What do grandchildren, dancing on the porch, fermentation, and – ahem – microbe farts have in common? Believe it or not, it’s a combination that adds up to a lot of love, close family life, and good health.
Such is the philosophy of Kirsten K. Shockey and her husband Christopher. Parents of four children and two grandchildren, this enterprising couple has farmsteaded 40 acres in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon since 1998. In the happy domestic chaos of raising food, livestock, and children, they discovered the health benefits of fermentation as a method of preserving the harvest. They never looked back.
Now the authors of several books on the subject, the Shockeys realized their passion was for the process. They chose to focus on passing the fermentation arts to others. They teach worldwide and host workshops on their homestead in southern Oregon. They’ve been called the Probiotic Pioneers.
Their road to fermentation began at Christmas in 1999 when Kirsten’s mother gave them a crock filled with fermenting cabbage, along with a copy of Sally Fallon’s cookbook “Nourishing Traditions.” “That’s the vegetable creation story that eventually became the farmstead kraut company,” remembers Kirsten. “I was a self-taught cheesemaker, one of my goals with milk animals. We have many old apple trees on the property, so cider-making was an early fermenting project.”
Obviously fermentation has been practiced for thousands of years. So what makes the Shockeys unique? “We experiment,” said Kirsten. “I think humans across the globe are going through a fermentation renaissance, and our work is part of this bigger movement to reclaim the methods and techniques and laying all the permutations of that. In other words, we don’t just have to ferment cabbage to keep us healthy and fed through the winter. We can ferment anything. We can take the methods of miso and make it with heirloom beans we grew on our garden, or bought from a local farmer. We can take these traditional foods and adjust them to our ingredients and taste sensibilities. I see what we do as helping people find their fermentation creativity.”
The health benefits of fermented food are well understood. “We as humans evolved with fermented foods,” says Kirsten. “When science discovered bacteria and germ theory, traditional ways of preserving foods were looked as not as safe as some of the ‘newer’ technologies that sterilized (or killed) everything in the food. Don’t get me wrong, some of this was important to food safety; but ultimately fermented foods became a casualty of this bigger movement. Now science is realizing we need microbes in a big way.”
In the midst of this rediscovery of an ancient tradition, the Shockeys found their passion for teaching. “I love seeing people’s excitement around these foods, especially when the foods are helping them feel better,” enthused Kirsten. “I think one of the most touching things is when folks have ‘ah ha’ moments and their flavor memory wakes up. They remember grandma’s pickles and realize her secret was fermentation.”
Food is medicine, says Kirsten, “but it can taste amazing. By default if things taste great, you’ll eat them … and therein lays the magic.”
Come meet the Shockeys, Kirsten and Christopher, as they teach a hands-on class on how to make miso at Lehman’s store on Saturday, September 7, 2 pm. Click here to register.
It’s easy to preserve the harvest and make healthy, delicious fermented products!