When Real Pickles founder Dan Rosenberg attended an organic farming workshop in the late 90s, he quickly started making pickles on his own. After growing a knack for fermentation and deeper appreciation for locally grown food, he started pickling cabbage, turnips, greens and more local vegetable. Shortly after, Real Pickles was born, with a mission to build a better food system. We had the pleasure of speaking with co-owner and pickling guru Addie Rose Holland to learn about her favorite seasonal offerings, love for local farmer’s and the company’s dedication to sourcing and selling locally—upwards of 300,000 pounds of organic vegetables—all year round.
R.K.: What made you start your brand? How did you first get the idea?
A.R.H.: Real Pickles was born out of a combined interest in traditionally fermented food, organic agriculture, local foo, and regional economies. It all started when our founder, Dan Rosenberg, began making traditional pickles in 1999 after attending a workshop at a Northeast Organic Farming Association conference. Excited about the benefits of locally grown food, he started pickling cabbage, turnips, greens and other vegetables as a way to eat locally throughout the winter.
Dan also was inspired by the work of Dr. Weston A. Price, a researcher who traveled the world in the 1920s and 30s studying the diets of indigenous peoples. He found that those eating traditional diets enjoyed a high level of health completely unknown in industrialized societies. Real Pickles began in 2001 as one of just a handful of businesses across the country offering fermented vegetables on a commercial scale and bringing this traditional food back to the American diet.
R.K.: You do more than just pickles! What’s your personal favorite product?
A.R.H.: Well, since you asked, the Garlic Dill Pickles are some of my favorites. Since they are only available seasonally, I eagerly await their arrival each July. But if I must choose a non-cucumber pickle, I’ll go with our new Turmeric Kraut— it is delightfully refreshing in both color and flavor! It looks great and tastes even better with almost every dish.
R.K.: How do you source your ingredients?
A.R.H.: We are committed to sourcing all our vegetables from within the Northeast and selling our products only within the Northeast. In practice, our core farm partners are all within 40 miles of our facility. This year we purchased over 300,000 pounds of local organic vegetables—that’s a lot of saved food miles!
R.K.: What did you have to learn the hard way? Any particular challenges along the way?
A.R.H.: It took us a while to scale up. Because of our commitment to using only local vegetables, we need to produce our entire year’s inventory during the harvest season, which means we need to pay for those veggies up front and store everything throughout the year. We need a larger facility and generally take on more debt than a business our size that will buy cabbage from anywhere. But we’ve figured out how to make it work!
R.K.: Has there been a benefit to starting your business in the New England area that you don’t think you’d get elsewhere?
ARH: We see the Northeast (New England, NY, NJ, PA) as a natural regional food-shed. With our mix of rural and urban landscapes, this region is well-poised to produce much of the food consumed within the region. When we buy locally and regionally, it helps to maintain our vibrant rural communities and provides healthy fresh food for our urban neighbors.
R.K.: What would you love to see in the New England food and wellness scene that you don’t now?
A.R.H.: We love to see more small businesses popping up on the food scene and contributing to our regional economy!
R.K.: What other local food and wellness brands are you a fan of?
ARH: We love that Western Massachussetts offers so much in the local food realm. We are huge fans of our neighbors Katalyst Kombucha (also a worker-owned co-operative) and we drink lots of their delicious, fair trade kombucha. We’re also so proud of our farms and the amazing produce they grow. Be sure to check out Kitchen Garden Farm’s award-winning Sriracha and Old Friends Farm’s Ginger Syrup and Turmeric Honey!
R.K.: Who has been the greatest influence or role model in starting your business?
A.R.H.: We are indebted to all the local business owners, organic farmers, and worker-co-operatives who have mentored us over the years, and who are working together to develop models for building and maintaining vibrant local food systems. We are also inspired by E.F. Schumacher, who was a proponent for strong local economies.
R.K.: What’s your favorite quotes or business mantra?
A.R.H.: “Eating is an agricultural act.” –Wendell Berry
R.K.: Where do you hope to see your brand in the next two years?
A.R.H.: We hope that our business continues to grow steadily, so that we can offer better jobs and benefits for our employees and continue to welcome our workers into ownership.
R.K.: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own wellness or food business?
A.R.H.: Think about how your business can benefit your community, and partner with your community to grow. It makes a big difference to have the support of your community during the tough times.
R.K.: Here at The W.E.L.L. Summit we like to say, “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” How would you describe your vibe?
A.R.H.: We’re a co-op! We care about our employees, our customers, our community, and the planet. We are committed to keeping Real Pickles rooted in the community and staying true to the strong social mission on which we were founded. Operating as a co-operative helps to make that possible!
Want more Made in New England? Check out our full series coverage.