Winter is an ideal time to pick up a new skill in the kitchen. People throughout Western North Carolina spend chilly mornings learning how to bake bread, make yogurt, and ferment vegetables. Sometimes, with the help of the community, those simple projects can turn into a career.
Stephanie Poetter of Locally Good Farm in Burnsville turned her kitchen hobby into a business with the help of local farmers markets. “About four years ago, I started learning more about nutrition and wanting to work on my personal health. As I was learning about it, I saw that apple cider vinegar was a fantastic way to really help out your overall health,” she says.
She started putting apple cider vinegar in salad dressings and even drinking it on its own. “I was using typical store bought name brand vinegars and choking it down every day even with water just so intense and strong,” she says. She remembers thinking about her other cooking projects, and wondering how difficult it would be to make apple cider vinegar. “I started looking up online how to do it and it is really simple. It’s a process that involves mostly patience,” she says.
She used a two-step fermentation process to transform apple scraps into apple cider vinegar. After weeks of watching and waiting, she was surprised at how it tasted. “It turned out way better than anything I could possibly buy in the store, so I kept doing it more and more. Friends kept telling me they wanted some and so I’d give it as gifts here and there.”
Then Stephanie and her family moved from Kansas City to Western North Carolina. “We had visited the area several occasions and I absolutely loved it and not only was it beautiful and the weather’s so mild and amazing, but we also saw how great the community is when it comes to small business and really supporting local small businesses.”
That’s when she took her hobby to the next level. But she was no stranger to the professional food world. “My husband and I are both from the restaurant industry, so I spent years being a server, bartender, restaurant manager, and corporate trainer. I really wanted to get out of that side of farm to table and head towards the farm side.”
Farmers markets were the next logical step for her vinegar business. After refining her recipe, she started selling vinegars and tonics at the Yancey County Farmers Market in Burnsville. That’s where she found many of her apple suppliers.
“We are able to get apples from local farmers and friends of ours and just random people that come to the farmer’s market. They’d see us and say, ‘We have a tree that’s overloaded and the deer driving us crazy. Can you please come help out?’”
Now she sources about three quarters of her apples locally, and supplements with organic, store-bought apples during the short window of time when local, no-spray apples aren’t available. She has about 150 gallons of vinegar in production at a time, and sells bottles at more than 25 stores in Western North Carolina.
She credits the community support she gets at farmers markets and the connections she makes there as one of the driving forces behind her business.
“I love being able to talk to the other local people that come to the farmer’s market and see us or that we go out and see. We go out to their farm or go out to their property and pick apples. There’s a cute picture of my son when he is a year old chomping on an apple and my husband is in the background picking up the apples from the tree. And that’s what’s great, going to those farms in those places to meet people and enjoy that experience,” she says.
Get to know more small business owners at local farmers markets. Whether they sell fruit and vegetables or meats and cheeses, there’s a story behind every booth. Find winter farmers markets in your area www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired: January 15, 2018