Growing a Local Food Economy with Lucille’s Kitchen Garden

Zoie and Amy Glass started their business for their family. They wanted to spend more time with their daughter. They both were raised by farm families — Zoie’s parents were 70s-era back to the landers; Amy’s were long-time farmers in Appleton MN. Zoie said, “It was normal for me, growing up, to see both my parents. We were working, but we were spending time together.” They wanted to create a way for themselves and their daughter, Lucille, to support a livelihood that let them spend time together as a family. They were already famous among their friends for their high quality, locally sourced jam, which they gave away as gifts. A friend who was particularly impressed with their product connected them with a stall at the Mill City Farmers Market. On their second day at the market, they were discovered by a writer from the Star Tribune, which gave them the leg up they needed to get going, and Lucille’s Kitchen Garden was born.

On the day I visited, they had planned to show me their jam production. Due to a record week in which they made, packaged, and labeled over 1000 jars of jam, they were out of several key ingredients by Friday. I sat down with Zoie, Amy, and Lucille to talk about what Lucille’s Kitchen Garden means for their family and the local food economy.

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Lucille’s Kitchen Garden makes an array of innovative, bold jams and jellies. The products are seasonal and the business sells their jam directly to grocery stores instead of maintaining a large inventory. They make a variety of pepper-fruit jams, savory jams, wine and mead jellies, and a strawberry verjus jam. They source their wine and mead from Winehaven, another local, family owned business. Their produce comes from a variety of sources with a priority on local and fresh foods. They do a lot of shopping at farmers markets, working to buy and freeze things like peppers when they are at their peak, which means they are at their best and their cheapest. Amy’s family in Appleton provides the apples for their fall apple butters and jellies. Amy said that her parents will come home from church some Sundays to find bags full of produce neighbors have left for them to send to the jam kitchen in the Twin Cities.

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In the process of starting up their business, they navigated many of the challenges around marketing, selling to grocery stores, licensing and insurance, and more (what’s  UPC label?). Zoie, along with her business partner Chad Gillard, founded Midwest Pantry to provide a middle path for local, value-added food producers who are wary of the high margins distributors can take, but don’t want to go it completely alone. Thirty-six artisan producers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana now belong to Midwest Pantry. Midwest Pantry provides some technical support on things like marketing and serves as an aggregated shipping point for Twin Cities-based businesses in order to keep overhead low. Artisans are connected with buyers from grocery stores and other vendors through the Midwest Pantry website and their semi-annual Local Food and Gifts Show. Zoie was inspired by her experience going to a similar show in California, which cost thousands of dollars, in order to connect with Midwestern buyers, and saying to herself, “Gee, couldn’t we do this at home?” This fall’s Local Food and Gifts Show will be held on August 10 at the Grain Belt Bottling House in Northeast Minneapolis.

Through Midwest Pantry, Zoie seeks to help other producers build the same sort of life for themselves that she and Amy have been able to create. One of the most important features of owning their own family business is being in charge of how they spend their time. Amy talked about working very hard to do a week of work in four days so the family can spend a long weekend with her mother. The November and December holiday rush is intense, but it means they can take off in January to go ice fishing. They can operate their lives at a pace that makes sense for them, instead of some external requirement. They would like to hire another employee someday, but only when they are able to provide an employee with the same care and flexibility they are able to offer themselves. “We’ll always make the jelly,” said Amy.

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The jam is made entirely from scratch. Zoie cooks up each batch, the whole family is involved in the jarring process (which involves screwing on each lid by hand), and Amy puts the labels on the jars. Amy estimated that each jar is handled 10 times before it goes out. “There’s a lot of love in this jam,” she said. The jam business gives them new ways to connect. They are known as “the jam ladies” at Lucille’s school and Amy brings samples of new flavors to the other parents to get feedback. Lucille has been able to use the skills she’s gained helping out in the kitchen and selling at the Mill City Farmers Market. She’s currently on the student council at her school, which her parents partially credit to her comfort with public speaking gained from selling at the farmers market.

Lucille’s Kitchen Gardens supports this family of three, provides opportunities for connection with their extended family and friends, supports other local businesses, and makes some very good jam. Lucille’s Kitchen Garden products are available and labeled P6 at Seward Co-op and Eastside Co-op in Minneapolis. They can be found at a variety of locations throughout the Midwest.

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