Our local growers and producers have brought a sense of normalcy to summer 2020. It’s comforting to see familiar vans and pickup trucks in the Market parking lot, dropping off locally grown and made products, from berries and summer greens to coffees, breads, and jams.
But we recognize that there’s nothing “normal” about this year. Our farmers and producers are working harder than ever as they navigate their way through the Covid-19 crisis. Each of their stories is as unique as the products they offer. And more than ever, we are grateful for their hard work, resilience, and ingenuity.
Here is the first of many conversations we look forward to sharing with you this summer.
Q-and-A with Matt Brothers, co-owner of Kingdom Kombucha
Located in Sheffield, Vt.
Makers of small-batch craft kombucha with all organic and natural ingredients
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the history of your business?
A. Our business is totally family run. My wife and I arrived in Vermont about six years ago after living in Brazil where I was teaching. We were really impressed by the locavore culture in the Northeast Kingdom. I had heard about kombucha and started brewing it in our upstairs hallway. The biggest challenge then was keeping my three-year-old from tipping over the jars. Soon we began to participate in farmers’ markets. The feedback from people there really helped us to refine our product and process. As the business grew, I was able to transition from teaching to full-time kombucha brewing.
Q. What makes your product unique or special?
A. Our kombucha is really a small batch kombucha. As our business expanded, the natural next step seemed to be to brew larger batches, but we made the decision to keep the quality and taste of small batches by adding more small pots. Basically, we are brewing our kombucha like we were in our hallway back in the old days, just with many more pots. We really take the time to make the best, freshest beverage possible. For instance, our ginger kombucha is made by peeling, pasteurizing, and soaking the ginger in pots over time—pretty labor intensive, but worth it for the result. Also, we began brewing some of our kombuchas with maple syrup, which has been really exciting. Maple is an unprocessed sweetener with many health benefits, and by sourcing it locally we can help support our local economy.
Q. How would you describe your customer base?
A. Our customer base is really local to Vermont and New Hampshire. We have been focused on building relationships with customers and stores that appreciate local, fresh food. General stores, co-ops, and farm stands are central to our business.
Q. How has the Covid-19 crisis impacted your business?
A. Besides the loss of immediate business, the biggest impact of the pandemic had been the uncertainty going forward, which is something all local businesses are facing. We were just at the point of taking the next step of adding some employees, but that and other expansion plans are definitely on hold. We are selling less kombucha, but grateful to be in business still.
Q. What changes have you made to adapt to the current situation?
A. Basically, we are adapting to the situation by tightening our belts and re-assessing our plans for growth. We are also looking to expand our customer base, both locally and by expanding our distribution range. I think now more than ever, people want healthy, fresh foods—so going forward I am still optimistic.
Q. What is your experience as a business owner now compared to before the crisis?
A. There is always plenty of uncertainty as a small business owner, and that has definitely increased, but the main difference now is I have a greater appreciation for local businesses and the people who make those businesses work day to day—especially the grocery workers. It has been much more clear how interconnected we are in Vermont. I feel that people have really pulled together to help each other out, and I feel we are really lucky to be here during this challenging time.
Q. Has there been a “silver lining” in this crisis for you and/or your business?
A. The last few months have given us a lot of perspective on both business and life here in general. While plenty challenging, homeschooling two young kids and navigating the unknowns of our small business has ultimately made us appreciate how fortunate we are.
For more info: http://www.kingdomkombucha.com.