Kirsten Shockey and her husband Christopher are the founders and co-owners of Ferment Works, a fermentation education company in Oregon. Their goals at Ferment Works are to help people learn to ferment, teach them how to create great flavors, and (most importantly) help them feel comfortable enough to do it at home alone or with friends and family.
Kirsten and Christopher live on a 40-acre farm in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon. As homesteaders, they’ve raised and homeschooled four children, grown fruit trees and gardens, nurtured animals, and fermented thousands of pounds of vegetables and other plants. Kirsten and Christopher work, write books, and teach classes and workshops together. They’re also working to build an online community gathering space for those who are passionate about fermentation.
The Shockeys’ fermentation adventure began in 1999 after receiving Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions and a crock full of fermenting kraut from Kirsten’s mom. Soon, they were fermenting regularly with their kids, using vegetables from their garden. For a long time they fermented for just themselves, but a commercial cider-making project created an opportunity to expand their fermenting operations. In 2009 they built out a commercial kitchen, planning to use the fruit from their six 100-year-old heirloom apple trees and dozens of new ones to make hard cider. As the logistics of the project slowly worked out, Kirsten began using the commercial kitchen to make jars of fermented magic on a slightly larger scale, and before long their casual fermenting turned into a business venture, and they swapped their cider-making dreams for vegetable fermentation.
Local farms began contracting with Kirsten and Christopher to do custom ferments with their bumper crops. Kirsten would take excess veggies from those farms, ferment them, and return them to the farmer fermented, neatly packed in jars, and ready to sell to customers. The next year they produced their own label yet still worked closely with the neighboring farms. This gig forced Kirsten to get very creative with her ferments and she relished the opportunity to go beyond the average krauts and kimchis and push the limits. For example, a local seed farmer offered her hundreds of pounds of blue Hubbard squash that would have otherwise been composted. Kirsten accepted the challenge and fermented it all. Another farmer wanted her to find a solution to at least some of her surplus of 4,000 pounds of burdock root, which Kirsten fermented to make burdock kimchi. She enjoyed taking overages and waste from other farms—produce that was organic, delicious, and fresh, but imperfect or slightly damaged by frost—and creating something tasty and nutritious. The creative juices were flowing.
Kirsten was supporting the local economy and local growers while reducing waste and creating delicious food. From where she sat, this seemed like a winning combination. She began selling her creations at the farmers market and she quickly learned that her offerings required more than just a financial transaction. People also wanted her knowledge. From her customers’ curiosity and questions emerged classes and workshops to arm them with the skills to ferment on their own. And then the book, Fermented Vegetables, was born.
Around this time, Kirsten and Christopher hung up their commercial fermentation operation, instead focusing on their roles as authors, educators, and evangelists. Kirsten and Christopher’s second book, Fiery Ferments, was published in May 2017. And while details are limited at the moment, they’re hard at work on their third book (stay tuned for more).
When it comes to the values that drive Kirsten, the environment is front and center. She’s passionate about reducing food waste, building local food economics, and championing food sovereignty and empowerment. And, of course Kirsten is excited about the potential health benefits of eating fermented things. She explains, “It’s nutrient-dense probiotic food. It’s simple food that doesn’t require as many industrial inputs before entering our mouths.”
photos: Kirsten & Christopher by Ariana Shockey, Fiery Ferments by Lara Ferroni, used with permission from Storey Publishing.
editor: Joy Herbers