By Kianna Gardner
The sour scent of fermentation wafts around an unlabeled tan building flaunting an aged red awning.
The owner of Garden Goddess, Suzette Smith, is sifting a bowl of chopped ginger root into a mixer filled with purple cabbage. Her eyes are bright red from chopping onions.
“We are making the biggest batch we’ve ever made,” Smith said. “We will go through 700 pounds of cabbage today.”
The Garden Goddess crew is fermenting their way into busy season, creating products such as sauerkraut, beet kavas and apple kale to sell online and at farmer’s markets across Arizona. Each jar is packed with vital probiotic nutrients.
Garden Goddess was built on the notion of “eating on purpose.” For Smith, this was the first of two missions for her business: keep it simple, keep it whole and create a product that makes a difference.
Smith’s passion for eating nourishing and wholesome foods dates back to her childhood. She grew up in rural Georgia, where her parents instilled in her a love of eating from the garden. These ideals carried into her adult life.
“When I became a mom and started raising my family, my childhood started coming back to me,” Smith said. “At the time I was in nutraceutical sales and it was then I learned about all the benefits of fermented foods.”
Smith, age 50, would practice recipes at home, making her children and friends guinea pigs to different cabbage products. Through her experiments and background in nutraceuticals she found that fermented foods, which are heavy in probiotics, relieve digestion and gut issues in children and adults.
“I love making food and I love feeding people,” Smith said. “Somehow the stars aligned for me to make this business and I haven’t looked back.”
This month marks two years for Garden Goddess. The business has grown steadily, making over 200 jars of product every Tuesday, with plans in the near future to extend the line.
But what is equally, if perhaps not more special than the product itself, are the hands that prepare it.
As the second part of Smith’s mission for Garden Goddess, she opened her business up to Civitan, an organization that specializes in placing young adults with special needs into the work force.
“An early goal of mine was to somehow make people with special needs part of our team and part of our mission,” Smith said. “Fermented foods are especially beneficial for anyone within the autistic spectrum.”
Garden Goddess opened its doors to the Civitan community almost a year ago and have gained exceptional employees since doing so. The special needs individuals work with the team every Tuesday chopping, canning and creating food that is beneficial to the greater public, and especially to them.
According to Brooke McGregor, a nutrition counselor for full spectrum autistic children for private clients, the probiotics in fermented foods help tame inflammation often found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of people with special needs.
“Probiotics increase vitamin absorption through the small intestine and aids in GI discomfort,” said McGregor. “A lot of times balancing out the GI and reducing inflammation will help symptoms.”
According to McGregor, by consuming proper nutrients there is a decrease in outbursts because the brain is firing as it normally should.
“They understand what the benefits are and they understand they’re helping people,” said Celeste Gutierrez, a job coach who helps teach incoming people from Civitan the process of fermenting and canning.
“Seeing when they’re happy about doing a good job, that’s the best part,” Gutierrez said about the most rewarding part of being a job coach. She coaches the new special needs employees on various tasks and make sure they fully understand the purpose of their work.
“I love to make sauerkraut and socialize along the way with other workers here,” said Kyle, a Garden Goddess employee from Civitan.
Kyle has been with Garden Goddess for about a year. His favorite activity is placing sauerkraut into jars and labeling. “It makes me feel wonderful to know that I can actually do something that is helping out and keeping people healthy,” he said.
For more information on Garden Goddess, visit gardengoddessferments.com.