Zoie Glass has been in a jam most of her life.
As a kid, she helped her mom, sisters and aunts with the vast harvest from their three-acre garden near Fergus Falls, Minn., and turned it into sweet and savory preserves.
“Picking berries and pulling up garlic was the hard work,” she said. “Making jams and jellies is fun.”
She turned that fun into a livelihood when she and her wife, Amy, founded Lucille’s Kitchen Garden, named for their 14-year-old daughter. They had already created demand among their family members and friends, who relished their sweet and savory condiments as gifts.
In 2007, they began selling Lucille’s jams and jellies from a booth at the Mill City Farmers Market. Today, the St. Paul-based business produces more than 1,000 jars a week that are available in nearly 50 stores throughout Minnesota and neighboring states.
The array of innovative, boldly flavored products includes several different pepper-fruit jams, garlic jam, strawberry verjus jam, and wine and mead jellies. They all make wonderful additions to a cheese plate, a lovely glaze on roast chicken, and are delicious on sandwiches. The sweet and spicy ginger pear jam is particularly good in a tartlet or on vanilla ice cream.
Glass sources the wine and mead from Winehaven, another local, family-owned business, and the produce comes from several nearby farms. Through the growing season, she shops at farmers markets for ingredients needed in her seasonal products, and she buys berries and peppers at their peak to freeze and use throughout the year. In the fall, Amy’s family in Appleton, Wis., provides the apples for Lucille’s apple butters and jellies.
The products are all made from scratch. Glass cooks each batch herself, and then Amy and Lucille join in the jarring process (screwing on each lid by hand), boxing and getting the jars ready to ship.
In the early stages of starting their business, the Glasses navigated the challenges of marketing, grocery store sales, licensing and insurance themselves. They decided to share their hard-won knowledge and partnered with Chad Gillard to create Midwest Pantry. This resource for food entrepreneurs provides networking, mentoring and educational opportunities, all posted on the Midwest Pantry website.
Courses include ones on raising capital, understanding wholesale pricing, creating booth design and merchandising, and are offered in collaboration with the MN Cup, through the University of Minnesota’s Carlton School of Business. Midwest Pantry sponsors semiannual trade shows and a retail holiday market to give other small, local producers a direct path to retail distribution that avoids the high margins that distributors charge.
About $5 for 1.5 ounce jars. For more information, visit lucilleskitchengarden.com, midwestpantry.com and carlsonschool.umn.edu/mn-cup.
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