A formative experience of my newly independent adulthood was wandering around the Union Square farmers' market in New York City, which I happened to be able to walk to from my apartment - a luxury that I was peripherally aware of at the time, and which will remain a highlight of my nostalgia for both city living and being a twenty-something. In my wanderings, I often picked up a jar of Beth's Farm Kitchen raspberry jam, bright with the flavor of real fruit, sweetened only as necessary and not in excess. Beth is a fixture in the local food movement, and if you're sad to hear the news that she is moving on from her business, you might be equally excited to learn that Beth's Farm Kitchen is seeking a new owner.
When did you know that you wanted to work in food?
My mom's family were farmers in Ireland and Dad had Southern Illinois farm roots. My gravitational pull to the farmer's market was instinctive and strong. Food has always been a factor in my world. I'm the 2nd oldest of a large family where cooking and dish washing was a daily event; at 16 my first job was working in the hospital coffee shop, then in college I majored in "Home Ec" (yes, that was a thing). I did work in retail for Sears, but I got started with my own business as a caterer in New York City in the 1970's.
How did you get your current good food job?
Beth's Farm Kitchen began because of a tax loophole closing. My catering business slowed down after the IRS rule changes eliminated the 3 martini lunch! As a caterer with strong ties to the Greenmarket when it first it began in 1976, I saw an opportunity to start a Jam and Chutney company using the local farmers' fruits. I knew farmers, had a house in the country, and I loved the idea of fresh and local. So I applied to Greenmarket and away we went! More than thirty years later, Beth's Farm Kitchen Jams and Chutneys are in many people's refrigerators. I have watched many kids grow up and have kids of their own while selling at the Union Square Greenmarket.
How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?
I had many influences; but one that may surprise you is my stint at Sears, working on the catalog. Copywriting and photography will always be just another hat that the passionate chef or food producer wears.
What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?
Why keep going when not everything is rosey? First of all I love to cook. I also loved the excitement of being in the forefront of The Local Food Movement. I started before it was even called a movement. I've met and worked with many amazing chefs. Beth's Farm Kitchen was noticed by Mario Batali. He bought pickles from us and served them to April Bloomfield. All that fun and excitement had a backside. Finances were never easy for my small company. There was not a lot of money around to nurture small food businesses - Brooklyn had not happened yet.
Name one positive thing that a former employer taught you that you continue to appreciate?
Mentors are not always aware that they are mentors. Giorgio DeLuca taught me to how to make risotto. Mario Batali introduced me to April Bloomfield, Liz Neumark started me co-packing. There are more in my life, but what they all taught me was to be generous with my time and knowledge. I am following their examples.
What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?
Do not let the bloom go off the peach. We worked hard to get to this stage of local, sustainable, organic, low carbon footprint, artisanal, small batch. We must continually remind people that FARMs mean Food. We must buy from farms in order to have Good Food for All of us; restaurants, bodegas, schools, hospitals, food desserts, fast food joints, everywhere.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?
I do not see that working with "REAL" food will ever bring great wealth but it is satisfying to "cause" delicious food.