Fermentation 101: Culture, Kombucha, and the Digestive Ecosystem

 You’ve always been told to trust your gut.  But in the last 50 years, it is obvious America has seen a rise in digestive health issues, from colitis to Crohn’s disease and irritable bowl syndrome (IBS).  Many of these digestive issues can improve with the introduction of cultured, or live, probiotic-rich fermented foods.  The 2nd Annual Fermentation Festival aims to reintroduce consumers to the very roots of food, educating them on traditional methods of fermenting and preserving foods for peak health.  From kraut to kombucha, the festival will showcase foods that our ancestors thrived on.

The event is sponsored by the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit educational organization that is dedicated to clean, pure diets – from pasture-raised eggs to raw milk and healthy fats.  Nutrient dense, fermented foods are a key component of the Weston A. Price dietary guidelines.  Fermentation makes the nutrients in food more ‘bio-available,’ and thereby more easily assimilated by the body. Katie Falbo, co-leader of the WAPF SB Chapter and festival founder, struggled for many years with her own digestive issues.  One of the many ways she improved her health was by incorporating live, fermented foods into her diet.

“The Weston Price dietary principles helped me recover my own health and now I can share that knowledge with others,” said Falbo.  “The Fermentation Festival provides an outlet, a platform to exchange recipes, ideas, and create a community focused on healthful, delicious products.”

Inspired by the Freestone Fermentation Festival in Sonoma County, Falbo decided it was time the Central Coast had a fermentation festival of its own.  Realizing the wealth of local talent, the first festival in 2011 featured six local fermenters in a two-hour educational workshop.  This year, the event will expand into a four-hour community festival, set to include more than twenty local and regional fermenters.

Hannah Crum, The Kombucha Mamma, shows off her selection of home brewed kombucha

When looking for participants beyond the Santa Barbara community, Falbo turned to the LA-based fermenting club, Culture Club 101, where she discovered a whole world of fermented foodies.  From wild sourdough workshops to coconut kefir demonstrations, festival participants are encouraged to get their hands dirty while learning about the various health benefits of fermentation.

“I’m getting emailed every day about participating in the festival.  It’s reassuring that this long-lost traditional foods practice is being revitalized.  People are returning to fermentation – and they should.  Besides, it’s really fascinating to feed your sourdough starter, watch it grow, and then turn it into something as delicious as freshly baked sourdough bread,” said Falbo.

From ‘Do it Yourself’ (DIY) pickle stations to fermented side dishes and desserts, fresh produce is a key ingredient to the festival’s success.  When looking for a venue host Shepherd’s Farm was an easy choice.  A fifth-generation Santa Barbara resident, Shepherd is one of the forefathers of the local organic food movement.  Having hosted several farm-to-table events himself, Shepherd was happy to participate, donating all produce to the festival.  Shepherd’s farm is located on Highway 192 on forty acres sitting high above the Carpinteria Valley.

“We knew from the beginning the event needed to be outdoors, on a farm, and close to the earth.  Shepherd Farms was a perfect fit.  Since 1973, Tom Shepherd has committed himself to quality, organic farming.  He’s very appreciative that he gets to host the festival and showcase his livelihood.  We can’t take for granted our local farmers and the fruits of their labor,” said Falbo.  All profits made through food sales and raffles at this year’s event will go back to the farm.

Festival attendees learn about the health benefits of fermented food

Featured speakers will include Hannah Crum of Kombucha Kamp, who will explain how to navigate one’s “inner terroir” and the importance of cultivating our digestive ecosystem.  Mark McAfee, owner of Organic Pastures Dairy, will also be on site to discuss the benefits of fresh, raw, and cultured dairy.  From side dishes to dessert, the festival will showcase a wide range of fermented products, offering consumers the chance to taste, common, but also not-so-common foods – from fermented coconut sap to fermented sweet potatoes.  Local products and vendors will include fermented almond milk ice cream from Salt and Sugar Creamery, salt cured olives from Olivos Del Mar, soaked and sprouted nuts from Fat Uncle Farms, Liquid Chi Kombucha, Goodland Kitchen preserved lemons and others.

“I am so impressed with how many people in California are making, selling, and teaching about fermented foods.  While fermentation is a hobby, it is also a lifestyle,” reflected Falbo.  “It’s about having fun.  Just like people that like to bake, we like to ferment.  When you are relying on live cultures, you never really know the outcome.  It’s exciting – the best kind of science experiment,” said Falbo.

The 2nd Annual Fermentation Festival will be held Sunday, July 15th from 12-4pm at Tom Shepherd’s Farm.  This free event is located at 6701 Casitas Pass Road in Carpinteria.

For more information about this event, visit http://www.wapfsantabarbara.blogspot.com/

 -Rachel Hommel, LoaTree Team Writer 

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