourGanics is currently being sold at national and regional health food stores like Whole Foods, Mrs. Greens and other local independent stores that Galluzzo reports have “been amazing with their support.”
“I didn’t come into this with a basic knowledge of a chef,” Galluzzo said. “I had to figure lots of things out on my own.” She figured it out in a small rental commercial kitchen in Oxford with a $2,000 budget. She engaged the help of many friends and family members in the early days to help her get started.
“I had a lot of support from people who love me and my mission,” Galluzzo explained. “My mom was with me chopping onions and peppers.” The onions and peppers used in GourGanics today come mainly from two Connecticut farms, Oxon Hill Farm in Suffield and George Hall Farm in Simsbury; it allows her consumers and fans to “eat from a Connecticut garden all year round.”
Galluzzo now produces her product in a large commercial facility in New Haven, providing local jobs in addition to supporting the farmers.
Pam Nicholas is another example of a mom creating something better for her child and, in the process, starting a new business. Just before the age of one, her daughter Izzi had an allergic reaction to eggs. That spurred Nicholas, a chef, to create an egg-free birthday cake for Izzi’s birthday. Then she thought, “If I didn’t have culinary experience, how would I do this? If I had a child with celiacs who had an egg allergy, what would I do?” That’s when Izzi B’s Allergen-Free Bakery was started.
“I wanted to make something for everyone,” Nicholas explained. “So I decided to take out all allergens.” Now Izzi B’s makes all types of baked good, from cookies to cakes that are free of gluten, wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, all nuts and casein. They also have no preservatives, trans-fats, refined sugar and cholesterol; her food is also vegan and kosher certified as well as celiac-friendly.
It took nine months to perfect the first cupcake recipe and, in the past six years, the bakery has expanded from Nicholas’s kitchen to a brick-and-mortar commercial bakery in Norwalk. She supplies allergen-free baked goods to local and regional stores such as Whole Foods, Mrs. Green’s and other independent Fairfield County grocers, including Caraluzzi’s.
Not all creations are inspired by dietetic needs; some come from a deep desire to help make the world a better place. Mary Jane Paris – MJ to her friends – came up with the idea of Positiv-a-Tea while driving one day.
After leaving the corporate banking world, Paris started her own consulting company called Positive Impact Consulting Service, aimed at helping clients create a more positive workplace with workshops and team-building and morale-boosting trainings. As she contemplated how to make her business unique, she had the idea of serving tea at her events and trainings. She knew the tea had to be hers and it had to help represent her brand of positive thinking. Positiv-a-Tea was born. She teamed up with Rosemari Roast, owner of A Walk in the Woods, LLC and a board-certified holistic health practitioner and a certified herbalist with an apothecary in her home. Together, they created Paris’s unique blend of herbal tea, which includes hibiscus, lemon, orange flower, rose water and a dash of cinnamon and lavender.
Requests to buy the special Positiv-a-Tea blend started a chain of events that led to several years of traveling to fairs, festivals and markets to sell her tea. In a move she believes inspires a positive attitude for a higher good, the grandmother of four now sells her tea at local stores, day spas and other venues in the Naugatuck Valley and upper Fairfield area where she believes people might need a positive boost in their day.
Often necessity is the mother of invention, however sometimes it is just good intentions.
In 1991, Winthrop and Stefanie Baum had a pond dug on their property. The dirt that came out of the hole was so fertile, Winthrop thought it would be a shame to waste it. He put it to good use and planted a fruit orchard. Later that spring, he was concerned that he did not have enough bees to pollinate the blooming trees. He visited two different local health food stores looking for local honey and found Ed and Nita Weiss, who graciously agreed to spend several hours with the Baums teaching them about bee keeping.
The Baum’s started with two hives in 1991 and now have 60 hives from which they harvest roughly 3,000-4,000 pounds of honey each year. That honey, sold as Bee Baum, can be found at local delis – such as Oscar’s Deli in Westport and Winfield Deli in Norwalk – or at other local health food and farm stores, including Aspetuck Valley Apple Barn in Easton. The couple found that many people used the local honey to help with seasonal allergies, as well as soothe a sore throat or act as a balm to disinfect cuts and scrapes.
Whether you’re looking to create a new food offering, support a local farm, restaurant or food producer, Connecticut and Fairfield County have something for everyone. Lists of artisan food producers and farms can be found at FairfieldGreenFoodGuide.com and CTNOFA.org.
Sheri Hatfield is a freelance writer and co-founder of an emerging children’s museum in Shelton. Contact her at [email protected]
Visit these area markets to find excellent, locally produced goods:
793 Bantam Rd, Bantam
Chamomille Natural Foods
Rt 6 Plaza (58-60 Newtown Rd), Danbury
Common Bond Market
40 Huntington St, Shelton
2 Morse Ct, New Canaan
32 Prospect St, Ridgefield
922 Barnum Cutoff, Stratford
New Morning Market
129 Main St N, Woodbury
301 Litchfield Rd, New Milford
The Organic Market
285 Post Rd E, Westport
33 Danbury Rd, Wilton