Pyramid Ferments: Jenna Empey & Alex Currie

DSC00234Pyramid Ferments is a young company based on old food preserving methods and feeding a growing appetite for locally grown, natural nourishing food. In this case it is fermented foods and beverages that are rich in probiotics and full of flavour. In 2012 Jenna Empey and Alex Currie moved to the County to start a business. In 2014 that business won a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation – pretty good for a young couple producing gut-friendly condiments.

Jenna and Alex have been life and business partners since they played together in an Indie band in Halifax. It was “indie thinking” that brought them to Prince Edward County to build a new life. They’d had enough of urban life and were going to try to start something of their own, out in the countryside, building on the skills and experience they had.  Jenna has worked on small farms since she was 19 and has a deep interest in natural foods. Alex has marketing, web and graphic design skills honed by running a record label. Had he dreamed of being a farmer? He cheerfully admits “Nope. Never even considered it. But being an entrepreneur? Start an artisan business? 100% yes!” In 2013, one year into the adventure, they talked candidly about it all to Lisa Borden in an interview.

They are based in Northport in the north end of the County. Since arriving here they have married, bought an old house and had a baby. They’re busy. They are off to market – farmers’ markets in Toronto – most weekends as well as selling their products through more than 20 outlets in and around The County. Demand is growing as people become more aware of the health benefits of fermented food and beverages, like their new Shot to the Gut elixir – an easy way to add a splash of super-healthy bacteria to your tomato juice – or Bloody Mary.

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HOW DID THEY GET STARTED?
Jenna: “I got my foot in the door and got to know people in the agricultural community by joining the Prince Edward County chapter of the Canadian Organic Growers – and informal apprenticeship that had her working on 12 different farms through the summer.” They attended local and provincial government-sponsored workshops where they met good advisors and like-minded dreamers. They learned a lot at a Winter Survival Workshop, jointly hosted by PEC’s Community Development Department, PELA CDDC and the Small Business Centre, and sharpened their goals at a workshop called Incorporation-vs-Partnership-vs-Sole – no, not “soul” although that would have been fun, too! By 2014 they were well established and thrilled to be chosen as a Canadian Delegate to that year’s International Slow Food Gathering in Italy.

Alex has taken to farming well. They grow a lot of their own vegetables to ferment but also work closely with other local growers. “We couldn’t have got this far without huge support and encouragement from the community, from the municipality and just people we’ve met,” they say. They have lots of stories about hardships and happiness. Alex: “We got a call one night from Vickie at Vicki’s Veggies saying there’s a frost coming, get over here and rescue as much cabbage as you can carry, rather than let it go to waste. We crammed our van to capacity with almost 200 heads of cabbage, then, of course, we had to prep it all. But it was so generous, and it’s just like that around here.”

WHAT IS FERMENTED FOOD?DSC00237
Despite what your nose suggests when you open a jar, there is no vinegar in Pyramid Ferment’s delicious sauerkraut. The distinctive sour taste comes from a four-week process of shredding fresh-picked vegetables, adding salt and waiting for beneficial bacteria to grow. Their five varieties are a world away from most supermarket sauerkrauts in taste and freshness. It’s great for digestion and  has massive amounts of beneficial bacteria – two tablespoons of raw sauerkraut contains as many probiotics as a whole bottle of supplement pills – and Jenna says “You can stuff it into sandwiches or toss into a salad or just spoon it up on its own.”

WHAT’S NEXT?
Jenna and Alex are outgrowing their current kitchen space and it’s not easy to rent a kitchen with separate, temperature controlled storage. It looks like expansion is round the corner. With more space they’ll be able to offer DIY fermenting workshops, how to brine, how to make Kampuchea, how to make potent probiotic teas. And they’re still enthusiastically experimenting and learning themselves – from creating exciting new taste combinations to attending nutrition labelling seminars.

Jenna and Alex are, of course, huge fermented food fans, but they’re philosophical about it being a matter of taste. “We have some customers who love our stuff but have to open and eat it in the garage because their partners can’t stand it,” says Alex.

If kimchee and kombucha are new to you, give them a try. You can find Pyramid products at Penny’s Pantry, Sobeys, The Vic Café, Agrarian Market, Kin Café, Schroedter’s Bakery, Hagerman’s Farms, Pink Lunch Pail Bakery and Barley Days Brewery. Jenna recommends starting by choosing something based on a flavour you know you like – why not start your ferments adventure with maple-flavoured kombucha? It’s just so County!

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