When I met Dan Rosenberg, founder and owner of Real Pickles at the newly renovated building on Wells Street I got a shock. Looking into the bright new kitchen I understood the reality of what raw, fermented food means. There is no stove.
I have made pickles, which require no cooking, just brine, vinegar and seasoning. Then I’ve spent hours with the canning kettle to finish the preservation process.
Rosenberg has built a substantial pickle business in less than ten years using an ancient system that requires no vinegar, no stove, no canning.. For centuries, cultures all over the world have preserved food by pickling using a fermentation process. Instead of vinegar, ancient cultures learned that brining vegetables and allowing them to ferment for a few days created lactic acid which was a preservative.
Rosenberg follows that process, fermenting organic vegetables in big blue food grade plastic barrels, then puts them in glass jars. The filled jars are stored in the new cooler until time to ship them out to the 300 stores in the northeast selling Real Pickles.
How did a New Jersey boy, growing up in Morristown, and attending Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island end up in Greenfield making pickles?
Rosenberg majored in geology at Brown. He said his interest in environmental issues led him to think about our food system.
His interest in contra dancing, led him to Greenfield, “a mecca for contra dancers. There is no place like it in the world!” Rosenberg said.
While in town for contra dances he learned about Upinngil Farm and spent one summer working for Cliff Hatch who now grows cucumbers for him. That same summer he attended a workshop on pickling at the annual Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) meeting in Amherst. That was the beginning of his interest in naturally fermented pickles that have health benefits, as well as good flavor.
While he worked at other farms, and later as a manager at Iggy’s Bread in Boston he kept making pickles at home. It was while at Iggy’s, gaining business experience, that he got the idea for Real Pickles.
Rosenberg and his partner Addie Rose Holland moved to Montague in 2001, tending a big garden that supplied herbs for Real Pickles for five years before the farms took over. The Community Development Corporation (CDC) provided the commercial kitchen necessary for the business until last year.
Last March, with the help of. Greenfield Savings Bank who gave them the mortgage, as well as financing help from the CDC and Equity Trust, Real Pickles bought a 12,000 square foot building on Wells Street, across from the CDC. Grants from the USDA and rebates from the utility company helped fund the substantial renovation. Rosenberg said, “It was exciting to see this 100 year old industrial building reveal its heavy timber post and beam construction.”
Rosenberg and his crew moved into the new energy efficient building last July, the same week the cucumber harvest arrived to be processed. “It was a little nuts around here, but we made it happen. Fortunately we only had to move across the street.,” Rosenberg said.
Real Pickles has a staff of ten (including Rosenberg), who work year round, although the work schedule fluctuates with the seasons. During the busiest seasons part-time people are added. During the 2009 harvest the crew processed 120,000 pounds of local organic produce in the new certified kitchen.
Rosenberg explained that Real Pickles is a certified food facility with permits from the Greenfield Department of Health and the State Division of Food and Drug, as well as registered with the federal FDA.. They receive periodic inspections from every level.
Rosenberg is committed to supporting a local healthy food supply which supports local farmers and a local economy. To do this he has to be a good businessman. “We do major sales forecasting, looking ahead nearly two years, because we have to work with our growers. They need to know how much to plant and we need to have enough pickles to get us into the second fall when new pickles will be available for sale.”
Of course there are inevitable crop failures or shortfalls. “Every year since we’ve started, we’ve run a tiny bit short of cucumber pickles. Last year Dave Chamutka in Whately said he hadn’t had such a bad year in 35 years of growing cucumbers. “It is really hard to find organic pickling cucumbers in the northeast. If we can’t find them, we just make less product,” Rosenberg said.
We have enjoyed Real Pickles at our house, and I like knowing that there are health benefits. Eating Real Pickles has similar advantages to eating yogurt. All those good bacteria working in our gut. Full information can be found on the Realpickles.com website.
I’m not ready to emulate Rosenberg and have saurkraut and hot sauce with my eggs every morning, but my husband is always ready for sauerkraut and kimchi at lunch and supper. I’m especially fond of the ginger carrots. Real Pickles are available at Foster’s, Green Fields Market and Hager’s Farm Stand.
Like Rosenberg I am happy to be able to eat locally in every season.
We may be buried in snow, but the Annual Spring Bulb Show at Smith College opens on March 6 and runs until Sunday, March 21. Over 5000 bulbs of every variety will be in glorious bloom at the Lyman Plant House, open from 10 am to 4 pm every day.
Between the Rows February 27, 2010