It’s a snowy day in Hillsborough but the Two Chicks Farm kitchen is ablaze with activity as co-owners Audrey Lin and Debbie Donnald search for the next great pickle, relish or slaw to pack into their jars. Steel counters equipped with scales, strainers and scoops set the stage for their culinary discovery.
Faced with layoffs during the recession, Debbie and Audrey left the corporate sphere to start their own farming business in 2009. The duo originally sold fresh veggies but changed their offerings to keep up with the growing popularity of their jarred, fermented products. Today, they advertise flavored krauts, pepper jellies and kimchis along with some seasonal specialties. Debbie and Audrey spend half of their time harvesting ingredients on their 10-acre farm and the other half processing them in a spacious kitchen they moved into last July.
Debbie and Audrey employ a “farm to jar” business approach, opting to grow most of their own ingredients.
“Everything we grow, we use in the jars,” explains Audrey. “It’s nice because we can pick varieties and choose what we want. We don’t have to settle for anything.”
Their emphasis on local ingredients speaks to a wider commitment to sustainable food production.
“For us, [being sustainable] is part of our value system. We try to take care of the land and take care of the earth as much as we possibly can. We’re not looking to be millionaires – we’re just looking to produce a good product that people will enjoy locally,” says Audrey.
With this dedication to locally grown ingredients comes an inherent obstacle: batches that are entirely dependent on harvest size. Debbie and Audrey have found that farmers’ markets moderate production concerns, for market-goers accept when Two Chicks runs low on cucumbers, peppers or the like. They often attend markets equipped with their newest creations and ask the public to weigh in on what works and what doesn’t.
“People going to farmers’ markets get more variety,” says Debbie. “We can make smaller batches and people understand if things run out.”
Two Chicks is defined in its limitations. Western North Carolina is the furthest you’ll be able to get hold of a jar of their signature krauts and slaws and Debbie and Audrey intend to keep it that way. They were only narrowly convinced to start selling in Asheville after a customer moved there and asked if she could buy the product for her new home in the mountains.
“Fermented foods, by nature, aren’t meant to be shipped all over the country,” asserts Audrey. “They’re better local.”
The components of a Two Chicks jars are often modest – their sauerkraut is just cabbage and a bit of salt while their pepper jelly is mostly sweet peppers. This simplicity translates to a flavorful product that often surprises first-time tasters.
“People try it and say, ‘oh wow – this isn’t the sauerkraut that my mom used to make me eat,’” jokes Debbie.
When asked to give a pairing suggestion for their signature kraut, Debbie was hard pressed to settle on just one. She named mashed potatoes, eggs and grits as welcome counterparts to the kraut’s cool crunch. Keep an eye out for Two Chicks’ jars at the co-op and get those mashed potatoes ready.