Beki Auclair of Vermont Fermentation Adventures (VFA), Moretown, is on a mission to make healthful fermented products accessible to all. VFA’s tagline is “probiotics for the people,” and Auclair has spent the last few years thinking about what that means as many families struggle with food insecurity, which has only been worsened by the pandemic. She said she started thinking about who can afford her fermented products such as kimchi and kombucha, and wondered what she could do to help food insecure families.
She reached out to longtime friend Allison Levin of Community Harvest of Central Vermont in Berlin, an organization that gleans farms’ produce that would otherwise end up in the compost. They sometimes get a big influx of vegetables like daikon or rutabaga that some folks may be less familiar with or less likely to select at the food shelf. Auclair thought, “What if I got produce from Community Harvest, fermented it and sent it back out” into the community?
“A lot of the food (at food shelves/community pantries) is not rich in nutrition,” she said. Her products have many health benefits from improved digestion to clearer skin. “Pantries are doing what they can, but it can be a challenge to get wholesome, healthful food. Enriching our diets with probiotic food can be really healing,” she said, and “who needs more healing” than the food-insecure?
She decided to do a small test batch of what she calls “gingered roots” in June. The day after receiving a delivery of vegetables from Community Harvest, she broke her wrist in a biking accident and decided she needed help. She and Levin put out a call for volunteers to help process the vegetables and “right away the whole volunteer list filled up in a flash.” Volunteers processed and packed up 75 pounds of veggies in June, about 150 pounds in July and roughly 200 pounds in early October. Auclair said people started asking for the fermented vegetables at the Mad River Community Pantry and she said the gingered roots are being scooped up as quickly as they arrive.
The vegetables Community Harvest has provided vary from carrots and beets to daikon, celeriac and parsnips. Auclair donates salt, ginger and jars in which to pack up the gingered roots blend. Volunteers help clean and prepare the vegetables, which ferment for a week, then return to help pack them up and get them to local food shelves. “I would love [VFA] to be a community resource,” she said.
Auclair started VFA in 2012, selling her fermented products at a small farmers market at the Moretown School. Previously, she had been fermenting at home for friends and family. In 2018, she secured her first wholesale account at Mehuron’s Supermarket in Waitsfield. After the fire that impacted the market in early 2020, she got licensed and expanded her wholesale accounts. Now, VFA products can be found at von Trapp Farmstead store, Roots Market, the Montpelier farmers market, Mad River Taste Place and Farmers to You, which is a Middlesex-based online grocery platform that supplies the Boston area. “That’s been a really wonderful and successful partnership,” Auclair said.
When a friend offered her a space next to the Moretown General Store, she expanded into what she calls her fermentery, which houses crocks of fermenting produce. She took an online course during the pandemic with the Center for Women and Enterprise to tackle business growth and branding, which led her to realizing she wanted to find other ways to help the community. While VFA remains a one-woman business, she hopes to be able to hire employees soon. “Another huge priority for my business is providing respectful and rewarding work,” she said. “We all need to be doing something that makes us feel worthwhile.”