Green Hero of the Month–Dan Rosenberg and Addie Rose Holland – Growing Community

The Recorder, July 10, 2013. July 2013 Green Heroes– Real Pickles

Dan Rosenberg and Addie Rose Holland chuckle as they stand just inside the nearly empty 18×28 foot refrigeration room at their Wells St. pickling plant. It’s not usually this empty, Holland explains. Usually, it’s jam-packed to the ceiling with finished product and fresh vegetables waiting to be processed. But they’ve had a ‘pretty good year’, says Rosenberg. And this is their annual lull: they’re finishing packing and selling last year’s crop of fermented vegetables (‘we’ve sold out of most product,’ says Dan), the staff has just returned from its annual 1-month breather vacation, and the first of this year’s crop is due tomorrow.

When Rosenberg and Holland started Real Pickles in 2001, fermented pickles weren’t widely available commercially. The two hoped to reintroduce them to the American diet. “They’re healthy, they feel special, they’re a good way to preserve local vegetables through the winter,” said Holland. The two are also committed to a strong and resilient regional food system, and Real Pickles is based on those values. The company uses 100% organic produce, which it purchases from local farms, and it sells its products only within the northeast.

It’s an approach that’s worked. Since the company’s inception, its products have become increasingly popular. The first year, Rosenberg and Holland processed about 1,000 pounds of vegetables; this year, they expect to prepare about 250,000 pounds. Starting out, they rented early morning space in an Amherst restaurant. Now, with a staff of twelve, they process and store their pickles, beets, sauerkraut, and kvass in their own energy-efficient, solar-powered building.

This area, with its rich agricultural economy, is a great place to have a business like this, says Holland. She cites CISA’s work in supporting the local agriculture, and the help offered by the Franklin County Community Development Corporation, which provided them with processing facilities. The agricultural expertise in the Valley is really important to what we do, Holland says. “We work regularly with a network of 6 to 8 farmers. But inevitably crops fail, problems happen, and we’re calling around to try to find thousand pounds of this or three thousand pounds of that. Almost always we can find it, because there’s a lot of farms.”

Over the past year, the two have converted Real Pickles into a worker-owned co-operative. The new structure ensures, through its bylaws, that Real Pickles will continue its social mission, and they believe it will stabilize the company economically. “It makes Real Pickles less dependent on the two of us,” says Holland. “It engages more people. We’ve increased the diversity of skills. There are more people at Real Pickles who know more aspects of how to run the business than there used to be.”

For Rosenberg, a key part of the transition was staff involvement. “Staff members stepped forward we first brought up the idea. They were prepared to make the commitment to staying here long enough to make the transition succeed. There’s been five of us working together really closely for the last year and a half, it’s been a fantastic group.” And there’s already two more workers, he says, who’ve officially declared their interest in being worker-owners. It gives him good confidence that this will succeed.

The conversion process required raising $500,000 locally, which they were able to do in just two months. This, too, ties into their mission. “Everybody seemed very excited to have the opportunity locally,” said Rosenberg. The process interested him in community financing, and he’s now part of the steering committee of the Pioneer Valley Chapter of Slow Money, which links local folks with money to invest to local businesses seeking capital.

A decade in, Real Pickles is bigger now than its founders originally imagined. “It’s astonishing how many jars of pickles you have to produce to make the business economically viable,” marvels Rosenberg. But the company has held fast to its original mission. “And fortunately,” said Rosenberg, “Real Pickles still feels like a small business. It feels human scale, and that’s the key thing.”

For their steadfast commitment to sustainability and community, Dan Rosenberg and Addie Rose Holland are this month’s Green Heroes.