I might have the best job ever. I’m the Local Forager for Whole Foods Market®’s stores in Northern California & Reno. That means I travel all over one of the most diverse culinary regions of the country in search of new flavors. When I find the good stuff, I help get it on our shelves.Most people want to know, “How did you land that gig?”
Well, I got started in food in 2000 when I moved my family to a small Victorian seaport in Port Townsend, Washington. I took a job with a local farmers’ market and worked as a Food & Farm Coordinator for Washington State University Extension. I realized I had a knack for helping small businesses grow. Over the next few years, the Port Townsend Farmers Market became one of the fastest-growing community markets in the country. I loved it there, but I knew I wanted to come to the Bay Area. When I saw an opportunity at Whole Foods Market, I went for it.
The second thing people want to know is, “What are you looking for when you’re out foraging?”
Most of the time I’m drawn to the people behind the product. Of course, whatever they’re making has to be killer, too. Once I’ve found something delicious and interesting, I meet with our buyers to figure out how to bring it in. Some producers are ready to go from day one, but others need a little help with things like packaging or ingredient sourcing. Helping people at this stage is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.
We also have a unique service called the Local Producer Loan Program (LPLP). Through this program, we’re able to offer low-interest loans to small-scale producers. We direct resources to folks who have the vision to make truly great products, so they can scale up without sacrificing quality.
St. Benoît Creamery is a prime example of the LPLP in action. Owner Benoît de Korsak churns French-style organic yogurt and rich organic milk. Their Jersey cows graze on lush, open pastures every day, and all the fruit used in their small-batch yogurt is sourced within 100 miles of the dairy.
Their first loan paid for the remodel of an old milking parlor into a full production creamery, and their second was used to launch their Jersey milk operation. The milk is topped with a layer of cream, and it’s outrageously good. The Local Producer Loan Program has allowed Benoît to nearly triple his production, hire more people and expand his offerings to more Whole Foods Market many of our stores all over the nation.
Another success story is Three Twins Ice Cream. Founder Neal Gottlieb started selling ice cream at the Berkeley farmers’ market out of an old freezer in 2005. From day one his ice cream was pretty awesome. It’s made with real cream, real eggs and is sweetened with evaporated cane juice.Seven years later, with help from our Local Producer Loan Program and other financiers, he built a 4,200 square feet ice cream facility in Petaluma, CA and went national with Whole Foods Market. Prior to that, every pint of their ice cream was mixed, packed and labeled by hand. The new facility allowed him to ramp up his production without losing any quality, and you can now find Three Twins Ice Cream in nearly all of our stores.
To me, local is about fostering community and bringing people together to celebrate local food and farms. The Local Forager program helps build those connections and strengthen our local food system. All in all, I’d say it’s a pretty cool gig.
Visit Harvindar's forager Facebook page for more foraging adventures!
Do you have a favorite local product? Tell us all about it in the comments below, and we’ll get foraging!