When the Farmer Turns Fermenter

Expanding into a hot niche market: Morningside Ferments.

Part of Jon Strom knew he didn’t want to be a full-time farmer anymore. Another part of him wanted to stay involved in the local-food movement.

Then he found the perfect way to blend his past with his present: he kept the name of his former farm and tapped into his growing passion for fermentation.

Morningside Ferments opened last February, and with his flavorful concoctions, along with his desire not to use plastic for storage or during the fermentation process, Strom has quickly made his mark on the trend.

When he and his wife, Kelley, ran Morningside Farms in Brevard, they had around 70 members in their community-supported-agriculture (CSA) program. But in 2015, Kelley decided to go back to school in Maine, and the couple closed their operation.

When they came back to WNC, the entrepreneurial landscape had changed. “You know, I was back and forth between whether I wanted to get back into full-time farming again,” Strom says. “To be honest, when we left our share of the Brevard market, some other farms started up and took that over and had a lot of momentum, and I didn’t see myself competing with them. I felt a niche with the increased awareness of fermented food and digestive issues and thought it was a really good time to do this.”

Strom makes a variety of krauts (garlic dill, curry, hot pink, and classic caraway) and kimchi (traditional Napa and vegan) and also makes chow-chow, kombucha, kvass, and seasonal products. Morningside Ferments’ foods can be found at the Transylvania Farmers Market and stores including Food Matters Market in Brevard, Trout Lily Market and Deli in Fairview, and the Hendersonville Community Co-Op.

How did you learn to ferment foods?
I learned out of necessity and on my own. In 2012 we got flooded and couldn’t sell all of our produce. I made a bunch of kraut because the fermentation process takes care of the bad bacteria that the flood waters probably had and it was a good way to use the produce and preserve it. I just used it personally.

Any more training? 
When we moved to Maine I worked with a kraut maker. That was really where I learned to scale it up and how to be efficient and explore what flavors you could bring into the fermented vegetable. That was key, to work with someone who knows what they are doing and after a while I was like, “I could totally do this.”

Where do you work now?
I have a commercial kitchen with two other users. We all rent different days of the week. It’s a really cool set-up at the Elk Haven Wellness Center. They have the kitchen where there’s a juicer and gluten-free baker working, too. It’s a unique set-up. Without that, this wouldn’t be possible — it’s a huge piece of the puzzle to figure out.

What’s your favorite thing to ferment?
The beet kvass, because it’s totally antidotal and I feel the most benefits from that. I really enjoy fermenting the drinks. As much as I enjoy getting in there and pounding cabbage, it’s nice to switch gears and do kabuki and kvass.

What’s the next step? 
The ultimate goal would be to have control over the whole process — grow the inputs going into it. This first year it was small. I really wanted to get the product down. We grew Napa cabbage and kale. We can expand from there.

Morningside Ferments, Brevard. 828-403-9743, morningsideferments.com.

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