Liverpool couple grow lockdown hobby into a nationwide business, giving a second life to waste food
1 year ago
A Liverpool couple who started experimenting with fermenting and giving jars to neighbours in lockdown have quit their jobs to grow their business and spread the word about the ancient food preserving technique.
Amy Yarker and Sam Watson are passionate about the process which lets them give a longer life to foodstuffs, including surplus or unsaleable produce that would otherwise go to waste.
Working with local farmers, producers and greengrocers, they use seasonal fruit and veg to make unique probiotic ferments like sauerkraut, salsa, kombucha and kimchi.
They’ve even created a coffee kombucha in collaboration with Neighbourhood Coffee, using leftover coffee grounds, and a Champagne cassis kombucha which uses Leaf tea.
Amy and Sam launched The Fermentation Station from their home in Aigburth and are now crowdfunding a move to a new custom-fit unit to meet demand from across the country for their gut-friendly fermented food and drinks.
They’re also keen to get out into communities to show more people how to do it at home so they can create healthy relishes and sauces, and cut down on their own food waste.
Since they started The Fermentation Station in November 2020 they’ve sold over 1000 jars of Bread & Butter Pickles, over 500 jars of traditional Kimchi, and 2000 bottles of kombucha. In September last year, they won the prestigious Great Taste Awards, getting star rankings for two of their best-sellers.
The pair say they’ve been surprised by how quickly their business has expanded, showing just how much interest there is out there for probiotic food and drink.
“It’s really taken over, at Christmas time we were so busy we physically just couldn’t make enough,” says Amy.
Amy was previously a patient consultant, mainly for the NHS, and Sam worked at Brewdog. It was their shared foodie passion which brought them to their business idea after they started trying out fermentation during the first lockdown.
“We’ve always made Christmas hampers for our family so we’d make different things, like Christmas cake, chutneys and jams and maybe spiced nuts and little Florentines and Sam would brew different types of beer.
“Throughout the year we’d get our jars back and then do it all again, and mix it up so people didn’t get the same thing. As time went on there was more in the press about fermentation and we became intrigued and started to experiment a bit more with that.
“When the pandemic hit, Sam ended up on furlough and we started to make more ferments and bigger batches because we had more time. There was a road What’s App group started up, so we could help each other out, and we mentioned the things we’d made and ended up dropping jars on doorsteps.
“Out of lockdown, we decided we were going to make a real go of it and before we knew it we had a whole brand and a concept.”
The couple, both in their 30s, made contacts with shops like The Bakery on Aigburth Road, Adam’s Apple greengrocers in Allerton and Claremont Farm in Wirral to source local ingredients.
“They’d say to us, ‘we can’t sell these, do you want to take them?’” says Amy. “For instance if Adam’s Apple have tomatoes that have got a bit bruised or a bit mushy, we can ferment them and they’re preserved and will last for months.
“We chop them up, add a very small amount of high-quality salt and that creates a natural brine. You leave it for a period of time, a bacteria forms that’s called lactobacillus which is good for your gut, and we make a different product out of things which people might see as waste.”
In addition to creating their relishes, dressings, chutneys and drinks, Amy and Sam work with businesses and communities to encourage waste awareness.
“Bars get so many limes delivered to their venues, and if they don’t use them all they could easily make their own lime cordial in-house that would stop them going in the bin and would save them money.
“If you’re doing a recipe and you only need two carrots, it can be cheaper to buy a bag – if we can educate people around fermentation they can be making their own sauerkraut at home with those extra carrots so they’re not wasted.
“It’s about starting to have those conversations because we don’t always get access to that information. We want to show people how to make different food choices and make different things with them, that’s why we run free workshops on fermentation at home for people who are maybe marginalized or in underprivileged areas.”
With a new site earmarked at The Matchworks in Speke, Amy and Sam have launched a crowdfunder, offering supporters rewards in return for their backing. They include bottles of the coffee kombucha and packs of beer with Black Lodge Brewery, as well as a Liverpool Foodie Picnic Tote Bag.
They intend to create The Fermentation Station community there, which they’ll open up as a co-working space.
“The TFS Kitchen will be a collaborative space, creating a home away from home, where members can sit with us at our kitchen table and watch us work our fermentation magic!”