Fermentation Trend Growing In Phoenix Through Culture Of Community

Published: Friday, April 29, 2016 - 2:28pm
Updated: Friday, April 29, 2016 - 3:58pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Suzette Smith (right) and Jacquelin Lombari sell fermented foods at the Up

First, you see it pop up on a couple restaurant menus: a food you’ve never heard of before. Then suddenly, it’s everywhere. You can’t escape it (maple-bacon donuts come to mind here). Food trends can easily spoil through over-saturation. Or sometimes, they grow slowly and stick around — like fermentation.

Stroll through the Uptown Farmers Market in central Phoenix, and you’ll find flowers, fruits and veggies, coffee; the usual market goods. But step up to the Green Goddess Ferments booth, and it feels more like a pharmacy.

“Alright, so this is two ounces. Twice a day, or if you’re getting a little sluggish in the afternoon, have a good two-ounce shot of this and it just gives you a little boost of energy,” said Green Goddess Ferments owner Suzette Smith, as she handed kraut juice to a customer at the market.

If you’ve never heard of kraut juice then maybe the fermentation bug hasn’t bitten you just yet. Smith said she fell into it through her work in health and nutrition.

“And I came across this fermentation and started playing with it, sharing it with friends, and that old adage of, ‘you should take this to the market,’ kind of happened. And here we are, a year later, still selling sauerkraut,” Smith said.

Interest in this ancient process is now growing in Phoenix, Smith said, enough for her to start the city’s first fermentation festival.  

“We will be doing a class on how to make your own kefir, how to make kombucha,” Smith said.

Kefir and kombucha are the quirkier cousins in the fermentation family. But you probably know some of the other members.

“Most people don’t realize they’re probably large fans of fermentation because it is a crucial role in creating so many foods that we all love — everything from coffee to chocolate to bread to pickles, all require fermentation to exist,” said Lauren Saria, food editor for the Phoenix New Times.

Saria has seen trend after trend trickle down to Phoenix after making their way through other cities — and fermentation is no different.

“We’re a little behind, but we’ll get there,” Saria laughed.

What might preserve this trend, she said, is it actually acts as a junction where many different food trends meet.

“People are sort of coming to it from different interests,” she said. “Whether it be that making your own bread leads you to an interest in sourdough and therefore fermentation, or home gardening leads you to want to make pickles, and that then leads you to fermentation.” 

To see that theory in action, hop over two states to Texas, where the Austin Fermentation Festival has become the Texas Farmer’s Market’s biggest event of the year. Organizer Kate Payne said she was shocked the first year when more than 2,000 people attended.

“We were like, who are all these folks? Because we don’t see all of them at the farmer’s markets or at food events,” Payne said. “It was just this really cool gathering of folks that have an interest in some sort of fermentation projects, and since we cover all of them it really brought a whole bunch of different people together.”

Big festivals like that have been at the center of the fermentation trend, from Santa Barbara to Boston to Portland. And Suzette Smith said that’s fitting.

“It’s about empowering and inspiring people. And if we can empower them to make their own, then we’re making our community a better place,” Smith said.

And they’ll do so by exchanging live cultures through a culture of community.

The Phoenix Fermenters Festival is Saturday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Uptown Farmers Market.

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