Category Archives: News

Products and Labels and Tastings, oh my!

Summary: New menu, new products available, new labels and some scheduled appearances at the Salem Public Market courtesy of the Salem Food Cooperative.

My next announcement will probably concern opening my own online marketplace using the Open Food Source software.  Salem Food Cooperative is following suit, and they will have a similar announcement.  In the mean time, if you are interested in trying or buying, please email me.

Product Tastings

I will be at the Salem Public Market on Saturdays dong tastings and helping out the Food Cooperative wherever I’m able.  I will have extra on-hand for those who wish to take some home with them.

Current Menu

December 02, 2014 (you can find it via the navigation menu on the website)

Some of the veggies available

Final labels for the available products


SauerKnowledge: The Practice of SauerChi

SauerKnowledge is the title of the sum-total of all the practical knowledge and experience of SauerNation with regard to producing and using SauerChi.  Saueressen catalogs, distributes and holds SauerKnowledge in public trust via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Authors include In-house artisans, with guest contributions from other local or live-culture food activists, professionals, hobbyists and consumers and their little dogs, too.

Topics include recipes for making live-culture foods; recipes to incorporate live-culture foods into your diet;  other fermented food recipes;  fermentation tips and tricks;  workshop materials;  customers’ live-culture food travelogues and musings, other professionals and fermentation hobbyists sharing their experience; fermentation, nutrition and food security.

Why?  Because the revolution starts at home, with healthy guts and bodies, and builds from there as we developing a food secure culture of fearless fermentation!

You can find all SauerKnowledge posts through the Saueressen website.

Position Paper: Issues Underlying the GMO Debate

Oregon teems right now with expensive advertisements touting positions for and against a newly-proposed GMO food labeling law.  According to independent polls, most people (77%) support the law.  The arguments I see in support of labeling boil down to using the law as a tool in either of two ways:

  • Personal consumer tool:  People want more transparency in their food (they want to know what eat, where it comes from and how it’s made; which means they want to feel good or at least OK about what they eat).  They want to make it easier to avoid GMOs without necessarily having to buy organic, for all sorts of reasons.
  • Political economic tool: Additionally, labeling foods containing GMOs creates opportunity to put consumer pressure on producers to use non-GMO ingredients.  In other words, the law “lets the market decide” whether and to what extent it will accommodate GMOs.

So far, the opposition has grossly inflated how much the law would cost to consumers (est. $2.30 annually).  The rest of the opposition’s arguments seem to base themselves in some sort of fear that labeling will decrease market demand for GMOs, which they consider a bad thing (mostly because it harms corporate profit or they believe a world without GMOs threatens food security).

Saueressen supports the Yes on 92 Campaign as a cost-effective, market-based partial solution to the GMO debate.  Do Oregonians have a right to know what foods contain GMOs?  Absolutely — no question there, if you accept that we live in a democracy.  But at the end of the day, GMO politics exist like an oil slick lingering on the surface of a Deepwater Horizon oil spill, obscuring rather than addressing any of the underlying issues.  Skimming the surface won’t stop the catastrophe.  Lurking in those murky depths are myriad issues fundamental to our food security and our society.   Saueressen identifies four key issues implied, but unaddressed, by the GMO debate:

Saueressen maintains a position that GMOs exist at their worst as symptoms of those deeper issues.  Further more, the underlying issues will persevere and progress until we bring them to the surface or dive in after and figure out exactly what we consider problems if we want a chance at implementing effective solutions.  This paper constitutes Saueressen’s effort to contribute to that pathway forward vis-a-vis its own food security-based mission and operating philosophy.

Let’s get into it, then…

Issue 1:  Genetic Engineering vs Corporate Control

Do we oppose or support genetic engineering, corporate control of food systems, neither, or both?  I feel very fortunate to have recently discoverd and read a fantastic National Geographic (NG) article on the future of farming and food security in relation to genetic engineering and agro-ecological (including but not limited to organic) practices.  The article clears up many of the points of confusion in the GMO debate, which I greatly appreciated.  I also felt it also gave sufficient weight to the importance of investing in agroecology as a foundational technology for food security and environmental restoration.

From the above-mentioned NG article:

“If you want to have a conversation about what the role of large corporations should be in our food supply, we can have that conversation—it’s really important. But it’s not the same conversation about whether we should use these tools of genetics to improve our crops. They’re both important, but let’s not confound them.” — Robert Ziegler, Director, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

The confusion around genetic engineering and corporate control begs an important question: Can we have the one without the other? if so, how?  If not, why not?

The IRRI is not Monsanto.  It has no private shareholders or profit incentive.  It does not seek to control seed and food supplies for profit.  Does a world without Monsanto still need organizations like the IRRI?  The IRRI uses genetic engineering as one of many tools to fulfill a mission that most people might have a difficult time finding fault with.

Corporations use GMOs as a tool to monopolize control of nature and food.  Consider that proprietary, patented seeds now make up 82% of all commercial seed transactions, and the ten largest global corporations own 67% of all those patents, or 55% of all commercial seed (source: ETC Group; local copy here).  However, corporate patents extend beyond GMOs into non-engineered wild and domesticated species.  LIkewise, not all GMOs exist as proprietary corporate property.  Addressing GMOs in our food supply does little to address corporate control of food and nature, since GMOs represent merely one of many different tools of control that corporations use.  Banning GMOs to quell corporate control is like banning spoons because a “spoon gang” appeared around town weilding spoons as weapons to harm other people.  Let’s address the gang behavior.

If we make decisions about our food through our democracy, then we must also address the corporate control of our political system itself.  Take, for instance, the spending breakdown on Measure 92:  The opposition spending comes form 100% large corporate, out-of-state sources.  But most of the support spending comes from out of state sources as well (albeit a healthier mix of individuals, non-profit and corporate donations).  This means that Oregonians — the primary stakeholders — play at best a marginal role in framing and discussing the issue at hand.  I find that disturbing.

The issue here isn’t so much whether to accept or reject genetic engineering, but who gets to make that decision, and under what terms?  Now consider that Oregon Community Rights Network addresses this question directly by empowering communities with tools and resources to define and sieze democratic control of their health, safety and welfare — including their food systems.  The Community RIghts movement accomplishes much more than any labeling law ever will, using a fraction of the financial resources, to address problems at their root.  It deserves at least as much support as this labeling law.

Let’s continue…

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Issue 2:  Which genetic engineering?

So, is the tool itself — genetic engineering — faulty?

In order to determine whether we support or oppose genetic engineering itself, or let alone determine whether it can occur without corporate control of our food, we need to understand the range of genetic tools in use to produce new varieties and species.  Fortunately, the aforementioned article does a fantastic job introducing those tools to the reader.

The article mentions three genetic tools in addition to traditional breeding techniques which already have common acceptance in our society:

  1. Marker-assisted selection:  Combines traditional breeding and hybridization techniques with genetic engineering to identify relevant genes or introduce markers.  Breeders may engineer plants to “knock out” certain genes until they find the relevant ones they wish to manipulate through a breeding process.  Then they can use markers to determine whether the breeding process succeeded, saving time and money.  Results in a faster breeding process, makes use of existing biological diversity (no new genes or proteins).
  2. Mutation breeding:  Mutations happen naturally over time.  We speed the process up by deliberately exposing seeds to chemicals or (more often) radiation (think: X-rays and gamma rays, like Bruce Banner and Incredible Hulk!) and seeing what results, using conventional breeding to create the new variety or species.  We’ve been introducing potentially novel genes and proteins into ecosystems and our food supply this way since the 1930s.
  3. Transgenic engineering:  This is the newest form of genetic engineering, which introduces genes from unrelated species into a second host species, followed by conventional breeding to develop the new variety or species. When we talk about genetic engineering and GMOs, we most often mean transgenic engineering.  It resembles the natural process of endosymbiosis (aka symbiogenesis, aka cooperative evolution), but again, in an accelerated form.  I actually see this as less problematic than mutation breeding in some ways, because at least we’re dealing with DNA and proteins that already exist in some way, shape or form in our environment.

So, which genetic engineering tools does the proposed Oregon labeling law cover?

  • The law definitely targets transgenic foods for labeling.
  • I can’t suss whether the law covers mutation breeding.  If it doesn’t, it probably should, even for the sake of consistency.
  • I honestly can’t tell whether the law affects marker-assisted selection, since that process can involve messing with the genes of plants.

I would love for someone with authoritative knowledge to help answer this question.  I could not find any discussion on this question, which seems of central importance to the GMO debate itself.

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Issue 3:  The Need for Speed?

Savvy readers may have noticed a theme with the above-mentioned genetic engineering tools:  accelerated results.  In the discourse on our food systems, so much of what we read falls into a “race against time” narrative.  We need to produce more food, faster.  We need better varieties, sooner.  Quick quick quick.

The narrative takes for granted that our food-related problems are problems of production.  They are not.  They are problems, first and foremost, of distribution, profiteering, and power (ref. Issue 1: corporate control of food, above).  The narrative takes population growth as a given, rather than seeing how reducing gender discrimination (education, economic opportunity, social standing, reproductive control), for example, can slow or even reverse population growth and therefore slow the growth in demand for food, create new resources and better distribute available resources.

So really, there is no inherent reason for us to single-mindedly focus on faster, bigger, better production and breeding.  Which is good, because safe change takes time, as does proper longitudinal (read: long-term) safety testing.   While we take the time to assess and adapt to the changes we’ve made, we can allocate resources more appropriately toward developing small-scale, decentralized, diversified and resilient food systems.  We can move food security ahead in leaps and bounds if we allocate even a small fraction of the $24 million spent on arguing over GMOs in Oregon toward efforts that really matter, such as women’s empowerment and small farms development grants, community rights and other resources.

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Issue 4:  Which Agriculture?

The health, environmental and socioeconomic issues people often cite in opposition to GMOs long predate the existence of GMOs.  Through our use of conventional breeding techniques in an industrial economy that prioritizes profit over all else, we’ve replaced the nutritional density and flavor of several staple foods (apples, corn, potatoes, wheat, etc) with sugar or other substances of addictive or dubious nutritional value, and destroyed entire bioregions by mining topsoil and biodiversity in the name of food production.  No GMOs required.  Consider the priorities that guide our breeding and selection processes:

although wheat in North America goes through 50 different quality assessments—to analyze factors such as yield and baking performance—“none are related to nutrition.”

Let’s let that sink in:  We don’t breed our food for taste, nutrition and resilience, first and foremost.  We breed it for economic performance. As a result, we’ve taken a lot of easy shortcuts that have ironically made the road ahead of us much longer and more difficult than it needs to be.  MIchael Pollan, for example, reminds us in his discussion of the history of the apple that the selection of crops for industrial-scale monocultural production generally causes a dramatic loss of genetic diversity that requires increasing inputs of pesticides and fertilizers.  What will it take to rebuild the nutritional value and diversity of our food systems?  More organic production?

Big Business loves organic, creating what Michael Pollan calls Organic-Industrial Complex.  Have you ever seen an industrial-scale organic farm or feedlot?  It looks more like our worst genetically-engineered nightmares than like the friendly local family farms we idealize.  Saueressen urges people to support local family farms before they support industrial organic farms, even if the family farms aren’t certified “organic” (many already use organic practices as a matter of course).

Industrialization, monoculture and corporate control all predate GMOs, and these issues will continue until we address them directly.  In this sense, Measure 92 represents the latest in a game of “whack-a-mole.”  The community rights movement argues that maybe it’s time to stop playing the game and just unplug the industrial machine at its source.  Saueressen supports that position.

Food systems predict and shape a society’s structure, and therefore can create or solve many societal problems.  We can improve all aspects of our quality of life by changing the way we produce and distribute our food to mimic the complexity of productive and healthy ecosystems.  We need to start de-emphasizing industrial monocultural methods and emphasizing permacultural and other agroecological approaches that enhance our food production while healing the earth at the same time. if we put even a small fraction of resources that we contribute to genetics and the politics around it into permacultural techniques, small farms, community rights and the empowerment of women, we would see global food security improve in leaps and bounds.

We see this holistic approach play out in organizations like IRRI (Source: NG article):

Since the first green revolution, says Robert Zeigler, ecological science has advanced along with genetics. IRRI uses those advances too.

“In the early ’90s you didn’t see birds here. The pesticides we used killed the birds and snails and everything else. Then we invested a lot to understand the ecological structures of rice paddies. You have these complex webs, and if you disrupt them, you have pest outbreaks. We learned that in the vast majority of cases, you don’t need pesticides. Rice is a tough plant. You can build resistance into it. We now have a rich ecology here, and our yields haven’t dropped.

“At certain times of the day we get a hundred or so of those egrets. It’s really uplifting to see. Things can get better.”

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The debate over genetic modification exists within the context of a very real global food crisis.  Underlying that crisis, we have social problems of power and food distribution across society, social inequality and agro-economic practices that destroy rather than heal and enhance our life support systems.  These issues predate genetic engineering, and they will persist until we either address them directly or kill ourselves off.  Saueressen urges you to:

  • vote “yes” on measure 92 as a small step in the right direction toward demand-driven transparency in our food, and let the market decide what to do with GMOs and more importantly,
  • remember to see the forest through the trees and continue the fight past the ballot box.

At stake is a food culture war, of sorts, between two competing philosophies that differently prioritize food security and profit.  When corporations like Monsanto prioritize profit above all else — as an end in itself rather than a means to a greater end — food security comes second at best and sometimes even suffers.  We need more organizations who make profit a means to a greater end in all aspects of our society.  We need holistic, multi-faceted solutions to the global food crisis.  It sounds like the IRRI understands that point.  I’d take that over Monsanto any day, even if it does include a smidgeon of genetic engineering.  Saueressen embodies this ethic by using profit to support artisans who lovingly create hand-crafted live-culture foods so they can give back to the community that sustains their craft and help build a more food secure future for us all.

So where do we go from here?

Action items

A few things we can do beyond voting and purchasing decisions to improve food security and quality of life for everyone:

Let us know if you have any questions or thoughts!

Why Saueressen? EF Schumacher

My last post in the Why Saueressen? category was fairly personal.  In contrast, this post explores some of the more technical questions, such as:

  • Why live-culture foods?  Why food?
  • Why a small artisan-owned cooperative?
  • Why a community-supported enterprise model?

If I had to throw one reference at you, it would be Small Is Beautiful, by EF Schumacher.  Why?  Two words:  appropriate technology (aka “intermediate technology”), or technology that is “people-centered, small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound and locally controlled.”

To hear me talk about technology in this modern, industrialized world, you might mistake me for a luddite.  Fair enough — I used to mistake myself for a luddite, too.  Until I encountered EF Schumacher and permaculture and learned to articulate my ethical code concerning the development and use of technology.  Unfortunately, much of the technology produced and used by modern industrial economies falls far short of such an ethical code in both design and implementation.

Saueressen stands for farm-fresh fermented foods

Saueressen stands for farm-fresh fermented foods

I created Saueressen to bear a standard of sorts for the appropriate technology movement by way of its focus, the technologies it uses in the course of operation, and its organizational structure.

Focus On Food

A society’s food system largely defines or heavily influences the overall structure of that society.  In other words, a change in the way we relate to our food creates ripples of profound change throughout the rest of society.  By building a better food system, we build better people and communities.  By better, I mean more diverse, resilient, decentralized, environmentally friendly, healthy, transparent, responsive, etc.  Saueressen takes all this into account in our choice to work with local, organic farmers, which also keeps more money in the local community!

Food also serves another important foundation:  Health.  As one customer puts it:

“As an RN, I am a health conscious, research driven food consumer. Our fast paced culture has forgotten the benefits that fermented foods play in our health. As eating yogurt has become “popular” in the past years, I believe fermented foods will continue to gain popularity as people educate themselves on the beneficial properties of fermented foods. Just a quick search on the internet will bring up hundreds of articles on why fermented foods are good for us.”

Fermentation stands apart from other food processing methods in a key way: it enhances the nutritional (as well as economic) value of the foods in question, rather than degrading them. Fermentation excels at delivering key probiotics and micronutrients we need to maintain a healthy body.  Simply put, live-cultured foods form an important part of a healthy diet. It doesn’t matter whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, omnivorous or carnivorous. Your body will benefit from live-cultured foods.

Core Technologies

The core nutritional technologies that form the lifeblood of Saueressen have existed for hundreds — sometimes thousands — of years.  Fermentation is a time-tested and well-established means of nutritional preservation and enhancement.  Likewise, the equipment and techniques needed to produce most ferments are as equally well-established.  We ferment veggies in high-fired, lead-free clay crocks, for example.  The crocks have a very sophisticated airlocked design that significantly enhances batch reliability and lowers labor costs.  Other tools we use to process include implements to chop, shred and grind ingredients.

We also make appropriate use of our environment — a key condition for successful fermentation.  Most lactic acid ferments do best in cool, temperature stable environments.  Koreans bury their kimchi pots to stabilize temperature and prevent oxygen contamination.  In other words, they use geothermal energy.  In the summer, the ground cools.  In the winter, it warms.  The result is a fairly consistent and reliable cool temperature range, year-round.   We use a basement kitchen space to the same effect.  Under these conditions, we gain the option of producing — and preserving — batches of fermented veggies over the course of years, rather than weeks and months.  Have you tasted a four year-old vintage sauerkraut?  Sandor Katz has, and said it was sublime, like a fine wine.  The same, of course, goes with fermented meats and dairy.

In contrast, most long-term mixed-SCOBY ferments (vinegars) actually benefit from exposure to temperature extremes.  Placing oak barrels out in an unshaded, unheated above-ground structure results in a higher quality product.  It’s all about using space — including microclimates — effectively.

Using fermentation, we start to see a world where we don’t need refrigeration and electricity.  They become nice amenities, but do we want to slide into a crisis state every time they go away?  With fermentation, life with and without electricity becomes much easier and more enjoyable!  While Saueressen makes use of electrical implements, we also dedicate time and energy researching and developing electricity-free modes of processing ingredients into live-culture foods as part of our focus on food security.

Organizational Structure

EF Schumacher argues, in part, that the debate over “public vs private ownership” is misleading irrelevant, in large part, inasmuch as it ignores the issue of scale.  Small is beautiful in large part because smaller scale operations are inherently more sensitive and just in their distribution of the work and the benefits derived from that work.  The larger the scale the enterprise, regardless of whether it is public or private, the more difficult fair and just distribution of work and derived benefits becomes, which in turn requires a greater degree of planning, intentionality and perseverence to ensure that problematic dynamics do not arise (e.g., a combination of those who derive benefits from and may exercise control over others’ work without themselves contributing to said work).

Saueressen will always remain small because of its growth plan.  It operates as a cooperative of artisans who share the production space and overall decision-making.   Each cooperative kitchen will support about 3-5 owner-artisans who source ingredients and distribute products and services locally.  Each kitchen operating under the Saueressen label becomes a part of the trademark collective, gaining access to all Saueressen knowledge and resources while retaining complete financial independence.  Grassroots drive the entire organizational structure:  artisans manage the kitchen, and the kitchens manage the collective brand identity.  So even if the Saueressen concept of artisan-owned cooperative live-culture kitchens really catches on, Saueressen will never become the WalMart of fermented foods.

Lastly, Saueressen functions as a benefit corporation, meaning it exists to provide a “material positive impact on society and the environment while meeting higher standards of accountability and transparency.”  We use fermentation as a vehicle to enhance community food security.  To make this happen, Saueressen supports open standards, including Creative Commons licensing and open-source software such as Open Food Source.  We build our business on transparency, trust, quality and value.  Saueressen embodies the values we look for in our best friends and family.

Thanks for reading!

Why Saueressen? Alan Watts

NOTE: This is a section of blog posts where we focus on sharing stories and inspirations that drive us to build or participate in a local, sustainable, secure and just community food economy.  It will include posts from customers, artisans and any other people who appreciate the principles of local, hand-crafted and sustainable live-culture foods.

Alan Watts

I promised myself a few years ago I would stop doing things that made me miserable.  Not coincidentally, my brother shared a video with me a couple of years ago that had a profound effect on me:

[Zen Pencils developed a wonderful comic on this same monologue]

I watched that video while working a job that made me miserable.  The contrast in my life at that time was all-consuming.  All my coworkers thought of me as a “computer person.”  They looked at me funny when I tried to talk about gardening, cooking, and especially food fermentation.  I love food, and really hate computers.  It just made no sense to continue committing myself to spending away the hours of my life in misery.

Watts:  You’ll spend your life completely wasting your time.   You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to continue going on living.  That is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing.  Which is stupid.  Better to have a short life full of what you love doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.

A Promise

Of course, I need to make some compromises.  I enjoy writing (or rather, I need to write), but hate sitting still and spending long hours on the computer, which my workflow requires.  I hate keeping records and finances, but live in an administration-crazed society.

I promised myself — and all those who support me — to work my tail off to make Saueressen succeed.  I exist with the incredible privilege of not needing to worry whether I’ll have a roof over my head and food to eat. That privilege gives me the leeway — and responsibility — to contribute to my dream of a sustainable community. Saueressen exists as a vehicle and prism through which I can pursue that desire — a life worth living, doing things I love doing.  I work 12 hour days, but it doesn’t feel like work.  Saueressen may not succeed, in spite of my efforts and the efforts of those who support us.  But I won’t know until I try.  So here I go.  Here’s my “try.”

Stay tuned for more answers to the question, “why?”

Saueressen Sightings: October 2014

Introducing a collection of Saueressen fan photos and reviews, straight from customers and other fans of fermented, live-culture foods!   We start with our launch in October 2014.  You can also find more on our Facebook page:

  1. Photo Gallery
  2. Reviews

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October 2014

“I don’t like kraut…but I like this!”

“I’m typically not a squash person, but this is pretty good”

“I don’t like eggplant. This can’t be eggplant.”

We bought one of everything that he has out right now and it’s amazing. One of my favorites is the Thanksgiving Cranberry Kraut. For anyone who enjoys gourmet sauerkraut, this one is awesome.

We are the lucky friends that got to preview the KaleChi. For anyone who likes Kale and is adventurous, this one is a winner. It has a tangy flavor that bounces off your taste buds. Per Abe, “I think it’s his best one yet.” Well, I rather enjoy them all so not willing to pick “one” winner. They are all winners.

Saueressen offers a variety of delicious, complex flavored fermented foods. A few of my favorites to date are the Thanksgiving Kraut (crunchy, tangy with a hint of sweetness from the cranberries), and the CBC Chi (mild flavor with a hint of ginger – yummy!).

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Saueressen in a nutshell

On request from Minto Island Growers, I made up a quick one-page info sheet that has the basics of Saueressen — what we do, how, and where we’re headed in the future.

You can preview it here: public_infosheet

Please let us know whether this helps answer questions you or others have about Saueressen.  Feedback always welcome!  Contact us