Recently, we sat down with Ben Hollander, owner of Casper Fermentables, to learn more about him, his products, and how partnering with Sustainable Food Center has helped his business along the way.
Casper Fermentables: Your Friendly Neighborhood Fermentation Business
Naomi Silverman, Development and Communications Manager
Tell us about your business, Casper Fermentables.
Casper Fermentables strives to make nourishing fermented foods for the community. Fermented foods have been important to human civilization and health for 15,000 years. I come from an Eastern European and Korean household, and fermented foods are integral to both cuisines.
I want to make it easy to eat fermented foods made from high-quality ingredients. I went to UT to study microbiology; I was interested in learning the science side because my mom only knew what we passed on through family knowledge. Now we can look at fermented foods from both angles – ancient knowledge passed on and a scientific lens.
How and why do you partner with Sustainable Food Center?
I rent the commercial kitchen. I am a vendor at the SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown. I teach classes. Most recently I am working with SFC to pass legislation that more accurately rules toward fermented foods and tries to get away from the idea that’s it’s a dangerous, mysterious thing.
SFC gives affordable opportunities for new small businesses and people outside the traditional business world to start and offer products to the community. People want choices and things that are honest, local, not corporatized. Having that space to do that and turn that vision to a reality is important.
A lot of people think a sustainable food system is just an ideology, but one of most attractive things about Austin is people are actively working on that here; it’s becoming less of ideology and more something that’s attainable.
How do your values as a business owner align with SFC’s values and mission?
The ethos of my business directly lines up with what SFC is trying to accomplish. From the get-go I knew this could be a long term partnership.
Fermented foods are all about sustainability and food security - in cold weather climates, it’s critical. One of my favorite things about fermentation is you can stock up on cheap vegetables like cabbage and can preserve and increase the nutritional content of it; fermentation is the only process that actually increases the nutritional content of vegetables. If you have a stash of that, you don’t have to stock up every week and can have nutritious foods for cheap.
Fermented foods also combat things like obesity and type two diabetes. A lot of diseases are associated with the gut microbiome, and when you incorporate fermented foods it’s the first defense. Every culture has a fermented food. That's always a point of relation for people regardless of what background they come from.
In college, I learned about the global food system, and I thought about ways I could make a difference. Fine dining helped popularize the farm to table movement, and knowing where your food comes from, but I thought I was going to make a difference through community engagement and selling consumer packaged goods.
The consumer packaged goods industry was lacking in honesty, integrity of ingredients, and authenticity. I work to get the cleanest, highest quality tea possible sourced direct trade from producers: the tea we get for kombucha is wild-harvested from 100+ year old trees.
My family got into brewing kombucha because we couldn’t afford it. I realized there are a ton of people out there who can’t buy it, so I want to empower people to make their own and incorporate fermented foods into their lives.
Tell us about being a vendor at the SFC Farmer’s Market Downtown.
The SFC Farmers’ Market Downtown is the local food institution in Austin with the deepest roots. It's an honor to be a part of. To be involved with a storied tradition like that means a lot to us. It helps us get our brand out there, and meet likeminded people in the community. It’s a practical way to grow the business, is a great networking space, full of great people that are passionate and curious about healthy and local food that are changing the food system for the better.
The farmers’ market has been our main outlet for PR and marketing and direct consumer engagement. Whether it's selling at the market or selling to people we met at the market, it’s added a new component to what we're doing. We're trying to connect local farms to other people, connect international communities, and food is the best thing to find connection over.
People might not shop at Hanyang market, but they might shop at the farmers' market and buy kimchi. We're the intermediary. Once they try the kimchi at the farmers market, they might try a family-run Korean restaurant.
What’s your experience been renting commercial kitchen space from SFC?
The SFC commercial kitchen is the most ideal setup. It’s spacious, clean, and accessible. I love sharing the space; it’s the direction we have to head as a community - working more together. Whether its food manufacturers working with farmers to create a planting schedule so they know what to grow or cooks having a space that’s affordable and accessible to create foods for the community - I think that’s really important.
This kitchen space was a game-changer; I don’t think I would have been able to start the business if I didn’t have it. I very much feel like this was an incubator for the first year or two of business and wouldn’t have been able to make it profitable without this kitchen space.
We tell people our kitchen is at SFC-people all over town know about SFC. There's this collective want for a more local and sustainable food system, and having a space like SFC is a physical beacon for this ideology.
What can we expect to see from you going forward, both in and out of SFC?
We want to get kombucha into more stores, bars, bottles, and kegs, we also want to grow the fermented vegetable side of the business and get them into more stores, places where people already go. We are thinking of more ways to do community engagement, free classes, cooking demos, and supper clubs - other chefs have talked to me about collaborating.
If anyone supports SFC, it’s cooks and chefs. Having spaces like this where a talented line cook could come cook a meal for people on their day off and showcase local culinary talent and local ingredients, that’s my dream for this place.
Is there anything people don't know about your products or business that you wish they knew?
The name: Casper Fermentables. It’s named after the ghost. Bacteria have a negative connotation, and we have to understand there are friendly bacteria that help us!
Want more of Casper Fermentables?
- Learn how to make your own kombucha and kimchi with Ben at Gone Wild: Kombucha, Kimchi and Probiotics on September 25th at SFC
- Check out Ben making kombucha cocktails on Fox 7 Good Day Austin
- Visit Casper Fermentables at the SFC Farmer’s Market Downtown, every Saturday 9am-1pm, rain or shine