The Cultivation of Local Sprouts

Picture of  Jonah Fertig, cooperative owner and co-founder of Local Sprouts Cooperative
Mission Statement of the Local Sprouts Cooperative:
“Local Sprouts focuses on using local and organic ingredients to build connections to our community, to grow sustainably, to support Maine farmers, to protect our environment and to build our local economy. We are a worker-owned cooperative that believes in creating a democratic and equitable business to serve our workers and our community.”
I must admit, the idealist in me was really excited to hear about the existence of the Local Sprouts Cooperative in Portland, Maine. In a nutshell, the mission of Local Sprouts is to provide the community with access to quality local food, while at the same time, serve as a positive example of an alternative business model where workers have ownership in the business. Currently, there are just three worker-owners and numerous volunteers. Worker-owners are able to participate in this business model after a 3-month review and are given the option of joining the cooperative after 6 months with a modest investment, work-trade or a combination of the two.
Local Sprouts is the first Community Supported Kitchen in Maine, and their business model is based on San Francisco’s successful Community Supported Kitchen Three Stone Hearth. As a worker-owned business, Local Sprouts also reminds me of many of the worker-owned cafe collectives in Portland, Oregon, such as the Red and Black Cafe, and the now defunct Back to Back Cafe and Redwing Coffee and Baking. Upon a recent visit, I had the opportunity to speak with cooperative owner and co-founder Jonah Fertig about the evolution of the Local Sprouts Cooperative.
In its early stages, the cooperative didn’t have a cafe space, but they did have a certified kitchen and did catering for area nonprofits and served as a community supported kitchen where members of the community were invited to invest $100 and were give $110 credit to order from rotating weekly menus. Member were able to order online and do pickups at the Public Market House.The cooperative used the pre-order system for about a year and a half, before they decided to open a cafe. Jonah Fertig said, “It’s about how to develop and support your community. What does your community want?” Apparently the community wanted a cafe.

Fertig talked at length about the outpouring of volunteer efforts from the community to create the space, boasting that over 200+ volunteers participated in the build-out of the cafe–and it shows. The cafe itself is beautifully designed. Clearly, a lot of attention went into creating this cheerful and inviting space, and there are many  artful touches–from the mosaic of a tree at the entrance to the handsome hand-crafted wooden furniture that still maintains the integrity of being a tree. The space has a very organic feeling. Fertig explains that the majority of capital for the creation of the cafe was raised from private donations, CSK memberships and local low-interest loans.
Now, the cafe has a menu with something for everyone, pleasing herbivores, omnivores and carnivores alike. Fertig claims that as much as 80-90% of the food is locally-sourced and the cafe uses food from many area-farms and the business strives to support local agricultural and conservation efforts in the region. Some businesses Local Sprouts supports include Turkey Hill Farm, Freedom Farm, Fishbowl Farm, Kate’s Butter and Mainely Poultry to name a few that were listed on the cooperative’s website.
The cooperative has a strong history of providing food for events and working with area nonprofits by either donating or offering discounted food when possible. Fertig explains that Local Sprouts is interested in being a resource for area school and nonprofits. The cooperative also offers classes and teaches people to cook using local food to increase awareness about local food.
Fertig also talked about the inspiration for a community space and the desire to serve as positive cooperative business model for the community. Fertig explained, “the cooperative wants to demonstrate a different system, where food is localized and people can make a real difference on a global scale.”
As a native of Maine, I can’t help but be intrigued by how the food culture in Maine has evolved in the past 10 years. My memories of food from childhood consist of lots of haddock chowder, fried seafood and french fries, and sweets galore including blueberry pie, whoopie pies, strawberry shortcake, no-bake cookies, ice cream and fudge. Now, cities like Portland, Maine are rolling with the times, connecting people to healthy local, regional and organic food. The importance of buying food from your own region has become crucial. So do yourself a favor by eating better and supporting your community. The Local Sprouts Cooperative is just one business in Portland, Maine that is doing just that. The food system is circular and by supporting businesses that support local food the money stays in the community and supports the local economy.

Community Supported Kitchens and Public Demand

“Peasant food has been the smartest, thriftiest, and most nourishing food available to us. Simple, seasonal, and regional foods are what we are meant to live on.”
Tressa Yellig
chef and proprietor of Community Supported Kitchen (CSK), Salt, Fire and Time

The local food culture in Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon has a thriving local food culture. It’s no wonder, with a 12-month grow season and some of the most fertile soil in the country. Local farmers benefit from the supply and demand created by the general public. Renegade chefs are flocking in droves to the Willamette Valley, to be part of a food revolution that offers quality ingredients to the local consumer. With a variety of purveyors to choose from, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Portland Farmers Market offerings abound, providing chefs with the raw materials to support a population of people who are demanding local, seasonal and organic food.
It is the existence of this local food culture and the support of the regional agricultural system that drew local chef and proprietor of Community Supported Kitchen (CSK), Salt, Fire and Time to the area. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Tressa Yellig about community supported kitchens, how she got her start and why people should be supporting the four CSK’s that are in existence.
CSK defined
Yellig explains, the technical definition of community supported kitchen is, “a community scale model for food preparation” and that this is the only common link between the four community supported kitchens that exist in the United States today. As sole proprietor of Salt, Fire and Time, with a handful of volunteers, Yellig has her hands full cooking nutrient-rich food for 30+ families, teaching classes, and hosting events, not to mention the recent addition of a low-key cafe that is volunteer-run. The cafe offers a small selection of simple, traditionally-prepared foods that nourish. Think of a plate with dense bread and homemade butter, flavorful sauerkraut with texture and an egg made your way and you have the idea.
Yellig’s influences, and how she got her start as a chef
Yellig credits her grandmother, who was a traditional German chef, as among her first culinary influences. Yellig claims that it was not a participatory process in the kitchen, as her grandmother maintained secrecy, and did not divulge trade-secrets, as family recipes were a prized possession. Yellig also credits her uncle, who was a farmer, as a significant influence.
Although Yellig acknowledges her family experience as playing a significant role in the development of her food philosophy, she also comments on the process of educating herself, acknowledging the Slow Foods movement and the Weston A. Price Foundation, as fundamental sources of information, and Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook.
In New York, Yellig complemented her self-education by working for herbalists and attending the Natural Gourmet Institute. Yellig explains that she had the desire to do work that was healing, and at one point, thought about becoming a naturopathic doctor before attending the Natural Gourmet Institute.
Although the Natural Gourmet Institute, in some ways, formalized her education as a chef, Yellig recognized that she really had already learned the fundamentals of cooking well before she attended this school, and credits her personal experiences, mentors and the learning that she did on her own, as being a substantial part of her education. The Natural Gourmet Institute provided her with some valuable contacts and the opportunity to intern at Three Stone Hearth and work with Natural Gourmet Institute alumni and mentor, Jessica Prentice.
In the trenches
From New York, Yellig headed west to do an internship with Three Stone Hearth, a community supported kitchen in Berkley, California, and the first of its kind. Positively influenced by the Full Moon feast series, established by Jessica Prentice, Yellig was able to learn by watching and participating in a large scale operation that provided feasts for 50 to 100 people at a time. The labor was volunteer-based, and the business model supported 5 worker-owners full time. Yellig explained that the start-up money for this business was established with private donation-based funding and the great success of this business was in the excellent reputation of the worker-owners, and the community-based resources the chefs were able to access. According to Yellig, this cooperative was not only able to pay back $100,000 of borrowed money but able to pay themselves a salary within 1 year’s time, which is incredible for any business in their first year.
From here, Yellig went on to do formal paid work as an Executive Chef in Mendocino, leaving her volunteer kitchen manager position with Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley. As Executive Chef for this restaurant, community-minded Yellig worked with local purveyors and farmers to create meals for the public. These connections in the community led her to become the manager of the local farmers market and to become better connected with the agricultural community.
All points head north
From California, Yellig witnessed the migration of great chefs as they ran to the promised land. As a smaller city, with an already thriving food scene, Portland became popular. Access to local food, was a public demand. In similar fashion, Yellig chose Portland to be the location of Salt, Fire and Time because of the already established community support, and existing scene that was largely supported by the public. Yellig also noted the lower cost of living and the lack of taxation as being incentives to move.
Existing Community Supported Kitchens

To sustain CSK’s as a movement, the public will have to be involved. Yellig invites the consumer to participate in the “life cycle of the business” by supporting 1 of the 4 CSK’s in existence, and to engage in a community movement. If you want to get to know know Salt, Fire and Time stop by the kitchen and make yourself known.
Check out a CSK near you:
Salt, Fire and Time (Portland, OR)
Sweet Deliverance(New York, NY)
Three Stone Hearth (Berkeley, CA)
Some reasons why you should support your local CSK
The food purchased through a CSK is often the best use for your “eating out” food dollars.
The food purchased through a CSK is nutrient-rich, meaning, you are getting your vitamins and minerals, without using a supplement.
The food purchased through a CSK is traditional, and good for what ails you. Just ask your Grandmother, who had the right idea by placing sauerkraut beside the sausage on your plate.
The food purchased through a CSK is local, seasonal, and organic, thus it supports regional agriculture, the systems of the body as well as your local community.
The food purchased through a CSK supports your own good health and that of your family.
The food purchased through a CSK saves you time, which benefits the working public.
The food purchased through a CSK saves you money. As businesses, CSK’s benefit from wholesale discounts; a soup that would cost $34 dollars to make at home, only costs you $16 from a CSK. Your food dollars go into long term food costs, with better quality ingredients that would cost you 2x’s as much in the store.
And last but not least, the food purchased through a CSK allows you the opportunity to support revolutionary changes that are occurring in regard to food culture. As a consumer, you are demanding a higher quality product, thus making other food providers stand up and take notice, and supply the same quality ingredients. The principles of supply and demand are simple: as a consumer, if you demand high quality health-supporting food, you will get it, and at a cheaper price, because of the competitive market we live in.