Aug. 6—KEENE — After years of struggling with Crohn's Disease, Small Town Cultures owner Cori Deans researched and found a natural alternative to her long list of medications: fermented foods.
"I was on these gnarly, immunosuppressant drugs, as well as antibiotics, as well as steroids — just this gnarly cocktail of never feeling great with all of these medications," Deans said.
"Basically the only thing they're looking for is to suppress your symptoms; they're not actually looking (out) for your actual health — it's just about making it so it's not so painful...I did that for a couple years in the medical cycle, and it just didn't work. Even if I didn't feel bad at the time, I was always scared to feel bad.
"That's no way to live."
After beginning the elimination diet — a diet consisting of starving out bad bacteria in her gut and replacing it with good bacteria like the ones that exist in fermented foods — Deans not only eliminated all of her symptoms but also her dependence on medication.
"So even though you're supposed to have Crohn's Disease your whole life, I don't feel like I do," she said.
And though the diet helped Deans, 41, turn her health around, the original foods weren't appetizing to her.
"When I did the elimination diet, I didn't like the foods I was eating, but I did it out of necessity," she said.
"Going forward, I started crafting my own recipes and making things that I enjoyed eating and that I looked forward to eating."
GET PRODUCT IN STORES
In order to share her recipes with more people who may benefit from them, Deans opened Small Town Cultures, a Keene-based business specializing in producing raw, probiotic-rich fermented foods, in 2018 — seven years after her Crohn's diagnosis.
"I was trying to buy the products I wanted and they just weren't available at the time at the stores," she said.
"I'm a very picky eater, so I started making my own products and I was like 'Well, I've got all of these products, I might as well see if I can sell them' and the business grew from there."
IN NATIONAL CHAINS
In just a few years of being in business, Small Town Cultures has made a big-time impact on the popularization of fermented foods around the country.
Today, their products are in 400 retail locations in the U.S., including almost 50 Whole Foods and 159 Fresh Market locations.
Locally, some jars, including fermented jalapenos and red onions, can be found for sale at North Country Food Co-Op in Plattsburgh.
STARTED IN NO.CO.
But it all started in Keene.
"I brought some samples into Cedar Run, our local, specialty market grocery store and was like, 'Can you carry me as a local brand? Or would you consider it?' and when they were trying the samples, they also shared them with another regional distributor that just happened to be walking in the store and they picked us up," Deans said.
"So the distributor actually started onboarding us and launching our products before even Cedar Run. Before we had any retailers, we had a distributor, and that's pretty much what keeps happening with the business; we're always one step ahead of where we really should be."
But, with so much success so fast, Deans' business has now outgrown the small town of Keene.
With the help of Point Positive, a Saranac Lake-based angel investment firm, Deans was able to purchase a 4,000-square-foot warehouse facility on Tom Miller Road in Plattsburgh.
"Being in the North Country, located in the Adirondacks currently in Keene, New York, it's hard to find the right building. It just is," she said.
"We just don't have a lot of warehouse space especially in the Adirondack Park, we don't have a lot of manufacturing facilities. So we have been looking for a long time and we have found our forever home in Plattsburgh, I'm really excited."
The new facility, she said, will allow them more opportunities.
"One of the main attractions of this property is you can have a tractor trailer back into a garage and we can just fork the pallet right onto the back of the truck. We can't get tractor trailers into our current facility," Deans said.
"We're going to be able to get commercial grade equipment where we couldn't before at our facility...and we're really going to be able to scale up to be able to reach those goals of being able to fulfill orders of not just to natural retailers, like Whole Foods and Fresh Market, but to those more curated, conventional retailers."
Deans said they expect to be in the new location by early fall.
GET IT ON SHELVES
She also hopes to eventually have her fermented food products sold in both Price Chopper and Hannaford in Plattsburgh so she can reach more people.
"We're a mission-based company looking to increase the appeal and the access to raw, fermented foods," Deans said.
"We see Price Chopper and Hannaford as really our next step — kind of a really good partner for us. So once we move to Plattsburgh, we'll be trying to bang on those doors a little harder, because if we're not where you buy your groceries, you're less likely to try and incorporate fermented foods into your diet.
"When you're a small business, you just do what you have to do to get to the next step, you figure it out...we've just been trying to figure it out."