For Colin and Kristin Franger it all started in a big blue bus.
When the couple met in Bend in 2007, Kristin had relocated to Oregon from Vermont to work in wilderness therapy programs for troubled youth, a field Colin was also interested in.
He also happened to be living in the blue Volkswagen van that has since graced their line of organic fermented foods they make in a small kitchen in Bingen and sell at multiple small grocery stores in the area and Portland along with the Gorge Grown Farmers Market in Hood River and at the White Salmon Farmers Market, which begins on July 1.
“For a while we’ve been part of the local food community. We started with a big garden in our backyard, which we still have and we just love food in general and the community that comes along with that. The farmers market is my favorite day of the week right now, just being there and seeing so many smiling people supporting others doing what they love is so exciting to me,” Colin said.
For a few years after first meeting, the Frangers adventured around in the blue bus, eventually moving to California for a short period of time, during which the pair lived in their blue beauty off and on while Colin finished a degree.
Then the urge to travel more extensively called. The bus was sold, and the Frangers sailed from central Oregon to Baja California, where they spent eight months kite boarding before returning to Colin’s home in Hood River in 2010.
“I think it was mostly about family and that Colin is from here and has ties here because we had no obligation to go anywhere, so we figured we might as well go where his family is,” Kristin said. “It’s a great town, great community, and there’s wind.”
Since their return, they’ve bought a house in White Salmon and started growing cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, and more on a half-acre up Snowden Road. After spending a year and a half searching for a kitchen, the Frangers set up their Blue Bus Cultured Foods operation in the kitchen that previously housed Solstice in Bingen and started producing sauerkraut and “kraut-chi,” a hybrid of sauerkraut and kimchi containing ginger, garlic, radishes, kohlrabi, carrots, chili peppers, onion, and, of course, cabbage.
Finding the perfect kitchen proved to be difficult, as creating fermented foods in ceramic crocks not only tends to take up space, but can also produce a pungent odor that some business owners might not want to share, as was the case when Blue Bus Cultured Foods briefly split a kitchen with Sweet Things by Julie.
“There’s a really distinct smell. I love it, but it’s not conducive to a storefront of any type, so that rules out kitchens in schools, churches, or any storefront cafes. The other factor for us is the amount of refrigeration space we need to have that a lot of certified kitchens you can rent just don’t offer,” Kristin said.
Once they found a permanent location for Blue Bus Cultured Foods, the Frangers put in a month of modifications to make the space work for them. Now containers holding garlic scapes and shredded cabbage rest on a table while a corner of the kitchen is dedicated to ceramic crocks full of sauerkraut in various stages of lactic acid fermentation, meaning the only bacteria used in the process occurs naturally on the skin of the vegetable.
While most of their knowledge of fermentation comes from a book called “Wild Fermentation,” Colin has also been brewing his own beer since he was 18 and worked as a brewer at Double Mountain for three years.
Typically the cabbage used in a 10-gallon batch of Blue Bus sauerkraut or kraut-chi will ferment for around three weeks, but Colin is experimenting to find the perfect period of fermentation time.
“The pH is really low, so it’s really acidic and it’s hard for anything other than the bacteria already in there to live in that environment,” Colin said.
For now, products by Blue Bus Cultured Foods are locally sourced and partially come from the Franger’s farm in Snowden. The couple hopes to use mostly the vegetables they grow in their sauerkraut, kraut-chi, and upcoming products once their farm matures over the summer.
The delectable shredded sour cabbage combinations aren’t the only thing the Frangers are serving up at the market, either. Thanks to Colin’s background in brewing, a crock dedicated to fermenting tea bubbles timidly through a thick layer of a SCOBY, or Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, in the Blue Bus kitchen among the sauerkraut crocks.
Don’t expect to find Blue Bus ginger kombucha or any of the other seasonal flavors they plan on making in the stores with the Franger’s other products, as Colin and Kristin will only be selling it at the farmers market straight from the tap.
“There are health benefits to eating fermented food, but that’s not the main purpose behind why we do it. I think the real reason we started this company is it tastes good and is good for you. We’re not out there like ‘our food is pro-biotic, come get your pro-biotics,’ it’s more like ‘this tastes really good, try it, you’re going to love it’ and it’s healthy,” Kristin said.