Radical Jams: Farmer's Daughter Brand Pickles and Preserves

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Farmer's Daughter Preserves

Radical Jams
Farmer’s Daughter Brand Pickles and Preserves
By Tom Griffen

I wait for the delivery truck to leave before pulling into the long driveway. When it exits onto Union Grove Church Road, I backtrack through its trail of dust and park in a dirt patch between the house and shed.

I follow a sumptuous waft of boiling fruit. The smell makes me close my eyes. I’m overwhelmed by nostalgia. Once inside, I absorb the spacious and naturally-lit architecture and take in the surrounding artwork. My senses afire before even reaching the enormous kitchen.

A tall aproned woman greets me while stirring one of three copper pots steaming on the gas range. Introduces herself as April. Another woman, Meredith, stands against a giant island and preps the contents of a column of flats. I ask what’s cooking.

“Strawberry honeysuckle,” April says.

It smells amazing.

“Yeah, it does now,” she says, “but when we’re fermenting barrels of sauerkraut it’s an entirely different story.”  

April McGreger owns Farmer’s Daughter, a farm-driven artisan food business founded in Chapel Hill in 2007.

And go figure, April is, in fact, a farmer’s daughter. Growing up in rural Mississippi, she learned the craft of preserving from her mother and grandmother. She’s dedicated to promoting sustainable, small-scale agriculture while churning out product made with local ingredients and lots of love. 

“I’ve always been a cook, ever since I was a kid,” April says.

When April was a kid, rather than clean, make beds, or wash dishes, she made weeknight dinners. It was her contribution to the family

“It was mostly Better Crocker stuff,” she says. “Like peas and potatoes, beans and cornbread. Baked chicken. The simple things.”

A master’s program in geology at UNC in got April interested in the Triangle, but her love for music sealed the deal.

“When I found out (bluegrass musician) Alice Gerrard lived in this area, I knew it must be a cool place,” April says. “She was one of my heroes.”

April met her husband, Phil, while at UNC. He always noticed that upon her return from academic field trips she’d be more excited about the food she ate than anything geologic.  

“It was obvious what I was passionate about,” she laughs.

During April’s final semester at UNC, she lost funding and needed money. So she decided to take any job she could get at her favorite restaurant, Lantern. Within two years she was head pastry chef.

During this time, April connected with the “radical” Chapel Hill community.

“This community often gets a bad rap as ‘anarchists’ or whatever,” she says. “But these are people who live on sustenance farms, eat seasonally, live cheaply, and go through life in a sustainable way.”

This community’s focus on smart living and a do-it-yourself attitude affirmed skills April already had. Made her consider making a living out of it.

“I’d also gone to the Terra Madre Festival of Slow Food in Turin, Italy,” she says. “Part of it focused on endangered food traditions from around the world.”

There she met a collective of Romanian women who made syrup-preserved plums, chow-chow, and an assortment of fruit preserves.

“It was all so similar to what I grew up making,” she said. “Made me think there was some possibility for such a thing in my local market.”

So she opened Farmer’s Daughter.

April believed her effort would, in part, counter the macho restaurant culture. Elevate culturally important work typically ascribed to women.

“My mom was disappointed that I was an educated woman who chose to cook,” April says. “She thought I was throwing away my schooling. She didn’t get it.”

But now, after a decade of slow-cooking, Farmer’s Daughter is a local leader in the thriving national trend. Strong local farmer’s markets play an important role in her success.

“The most interesting stuff we do is regional,” she says. “Muscadine grape jam, scuppernog preserves, old fashioned fig preserves.”

She also includes collard kraut on this list. Even though it’s not a popular seller, it has a distinctively local flavor.

“People in North Carolina are more collard-obsessed than anywhere I’ve been in the deep south,” she says. “It’s just our thing.”

Though April could probably draw wider acclaim by making products that appeal to everyone, she’s not interested.

“Part of our mission has always been to stay local and pay a premium to farmers,” she says. “If what I’m doing isn’t supporting local agriculture, then I don’t want to do it.”