Two years ago this month, Meg Chamberlain began on new cultured ventures born out of obsession and necessity. All her friends were saying, “Ferment, sell your ferments!” And so this and the events leading up to this moment became the precipice for Fermenti.’s humble beginnings.
Let’s go back a decade. Meg and her husband, Lars, quick their jobs in Washington DC (their families thought they were crazy!) and with a visit to a nature conservancy in Leicester, NC, they both “fell in love with the idea of homesteading, especially off the grid.” Since land around Asheville was pricey and jobs were hard to come by, they followed Meg’s job offer as the director of a photography department in Kansas City, Missouri. Through a series of events they bought 20 acres of land and Lars built an 8’x8’ “little box” with a little wood stove, a solar panel on top, and a composting toilet outside - an off-grid homesteader’s dream! Being one hour from the nearest town, they had their new Amish neighbor come over and plow them an acre garden where they worked 14-16 hours a day to grow 70% of their food; they traded and bartered for the rest with the local Amish. Meg described befriending and impressing their Amish neighbors so much that an elder woman, Savilla invited Meg over for tea to ask them to join their community. Meg joked: “Well Savilla, I’d love to join you but you have indoor plumbing and I’m not sure how I feel about that.” Savilla replied, “Oooh, we’ve strayed, I know we’ve strayed.” While they didn’t join the Amish Community, they did keep strong relationships that greatly influenced each other. Lars even installed solar panels on their buggies so they could be safer traveling at night! Meg describes these experiences as being pivotal in how they homesteaded and how they interacted with the land and its people.
So how does one preserve enough food when making a living off the grid? One day, 2nd year in, Meg was canning 60 quarts of tomatoes and basil: “If you’ve ever canned 60 quarts in a day, you’re done!” She was on her last batch of 8 when Lars entered the busy kitchen with a shredder and a head of cabbage he got from their Amish friend, Amos. He and Amos had been talking about a crock he had purchased for $2 at an Amish auction. Amos told him, “Oh, that’s for fermenting - make kraut!” Lars waited for Meg to finish a long day of canning to start this new experiment and adventure. Meg was preparing for bed up in the loft when she heard him, “cursing and banging and clanging and chopping and grinding - all kinds of stuff trying to get this cabbage into this crock.” He covered it with a plate and towel and put it in the darkest, coolest corner of their now 26ft box, as they had no proper store room. After two months of giving it a wide berth and some forgetting about it, it had developed (oxidized) this scary green-gray stuff on top. Lars pulled off the plate, started digging, and exclaimed, “I’m going to eat it!” No joke, Meg got his deed and made sure her name was on it because she was convinced he was going to die. This was a totally new and foreign thing to them.
About two weeks in, Lars was sleeping better and “farting up a storm!” One day, about three inches in, Lars brought Meg flowers from a friends garden. She was very confused and wondered what Lars did and if he was asking for forgiveness. He said, “I love you,” and that was the push for Meg to get in that kraut too and see what she was missing. After many farts and better night sleeps, Meg also described her days being brighter, her skin glowing and a growing desire to be nice and share with others. Their fermentation interests were catalyzed and they began to sporadically ferment whatever they had on the farm.
After a near death home birthing experience, Meg, Lars, and their new born girl left Missouri: “It was a really frightening experience. So I thought if I’m dying I want to do it where I am happiest, so we moved back to the mountains.” They began to integrate themselves into the community here by meeting new friends, women, stay at home moms and other homesteaders. Meg described catching the fermentation bug again: “I had made kraut and kimchi, but I never explored the fun stuff like asparagus or hot peppers, salsa and okra, corn and all this other fun stuff...I kind of went off the deep end, so much so we had to buy a second fridge. I fermented ghost peppers one month and I still have about a half gallon of ghost pepper puree ferment. You know, you take a pinhead and it blooms your whole meal! I like hot stuff, but wow. So I’m trying to give it away. One day, about 2 ½ years ago all my friend were like, “You know, you should sell this, what are you doing?” And I was like, “Well, okay maybe. I don’t know how to do that and I don’t know if I want to do that.”” Little did she know she would be starting Fermenti. whether she was ready or not.
Right before Fermenti. started, Lars was ran off the road by a drunk driver into a ditch where he drown and was pronounced dead for 3 ½ minutes. The paramedics were able to bring him back, but he had a shattered arm among many other injuries. He was unable to continue his carpentry work and needed time to recover. Meg had to assess what to do next, especially since she had not worked for 8 years and was unsure how to function in a work environment. Gratefully, Meg’s community encouraged her to follow her fermentation passions and begin selling them - Fermenti. LLC was born.
Meg ascribes a lot of her success and drive to her customers and what they are asking for. She wants to know if you actually liked that batch of kimchi and how she would make it better: “It keeps us accountable, it keeps us real, it keeps us on the thread and the pulse of what our community really truly wants...I’m not a no-face corporation trying to make a buck off of you.” This is not a way of functioning found in a grocery store, a big box store, or on amazon. Farmers Markets, like the West Asheville Tailgate Market, give Meg and Lars the opportunity to check the pulse of the community and give them what they really are hungry for - food, connection, and cultured community.
On November 3rd, Meg has organized the annual Culturing Community Fermenting Festival which will be from 12pm-6pm at the NC Co-Operative Extension Office in Marshall. This is a free event to experience all things to start your fermentation journey including produce, salt, seeds, crocks, classes, demos, and more! A goal of this event is to expand on farmers market culture and help people know that they can ferment and they have all the tools right here in their community. “That’s culturing community.” All proceeds will go to Beacon of Hope food bank. Meg finished with a powerful statement: “I don’t believe I am secure in my food until everyone around me is secure in theirs.”
Visit Fermenti.’s Website, Facebook, Instagram or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
FREE - 12pm-6pm
NC Co-Operative Extension Office
258 Carolina Ln, Marshall NC 28753