December 12, 2012

Natural Foodie: Eat local all winter? That's a big CAN DO

A Bangor woman is building her own preservation society, working with farmers to provide Maine-produced canned goods through the cold, dark months.

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Cheryl Wixson is a businesswoman on a mission.

click image to enlarge

Cheryl Wixson works in the kitchen of her Bangor home to produce hand-crafted prepared foods, such as pasta sauce, applesauce, ketchup, relish, jam, etc., in small batches using all Maine ingredients.

Photo by Michael C. York

Laurel Wixson
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Cheryl Wixson’s daughter Laurel in what used to be the living room.

Michael C. York

Additional Photos Below

CHERYL WIXSON'S KITCHEN

WHAT: Offers a winter CSA of canned Maine-grown foods, including pasta sauces, condiments, pickles, jams and applesauces

COST: $300 six-month subscription; $250 five-month subscription in Portland; $325 mail-order subscription in Maine

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE: Visit cherylwixsonskitchen.com and click on Where to Buy>Purchase a Share, or call 947-0892.

After just one year, Wixson has a growing company that offers a unique way for Mainers to eat locally-grown food in the winter.

"My goal is to help the farmer get the best price and help the customer eat local all year," said Wixson, who founded the prepared food company Cheryl Wixson's Kitchen with her husband, Phil, last year. "I want to help Maine farmers and feed Maine people. I call this an economic development strategy for the state."

The company, with a test kitchen in Bangor and production facilities at Coastal Farms Food Processing in Belfast, buys vegetables and fruits from farmers, cans them and sells the resulting products to subscribers in the winter months. Many of the products feature organically-grown produce. A recent addition to the product line includes cake and bread mixes using Maine-milled flours.

"The products are very versatile," said Patricia Bixel of Bangor, who began subscribing last year. "They can be used with a lot of different main courses. It's very easy for them to be vegetarian or be applied to meat or fish. And just in case you can't figure it out, she always gives you recipes each month."

 

EVERY MONTH during the winter, subscribers pick up a box filled with nine products.

Customers can elect to go with that month's standard selection, or they can swap five of the products for other offerings. All subscribers receive four limited edition products being test-marketed that month.

In December, the limited edition products are cranberry chutney, chili dill spears, Maine orchard juice and black bean salsa. In addition, subscribers can opt to receive the Genovese basil pasta and pizza sauce, puttanesca pasta and pizza sauce, Jack's organic ketchup, strawberry rhubarb jam and Liberty applesauce, or substitute other products instead.

So far, Emily's taco salsa has proven to be the most popular offering, with organic Maine cranberry ketchup a close second.

The company's current line-up includes 32 products, and some of them are also sold at local markets and health food stores. All the products are vegan, and many of them are gluten-free.

"It is things that I would have bought in jars anyways," said Nichi Farnham of Bangor, who started subscribing last year. "It's like Christmas every time you get an email that a box is ready. I can't wait to see what's in the boxes."

A six-month subscription costs $300, a five-month subscription in Portland (which is a newly added drop-off spot) costs $250, and a mail order subscription in Maine costs $325.

Using the same CSA model employed by small farmers gives Cheryl Wixson's Kitchen the cash to buy from farmers during the growing season.

Last year, the company sold shares to 48 subscribers. This year, that number jumped to 69, with 30 shares reserved for the newly added drop-off spot at Rosemont Market's store on Brighton Avenue in Portland.

Wixson hopes to increase her customer base to 200 next year, which she feels is the maximum number the company can handle and retain its hands-on touch.

"We don't want to have a factory," Wixson said. "We don't want to sell to Boston or New York."

Even though larger metropolitan markets would be more lucrative, the company remains focused on helping local people eat food grown in Maine.

Chris Hallweaver, who is the general manager of the Northern Girl root vegetable processing company in Aroostook County, anticipates the creation of more Maine food processing businesses in the coming years to meet the growing demand for local food. He said the key to their success will be finding niches to fill.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

Damien Brooks
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Kitchen apprentice Damien Brooks processes applesauce at Cheryl Wixson’s Kitchen.

Michael C. York

Phil McFarland
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Cheryl Wixson’s husband Phil labels jars of applesauce. Last year, he labeled 10,000 jars of Cheryl Wixson’s Kitchen foods; this year, the output is 30,000 jars.

Michael C. York

applesauce
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Applesauce cools on a side-board in what was the pantry of the Wixson home.

Michael C.York

Cranberry Ketchup
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Cranberry ketchup is among the hand-crafted prepared foods Cheryl Wixson makes in her Bangor home.

Michael C. York

Cheryl Wixson
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Cheryl Wixson in the kitchen of her Bangor home, which has been transformed into the headquarters of her company that produces hand-crafted prepared foods such as pasta sauce, applesauce, ketchup, relish and jams in small batches using all Maine ingredients.

Michael C. York

 


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