Welsh “One Planet” duo show how to put the fizz into fermentation.
Lauren Simpson and Phil Moore have launched a fermented food business which is rapidly toppling sales targets and opening the door to a sustainable way of life.
Driven by their beliefs in food provenance, the couple produce organic, fermented foods such as sauerkrauts, kimchi and grain mustard to sell locally in Pembrokeshire. All products are raw and naturally fermented and therefore contain probiotic bacteria, crucial for a healthy gut.
“All condiments, such as mustard and hot sauces were originally fermented,” says Lauren, “And I want to reclaim that process.”
Putting their politics into practice has been made possible for the couple through One Planet Development, a planning policy created by the Welsh Assembly. The initiative enables small holdings to be created on agricultural land as long as sustainable living targets are met. Participants also need to establish a sustainable business from the land to cover their living costs: transport, council tax, communication, clothing and food. Lauren and Phil’s fermented food business provides the key to the way of life they dreamed of.
Six years earlier, the couple travelled across Central and South America. During farm stays, they volunteered their labour to harvest and process vast amounts of vegetables. Here they learnt about the craft of fermentation as pickled condiments and dishes are part of everyday meals.
Lauren was hooked. “There is something magical about fermentation,” she says, “It’s a bit like baking, whereby you transform raw ingredients into something completely different.”
On their return to the UK, the couple saw a link with the One Planet Development scheme.
“The process of fermenting foods is very simple,” says Lauren “Equipment is basic and energy requirements are very low as the product is preserved by entirely natural processes. We can produce fermented food in a very low impact way. The business generates an income for us and ticks all the boxes for One Planet.”
Currently, they source organic vegetables as locally as possible and plan to grow their own in the near future on their 12-acre sustainable smallholding “It’s a huge challenge to transform a grazing field into a productive small holding,” says Phil, “But as we’ve been travelling for so long, we’re used to living simply.”
Their first year has been spent trying a range of markets, including local shops, farmers’ markets and food festivals. “We’ve been lucky,” says Lauren “The Archers on Radio 4 and noodle chain, Wagamamas, have raised the profile of fermented foods. Shops have been happy to stock us as we’re a local producer.”
Education is also part of the plan. “We are as keen to teach people as we are to sell to them,” says Lauren. The couple have delivered their first two workshops, with more in the pipeline.
Of their rapid success and in relation to growth, Lauren says “We already are where we want to be. By keeping our sales local and manageable, we’re able to maintain our way of life. If we were to go big, it would negate the reasons we began in the first place.” Phil adds, “It’s a question of redefining what success looks like. For us, it’s about enjoying the benefits of a sustainable lifestyle, producing good food for the local community and living from the land.”
For those starting up, Lauren advises, “We began almost as an experiment, with low costs and grew incrementally. Market research is vital. Figure out your prices to include your variable costs. Have an eye for detail and know what you want.” Phil says, “Get out there and talk to people. Once people trust you, they will buy your products. The truth is people sell products.” He adds, “And have fun.”