273 Great Barrington Road, Great Barrington, MA 01126
Maddie: (413) 329-8389
Abe: (413) 429-6266
Imagine a currency that is backed by fermented cabbages, carrots, and garlic. Sound far-fetched? Here in the Berkshire Hills it’s a reality. Take a handful of BerkShares with you to the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market, for example, and you can quickly convert it to kimchi or sauerkraut.
“Hosta Hill is a cultured food business. We make lacto-fermented sauerkraut and kimchi and unpasteurized tempeh, and we accept BerkShares,” confirms Maddie Elling, who is co-owner with her partner Abe Hunrichs. “Our business is based in the Berkshires, and so accepting BerkShares is a really great way of ‘walking the talk’ of the local economy.” When you use BerkShares, Maddie says, “the money is happy wherever it goes.”
When Maddie and Abe met five years ago they shared a lot of eagerness to sink their teeth into the making and growing of something in the Berkshires. The pair started to play with recipes from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, intrigued by the chance to dig up ancient traditions and experiment with them in the 21st century. “At the same time, we were selling Ira Grables’s Berkshire Blue cheese at the farmers’ market in Norfolk, CT. Looking around, we noticed that no one was doing vegetable ferments or tempeh, so we started sampling some of the products we had developed and selling them on a very small scale. That was the seed for our business.”
Boy, has that seed grown! In 2013 Maddie and Abe realized they needed kitchen space of their own. They launched a Kickstarter to fund the renovation of the basement of their house into a commercial kitchen, and within a month they had raised the $14,000 that they needed. Maddie points out that the experience was about more than just the money. “It was engaging for the community, people got excited, and people learned about us. There was some really good energy. The majority of our funders were local; people felt like they had a hand in supporting this business and it made them feel good. Obviously, we were psyched.”
The good energy surrounding this “live food” business has only multiplied. Hosta Hill now sells at farmers’ markets in West Stockbridge, Great Barrington, Northampton and Boston, and in shops and supermarkets across Massachusetts and into New York. Their offering has expanded, as well. “We started with the sauerkraut, Crimson Kraut and tempeh, but since then we’ve introduced a quinoa tempeh, a mixed vegetable kimchi, Daikon Kimchi, and our popular Gochu Curry Kraut,” says Maddie. “The fun, new line we’re rolling out right now is our Kraut Tonics, which are actually a by-product of our ferments. The tonic is full of probiotics and flavor. You can use it as you would vinegar or lemon, or even drink it as a shot.”
But Maddie and Abe’s motivation extends beyond the kitchen and heathy eating and reaches into the field, where they are growing more of their own vegetables each year. “We want to know the quality of our ingredients, and how they’re grown. Just yesterday we processed 800 pounds of Napa cabbage that we pulled out of our fields on Division Street,” illustrated Maddie. What they cannot grow themselves they buy from other Berkshire farms or from the Pioneer Valley and Vermont. “The vegetables we’re using can be grown in this area and they store well, too, which is a perk for us since buying out of season and from far away gets really expensive.”
Maddie Elling and Abe Hunrichs have built their business on a foundation of common sense, community buy-in, tried-and-true methods, and local flavor. Maybe such businesses are, like the fermented food that Hosta Hill sells, both an ancient tradition and at the same time the wave of the future.