Living with Enough at Midori Farm
Krauts from seed to jar
STORY AND PHOTOS BY JENNIFER CRAIN
The monitor-style barn that Hanako Myers and Marko Colby built sits out past the greenhouses on their 29-acre farm, located in the river-hewn Quilcene Valley. Midori Farm is situated in the Olympic Peninsula, along the scenic pleat of land that lies between Hood Canal and the Olympic Mountains. Beyond the barn, the Quilcene Range rises up, blue and close behind treed foothills.
A calm anticipation hangs about the couple as they describe their approach to farming, fermenting, and the multi-pronged business model that has brought them to the start of their eighth season. They talk at length, for instance, about their philosophy on healthy vegetable starts (don’t coddle them) and their system for gently fermenting vegetables. Myers and Colby grow the ingredients for all seven flavors of Midori’s certified organic sauerkrauts and kimchi; only the ginger, dry spices, and a measure of late-season garlic are sourced off the farm. Even in the local-centric world of artisanal fermented foods, this is unusual.
“We have an intimate knowledge and relationship with every part of our process,” Colby explains. “It’s long-term sauerkraut making, the way we do it.”
Colby and Myers founded Midori Farm in 2008, naming it after their much-loved cat and their verdant locale (midori means “green” in Japanese). For their first six seasons, they leased farmland in Port Townsend. But year-to-year contracts meant they were never sure if they could return the following season. For years they looked for land to purchase, even investigating prospects back in Wisconsin, where Myers’s family lives.
“We really didn’t think we’d ever be able to own land,” Colby says. But then a friend told them about 54 acres that would soon be for sale in the village of Quilcene. They bought a portion of it late in 2012 and set to work on the barn. Last winter, they moved in.
This will be the tenth year for the sauerkraut arm of their business, but Colby was introduced to fermented foods a decade earlier, when he moved to South Korea to teach English after college. Residents in his apartment complex fussed over their crocks of kimchi, which bubbled away on the roof of the building. They ate the spicy condiment with everything, and at every meal. Colby started eating it, too.
After nearly a year away, he returned to the U.S. in 1996 and started working on a farm in Colorado where he tried his hand at fermenting, using the farm’s surplus cabbage. Friends were enthusiastic about his sauerkraut. Soon enough, he was selling jars of it out of his truck. There wasn’t much written information on fermentation techniques back then, so he sent away for a 100-page USDA document and studied it to refine his craft. He experimented, perfecting his recipes. His kraut ambitions eventually led him to Port Townsend, for its vibrant farmer’s market. At the time, there were “no sauerkraut companies in the whole Puget Sound,” he remembers. “It was a wide open market.”
Colby formed a business and started selling at the market in the spring of 2005, “right about the time that the sauerkraut craze started hitting North America.”
Colby’s experiments, though he didn’t know it, were in step with an underground fermentation movement that became a trend in the mid- 2000s. The public’s enthusiasm has been a boon for Midori’s business.
“We’ve had lots of people ask us if they can carry our product,” Colby notes. The two sell jarred or bulk goods to local retail outlets only if they know they can meet the demand.
“We’re not really interested in dealing with shipping our product. It just makes sense for us to stay within our region,” Myers says. “It feels like those are the people we should be feeding anyway, people who live around us.”
Selling within a limited geographic range, and fermenting only what they are able to grow themselves, keeps their products regionally unique and their daily lives in balance. Choices in favor of simplicity are common at Midori, reflected even in their logo (an elegant woodcut of a napa cabbage) and their housing (after eight years in a yurt, they moved to an apartment in the barn).
“We’re growing at a level that we can manage, psychologically and physically,” Myers says.
During harvest, they spend two days at a rented kitchen in Port Townsend, alternately producing and packaging their krauts. Each production day is the culmination of months of planting, tending, and harvesting—not to mention years of research.
“We’ve trialed so many varieties, trying to find ones that have the best flavor, the right juice content, water to dry-matter content, and storage qualities,” Colby explains. “We didn’t just go to the store and buy some onions. We prepared the soil and grew the cover crop in the soil where the onions were going to go.”
This season, they will harvest a crop of cabbage seed to plant next year. In the past they have also grown some of their own carrot seed—not an easy task in the Northwest—for a rare favorite: the Red-Cored Chantenay.
In addition to top-notch varieties, Midori uses mineral-rich salt from ancient sea beds and traditional five-gallon ceramic crocks (they’ve just started experimenting with stainless vessels). It’s all led to a devoted local following and nods from the annual Good Food Awards. In 2013, all three flavors they entered—Horseradish Leek, Kimchi, and Savory Kraut—were named as winners.
Other notable flavors include their bright red Beet Kraut, a jalapenolaced Cortido, and a spicy, cabbage-free sauerkraut called Hot Root. Market customers enjoy an array of seasonal flavors: kimchi using turnips, nettles, radishes, even garlic scapes; a shiso-napa cabbage blend; a cucurbita-based kraut gussied up with yellow zucchini, cucumbers, hot peppers, dill, and sweet onions—and whatever other combinations they can invent.
“We’re always trying to think of how we can make things better,” Myers says. “We’re trying to make all those pieces fit together in a way that can see our farm succeed.”
Find Midori Farm’s fermented foods at Marx Foods in Seattle and at Jefferson County farmers’ markets, Chimacum Corner Farmstand, Port Townsend Food Co-op, Skagit Valley Food Coop, and at other retail outlets in the Olympic Peninsula. midori-farm.com
Jennifer Crain’s son must have considered the jar of Horseradish Leek Sauerkraut his own, because she only got a couple of bites. In the name of fairness, she may have hidden the Beet Kraut in the back of the fridge. She writes from her home in Olympia. Learn more about her work at jennifercrain.com.