Who knew canning could be so controversial? This year, Virginia passed a law making it the fifth state to allow acidified foods, like canned pickles, relishes and salsas, to be sold at farmers markets without a kitchen inspection. The bill, which also adds foods like popcorn to the list of jellies, baked goods and candies that can be prepared in a home kitchen, has been a decade in the making.
“It sounds simple enough, but the effort involved to get a pickle unregulated has been overwhelming,” says Lois Smith, who lobbied for the change with the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association. She says it will allow more farmers to make their unsold produce into products.
But Mae Carroll, farmers market coordinator for Fairfax County, says she’ll still be picky when curating vendors for her markets. “From our point of view, because we aren’t a bake sale, a kitchen inspection and the ability to have a viable farmers market business go hand-in-hand,” says Carroll.
The concern is that low-acid foods, like canned beets, are shelf stable but could foster the ideal environment for dangerous pathogens like botulism. While area markets already offer some acidified foods, many producers choose to process their goods using fermentation, which poses fewer health risks while adding good bacteria, or to serve them fresh in the form of salsas or refrigerated pickles. To the right: products already at market.
At Market: Fresh, Fermented & Acidified
Number 1 Sons Pickles
Yi Wah Roberts, co-owner of Number 1 Sons Pickles with his sister Caitlin, says people often associate the term “fermented” with rotten—until they taste his pickles, sauerkraut or kombucha. Fermentation is an age-old process that “uses good bacteria to outcompete pathogenic bacteria.” Roberts says the process also builds in crave-worthy flavors. “Our mouths water for [pickles]. We crave them because they’re delicious, but a lot of things are delicious because we crave them.” / number1sons.com
Chef Eloy’s Kickin’ Salsa
Sandra Stickovitch’s father has been making salsa since his restaurant days in the late ’60s in Washington, D.C. They started selling salsas at markets in 2003, “because fresh is better than any canned product you can ever buy,” she says. Chef Eloy makes the salsas the day before markets, using produce from fellow market vendors. / chefeloy.com
Bigg Riggs Farm
Cal Riggleman’s Bigg Riggs Farm used a nearby processing facility in West Virginia so much that he eventually bought it. “Bigg Riggs,” as he’s know, now makes up to 4,000 bottles per day of jams, jellies, sauces and “pickled stuff,” which supplement his produce at dozens of Virginia markets. As a farmer, this allows him to make shelf-stable products from any produce that doesn’t sell. / biggriggsfarm.com