Lindsay Whiteaker and Pete Halupka – Harvest, Alabama natives and who met in the 5th grade – launched Harvest Roots Farm and Ferment in 2011 with less than $1,000. What was then a small, organic vegetable farm has grown into a full-scale “fermentory” – focusing on producing wild, fermented food and beverages. Lindsay and Pete found that their produce customers were increasingly interested in their small line of fermented goods and ultimately switched their focus from farming to full-time fermentation. They forage and glean – and also process vegetables from local farms, then mix everything together in their Mentone, Alabama, kitchen.
In this context, fermentation refers to the low energy chemical conversion of carbohydrates into alcohol and carbon dioxide or organic acid—using yeast, bacteria, or both. Beers, ciders, kombucha, and other naturally effervescent drinks are the result of fermentation. The process of fermentation also leavens bread, as carbon dioxide is produced by active yeast. It can also be a method of preserving goods—resulting in delicious foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt. Harvest Roots uses wild yeast in its fermentation and preservation techniques to create distinct flavors in foods that may also have medicinal benefits.
The practice of consuming fermented foods goes back to ancient times, when early civilizations discovered it was a good way to preserve fruits and vegetables. Humans were making wine and beer (of course) as far back as 7-8,000 years ago—and we were making bread long before that. Fermented foods are full of probiotics (aka good bacteria). We eat fermented food daily, some of which you might not even realize are fermented: coffee, cheese, yogurt, pickles, beer, and hundreds more. These are foods that are “alive” and constantly changing.
Besides being delicious, fermented foods also offer some health benefits. Eating and drinking fermented foods introduces beneficial bacteria into your digestive system, which helps digestion, improves immunity, and allows your body to absorb more of the nutrients in your food. A healthy gut means we are less susceptible to allergies, infections, and yeast overgrowth. This could mean taking fewer vitamins and supplements, especially as we age. For example, there is much more vitamin C in a serving of sauerkraut than in the same size serving of its non-fermented brother, cabbage; rices and legumes have higher B vitamin values after fermentation. In wheat-based products (like sourdough), the fermentation process causes wheat gluten to degrade and can make it less inflammatory to your insides. The good bacteria in fermented foods can help detoxify our system, regulate metabolism and reduce sugar cravings.
Pete and Lindsay work with local farmers to obtain fresh produce, and Harvest Roots is all about making the most of what is available and use in-season plants to dictate what they make and how much. Their close interaction with customers has also offered the opportunity to educate people about fermentation and its benefits. “Working on fermentation, foraging and eccentric fruit production in the Deep South is exciting, because the amount of work being done on any one of those practices is limited. So I think we spend equal time educating and selling. We also spend a lot of time innovating and revisioning fermentation, capitalism, and fruit production in the Deep South – which is generally an exhausting, financially stressful but rewarding and sometimes radical process.”
You can purchase Harvest Roots Farm and Ferment products at The Factory and at these locations in our region. They also supply (non-alcoholic) ginger beer and kombucha to Birmingham bar, the J. Clyde, where bartenders experiment, blending the products with other local and tap ales. Visit their website for more information about their seasonal ferments.
Until then, Pete offers some tips for his version of Green Bean Kimchi. Enjoy:
The Green Bean Kimchi is a nice southern and Korean fusion. We’re always looking to riff on Deep Southern abundance. I grew up eating a lot of Korean food in Huntsville, Alabama, and I always loved how the pickled cucumbers in chili paste were so much an experience of hot and cool contrasting one another. The green beans remind me of this.
The recipe could be as simple as sourcing gochugara (Korean chili flakes) from the market and some fresh, green beans. (If you want to use your own hot peppers, the recipe differs and you will most likely use a brine instead of a “paste”.) We also forage field garlic from our pasture, add Hakurai turnips from Mt. Laurel Farm, and some minced organic ginger. Add ingredients to your liking. Feel out how much of those ingredients you want to add.
Whichever vessel you choose, stuff it full and completely submerge the beans in the paste and ingredients. Cover the beans with a lid preferably with an airlock in it. Leave for 2 – 10 weeks or more, depending on temperature and desired flavor. The great news about the chili paste is we rarely encounter any type of problems related to air exposure when it has a lid and airlock on it. The chili inhibits any type of surface mold or yeast. Those who ferment will quickly become comfortable with discerning “bad” infections from those you can simply scrape off to reach the beautifully, fermented vegetables.
Images courtesy of Harvest Roots Farm and Ferment. Top right image photo credit: Benford Lepley