Most people in the Bay Area would agree that composting is a good thing. But if they really had any idea just how much food becomes compost on a daily basis, they might do what Emmy Moore did and turn to preserving as a way to prevent good food from going to waste.
What began with Emmy becoming a hobby pickler and jammer out of a desire to preserve that bounty has now turned into a thriving small business for her and her husband, with Emmy’s Pickles and Jams being sold at 40 retail outlets throughout the Bay Area, Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.
It all started three years ago when Emmy was working for a San Francisco produce distributor, Veritable Vegetable. Emmy observed that, due to the produce standards for most grocery stores, the distributor was forced to get rid of a fair amount of product on a daily basis. Although they were able to donate a lot of produce to food banks, there were still a lot of pallets of fruits and vegetables being dumped. Because the company also allowed employees to take food home, she started taking things home and making stuff for her roommates to eat. Then she began reading up on different preservation techniques and got deeper into the process of putting up fruits and veggies.
“It highlighted the need during the season to put the food up. There are far more strawberries than what anyone can handle. Pickling and jamming was the way to preserve the bounty. It was a dual interest of mine. I had access to it and was learning this ancient art form that helped people sustain themselves through the winter,” Emmy said.
At the same time, Emmy realized that she also wanted to try to be self-sufficient and try to make something for herself.
“Part of my goal was to do something for myself, to learn this craft and see how it would be. I gave myself a year to see how it went.”
Emmy’s ambitions happened to coincide with the beginning of the Underground Market in San Francisco, the first place she started selling her pickles and jams.
“It was the time of the Underground Farmer’s Market and a new interest in artisan foods, and we kind of happened simultaneously with the starting of Emmy’s. It almost felt like a fluke. Just wanting to try coincided for us with this stuff going on in the artisan food world, so I had some luck in timing,” said Emmy.
Appearances at the Underground Market quickly turned into the need to find herself a kitchen facility as well as all the proper permits and licenses that come with commercial food production, a process with Emmy called “intense.” She found her first kitchen in the Hunter’s Point Shipyard area and started selling regularly at the Mission Community Market. There she met the women who started Mission Pie, who became early supporters and mentors for Emmy.
“They offered some helpful tips on starting a business and asked if we wanted to sell on their shelves.”
Since she began not by selling exclusively in stores, Emmy was able to figure out what was working for her in terms of sales. “When we realized we wanted to be on shelves, we started bringing product in and asking places if they were interested.”
According to Emmy, there’s a lot of support out there for local producers, particularly at stores such as Bi-Rite. It’s just a matter of finding the right person—usually the head buyer—to talk to.
“Lots of places are open to hearing your story if you’re a local producer and have samples, along with as simple and quick an explanation of what you’re doing as possible,” she said. “That’s how it worked. Show up and find out who’s in charge of buying. There’s so much support for small businesses. People were ready to help us—it was an unexpected and wonderful thing.”
The level of support that the Bay Area provides for small producers is not limited just to consumers, Emmy said.
“Everybody’s working together and wants small artisan businesses to succeed. That’s true for stores and also for other producers. There’s an open dialog with producers here, it’s not competitive, it’s supportive. The more we can raise awareness for handmade products with specialized ingredients, the more awareness and support from consumers, as well.”
Despite the fact that a veritable bumper crop of small organic pickling and jam-making businesses has popped up recently, Emmy believes the competition is a good thing, especially for products like pickles.
“I’ve had some realizations that competition increases consumer interest. It really helps, the more artisan pickle companies there are. And the more people realize that product is an important one, that they don’t need to be buying Vlasic, there’s lots of options. I love them. I love all the pickle companies, and it’s fun to try other people’s stuff.”
What drew you to food?
I grew up in a pretty food intense household. My mom is an incredible cook. My mom made intense dinners every might, and I grew up in San Francisco, so were steeped in that from Day One.
Why pickles and jams?
Mainly to point out that it’s an ancient practice of preserving the bounty, and it was really illuminating to see gluts at these different times of year. Then to see things like apricots for three weeks in July and to be able to save some of that for the entire year is pretty exciting.
Where does your food inspiration come from?
A lot of it comes from what I’m enjoying cooking with at that current moment. Pickles are good for that because that’s where my palate is inclined. I love vinegars, I love salt and vegetables are really good for that, so a lot of times it comes from that. For example, I’ll make beets with fennel—I like to roast them for dinner—so a lot of times it comes from what I’m making. And then the ingredients and spices that make a good pickle from there.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten along the way in building your business? What advice would you have for others?
I was thinking a lot about this. I’ve gotten a lot of great advice. The thing that’s been the best for me is example. When I was at the produce market, they had a great education program, and I learned about how they started and the experimenting they did until it worked and that was really inspiring.
Just jump in. That would be the advice I would give, too. Just jump in. If it’s a food item or piece of clothing, just jump in and try it. If you don’t try, you’ll never know and you should try—it’s incredibly valuable.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced thus far?
The biggest challenge is how to expand slowly but rigorously in keeping up with demand and what the demands are for me to make a livelihood. Hiring someone means a certain amount of overhead. I certainly don’t have a lot of experience in finance. The plan is to grow slowly so that we can expand. I want to keep my hands pickling and stay in the kitchen, so it will be slow growth for the near future.
What’s the best thing about what you’re doing for a living?
Well, I get to spend my time doing exactly what I want to be doing. I love being in the kitchen. I love thinking about seasonal produce. I love going to the farmer’s market and seeing what’s there, and I get to support that community and be a part of what they’re doing. It’s a really special thing. And working toward a sustainable food system—that’s really important for the future of our land. It’s important to pay attention to how things are grown and continue to support a healthy land and a healthy people.
What’s your favorite item of your offerings?
It’s constantly changing, it really is. I think at the moment it’s our pickled jalapeño carrots. It does change frequently, but I really like [the pickled carrots] because it’s a really nice ingredient to add to whatever I’m cooking.
What other local food artisans to you admire? Why?
There’s such a plethora, that’s a really hard one. I admire a lot of them. There’s Cultured Pickles. I love them because they make really great stuff. House Kombucha—they make a really good product, and I love their business model. INNA Jam, who I share a kitchen with, has been a great mentor also, and it’s nice to get to share information. It’s nice to have someone to cook blueberries with but it’s also great to have people to talk to about how exciting it is to have peppers coming back into season. It’s really great!
If you had to choose your last meal, what would it be?
I have no idea! I’d probably have my mom come make me whatever she wanted. It’s pretty tough, you know… Mom’s cooking would definitely be my last meal.
Favorite Bay Area food/resto/chef?
I tend not to eat out that frequently, but I really do have favorite food farmers. Happy Boy Farms and Blue House are great—really exceptional produce, and I love to support them. They just have constantly exceptional product, and it’s really exciting to—every time I go to the farmer’s market—have such delicious stuff!
Emmy’s Pickles and Jams
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