My introduction to Farmhouse Culture’s sauerkraut deliciousness was on the very first of my countless visits to the Ferry Building’s Farmers Market in San Francisco. Known as the church of food, the market creates a food lovers experience including taste testing from dozens of vendors, to a cornucopia of farmer’s offerings….all told over 20 eateries which makes for an intoxicating sensory overload.
At the Farmhouse Culture stall, I found novel organic offerings of vibrant juices, brimming with live active cultures. Probiotic “Gut Shot” tastes of fermented organic veggies, pressed to release mouthwatering flavors including Ginger Beet, Kimchi, Smoked Jalapeno, Garlic Dill Pickle and Classic Caraway. A derivative of their krauts, all flavorful and loaded with actives cultures great for digestion.
Farmhouse Culture was also headlined at this year’s 36th EcoFarm Conference, with more than 1700 farmer attendees. They were one of three farms featured in a pre-conference farm tour lead by the EcoFarm Conference founder himself, Amigo Bob Cantisano.
At their Watsonville, California location for an assignment to photograph Farmhouse Culture for a campaign, I witnessed first-hand the founder’s commitment to sustainability, love of health and love of the land.
Founder Kathryn Lukas learned how to cook in Stuttgart, Germany 15 years ago and opened a restaurant there:
“I woke up to what regional food was over there. Tasting white asparagus and strawberries in season was new to me….eating seasonally was a completely new experience. I learned about their foods at the local farmers markets. I had fresh kraut out of a barrel for the first time. It tasted fresh, it was tangy, crunchy, and wasn’t sour. I completely fell in love with it. Till then I don't think I knew what sauerkraut really was. It was just that limp soggy stuff that my grandfather served on hotdogs and I didn't like it.”
When Kathryn returned to the states in 1998, she turned her attention to natural cuisine influenced by the freshly preserved foods she had experienced at German farmers markets:
“When I returned to the states I saw how homogenized the food system was and how bland the food was. So I became active in learning about organic agriculture.”
In 2001, she attended her first EcoFarm Conference, even then the oldest organic farming conference in the nation. Inspired by Amigo Bob and the many speakers, she attended year after year.
“Realizing just how dysfunctional our food system was, how sick the people were here and how sick the land is, made me frustrated. I realized that at a certain point frustration wasn't doing anybody any good. I transformed that frustration...asking what could I do, what could I create?”
To support that goal, Kathryn enrolled in Bauman College’s Natural Chef Culinary program), a “naturalship” culinary program in the art of fermentation. At the time, nobody was fermenting unique vegetables, much less using different spices in the mix.
“There were a couple small companies doing some sort of medicinal krauts, but very few were doing culinary krauts at the time. I had already been experimenting with fermenting flavors for about four years but I didn’t see anybody else doing that. I thought wow, there might be a real opportunity here using local flavors to create regional type krauts. That was the “a-ha” moment that inspired me to take the next steps to creating my business in 2008.”
Farmhouse Culture became Kathryn’s effort to create better food and improve the supply chain:
“I’m meticulous about where I source my ingredients. I stopped buying caraway seed from Egypt when I learned just how bad the country’s disrespect of women was. Every aspect of who we do business with and how it's impacting those around them is important to us.”
Since starting in 2008, Kathryn has had an impact. A lot of people like her are influencing big food and big Ag. She shares, “When you see a large company like Campbell's saying, you know what? We're going to declare GMO on all of our labels by a certain year. I think that these grass root movements have really had a positive impact on big Ag and big food. They see the consumers want these types of products, they're willing to spend a little more and they are starting to think about this idea of chef and cook inspired foods instead of foods made in labs by scientists.”
A vendor at the SF Ferry Building Farmer’s Market since 2011, Kathryn is sharing her vision with the local community:
“The Ferry Plaza is one of the best food markets in the world and getting in was a real milestone for our company. Selling our probiotic rich krauts and gut shot at the Farmers Market has been overwhelmingly productive and enlightening. People from all over the world visit our booth weekly and most are fascinated by our fermented foods. Many share stories of fermented foods from their culture so we often learn as much as we educate.”
“CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is a vibrant community of farmers and activists and their education program is stellar. We've taught and participated in several of their classes and lectures. We feel proud and honored to be part their community. “
Kathryn was thrilled to host an EcoFarm tour this year:
“They actually came here with three busloads of people to visit our facility, our farmhouse and try our products. It was such a sweet moment to have the very people who had inspired me through the years come here…a beautiful full circle story with continuity.”
It’s not work to Kathryn…it’s her life to be a part of the dynamic sustainable foods movement. She is a food activist at heart:
“I don't know if I've ever said this publicly but I think I'm willing to say it at this point. This company is my prayer for the world. This is not just a business for me, this is a life mission. When I decided to build the company, it wasn't just about building a food company, it was about building a company to create change.”