Local Hero Profile: Relish the Harvest
By Diana Laurenitis, CISA Intern
Published in CISA’s December 2017 E-Newsletter – Sign Up Here!
Relish the Harvest, a Chicopee-based specialty food producer founded by Jessica Wisniewski in 2010, began with a Wisniewski family staple: sweet zucchini relish. During the summers of Jessica’s childhood, her family would harvest the abundant produce from their garden in Sunderland and preserve the fresh summer flavors through canning. After studying chemistry in college, she spent two summers working in the Cains Pickles packing factory in South Deerfield, followed by other jobs involving quality assurance with other food companies such as Breyers. Working in these positions, she learned about the laws governing commercial food products, which proved to be crucial when she decided to start her own specialty food company. Beginning with her mother’s original recipe, she has since added three additional recipes to the mix. Her products capture the freshest taste possible from vegetables picked at their peak, from the end of July to the end of September.
The recipe for zucchini relish that originally started the business calls for fresh zucchini, onions, and green and red peppers, all grown right here in the Valley. Jessica then adds a combination of vinegar, spices, turmeric, sugar, and salt to the mix. Since vegetables make up most of the recipe (unlike some other store-bought relishes, Relish the Harvest contains no added binders and fillers), 90% of the of the finished product is fresh, local vegetables. She used to grow the vegetables herself, supplementing here and there with produce from other local farmers, but as Relish the Harvest has grown she has transitioned to purchasing all her produce from local farms to focus on making the best product possible.
Jessica has slowly introduced three new products to her company line: Sweet Hot Relish, Hot Pepper Spread, and No Sugar Added Zucchini Spread. The No Sugar variety does not include any substitute sweeteners for the sugar, opting instead to focus on herbal flavors like dill. Jessica often hears from customers that they appreciate how fresh her products taste, and that they are happy she provides even healthier and purer products than similar products found at the grocery store. One of the biggest rewards for her is getting this positive, direct feedback from her customers.
Relish the Harvest is both a supporter of and a direct part of the local food movement; access to fresh local produce is crucial to the quality of Jessica’s product, and as a local food producer she relies on customers’ enthusiasm for local food. The seasonal availability of local produce can be challenging for a business producing and selling relish all year round, but the quality of local veggies and the strength of the relationships between local producers make those challenges worth the effort. When she is not focusing on her company, Jessica is spending time with her family. Her husband has been supportive of her business from the start, and her young children like her products, even bringing them to school in their lunchboxes. If you want to give Relish the Harvest a try, all of Jessica’s products are available online at www.relishtheharvest.com. She also sells to seven local Big Y’s, seven Whole Foods, and local stores like Atlas Farmstand.