A Few Staffing Insights

June 22, 2014

Confirmation of three huge lessons all at once.

A new employee quit unexpectedly recently.  Just didn’t show up one morning.  Turns out that he was a fragile soul and couldn’t handle the pressure of tricky customer service situations.  I understand now in retrospect, but I sure wish that he would have come talk to me.  He was a good fit for our company and I could have made adjustments to keep him satisfied in his job.

The position is somewhat critical because part of it is to process all orders that came in overnight and need to ship out immediately via FedEx.  Because it is time sensitive and it starts at 7AM, it is important to have the job filled and filled with someone dependable.  So, to have an unexpected vacancy and no courtesy of two weeks notice definitely hurts.

In fact, I was really down about it when I got his email later that evening saying that he quit effective immediately.  It was stressful, not least because I had just finished hiring for three positions and hoped that I didn’t have to deal with interviewing for a few months.   I thought and thought about how to handle it until a light bulb went off.  The person who previously did his job had moved and was now in a new city unemployed and with an Internet connection.  A ha!  I called her up and asked if she wanted to work from home until we can figure out a permanent solution.  She was thrilled.  So was I, because not only was the work covered but she already knew exactly what to do.  No training required.

When I look back, there are three important business  lessons that have been confirmed over and over in my young career:

1. It Never Ends.  Running a business involves a persistent parade of new problems.  It takes years to develop a “just deal with it” attitude rather than get flustered.  It never ends.  And it never will.  The bigger the business gets, the bigger and more frequent the problems become.  The ability to overcome ever-growing obstacles is a key to success.

2. There is Always a Way Out.  Most often when a problem crops up there is a solution that leads to a better outcome.  This happens over and over.  No matter how bad the problem seems at first, almost invariably the solution puts you in a better position than you were before the problem started.

3. You Never Know When You Need Someone.  So Be Nice.  When the previous employee left, it would have been much easier for the employee and/or me to end on a bad note.  It is hard work sometimes to keep relationships respectful and friendly when they are ending and the presumption is you’ll never see each other again.  It is hard to finish strong.  I tried hard to keep it positive when the employee left.  So did she.  If we had been hostile to each other after she gave notice, I would never have been able to go to her for help.  We both treated each other respectfully and fairly.  And the result was an outcome that helped both of us.  She has some income.  I have a critical job covered.

Now I need to go wade through a hundred resumes.  Ahhh, it never ends.

Meet a Producer – Midori Farm

June 12, 2014

Marko & Hanako produce truly superb organic sauerkrauts & kimchi at Midori Farm in Quilcene, WA and a nearby commercial kitchen – shepherding the whole process from seed to jar.  Because their krauts are unpasteurized and don’t ship well, we only sell them in our Seattle retail store and Amazon Fresh.  You should come by and check them out!

We had a chance to interview them on why they do what they do and how they do it.  Here’s what Marko had to say:

Why did you decide to start making & selling sauerkraut?
I started making kraut and kimchi after living in South Korea while teaching English.  Everyone in Korea eats Kimchi every day at almost every meal.  So when I came back to the states I was working on a vegetable farm and started making kimchi and kraut with the excess produce.

I knew it had health benefits similar to yogurt, and at the time I was a vegan so it was a good way to get probiotics into my diet.

After a few years of making it and perfecting some recipes, my friends started clamoring for more, so I started selling it around town.  About that same time I moved to Port Townsend which had a vibrant farming community and a great market, so I started producing kraut in a commercial kitchen and selling it.

Can you talk us through your kraut & kimchi production?
The main idea is that we chop or shred vegetables (usually cabbage is the main ingredient), then mix in a small amount of sea salt.  That salt draws the juices out of the vegetables in about 20 minutes are so creating a brine.

Then we pack that mixture into our fermenting vessels.   We place a weighted plate on top of that to squeeze out any air in there.   This creates an anaerobic (oxygen free) environment for the fermentation bacteria to start their work.

It is a succession of bacteria that do the fermenting and create the flavors associated with non-pasteurized kraut and kimchi.  Each strain can live within a certain range of acidity as they work on the process of breaking down the vegetables they create acids changing the PH level of the solution and thus inviting in the next strain of bacteria that can live and thrive in an increasingly acidic environment.

We usually stop the fermentation process after a few weeks so the kraut is still a bit crunchy, but has had enough time to develop complex flavors.

What’s your favorite part of the farming/production process?
I love that we are producing a “processed” product from start to finish.  We sow the seeds, cultivate the soil, water the growing seedlings, protect the plants from insect and disease damage, harvest the mature vegetables, shred them, ferment them for weeks and then put them into jars and sell them to folks all over our region.

It is an amazing opportunity to observe the entire process of bringing a food product from seed to shelf.  Plus it’s an amazing opportunity for creative thought and art in action. It is all so very long term oriented, it is fun to be a part of producing something that takes such a long time to create.

For example the onions and leeks we use:  They begin with spreading compost and planting cover crops each fall to nourish next year’s crop.  Then seeds are planted in the greenhouse beginning each January.  These onion seeds grow into onions that will be in the kraut folks are eating the following year.  A full year and a half after we began preparing the soil in which they would be planted.  I like the opportunity to take the long view.

Why did you decide to farm organically?
For us there is no other way to farm for long term health of the soil, the water, the animals and ourselves.

What are your favorite ways to enjoy your dill & caraway kraut and horseradish leek kraut?
On good bread with a good goat cheese.   Packed with potatoes and good sausages and a bay leaf then cooked in a covered dish in the oven.  On burgers, on pizza, with eggs, with anything grilled and salads of course.  Horseradish leek kraut on lamb is especially good.

Any quick & easy recipe ideas beyond simply using them as a condiment?
Blending them with any fat is perfect.  We make kim-cheese by processing kimchi with chevre or cream cheese.  And blended kimchi butter or kraut butter which can then be added to about anything.

Braising meats with lots of kraut or kimchi is divine…We like to brine meats in kimchi and kimchi juice.  Or slow cook pork or beef or tempeh or tofu with a jar of kimchi then roll up that mixture in lettuce leaves.  Our standby quick soup is a big spoonful of kimchi in a hot cup of water with some miso and a boiled egg or noodles.

Best Souvenir Ever!

June 02, 2014

During my recent food scouting trip to Italy I had the opportunity to visit Compagnia del Montale, the family owned & operated company producing our superb aged balsamic vinegars.  It was a great visit, and I learned a lot…but perhaps even more exciting was what they sent me home with.

In addition to their more cost effective “condiment” style balsamics like Oro Nero and Vigna Oro CdM also produces award winning Affinato and Extra Vecchio balsamics.  Their extra vecchio has twice won the uber-coveted Spilamberto prize – which is given out each year to the best extra vecchio vinegar.  In other words, their vinegar has twice been considered the best balsamic in the world.

I was really excited to taste their most recent winner (they won last year’s award) and see how it was produced, but they also let me taste their private reserve.  Extra vecchio’s aged for a minimum of 25 years.  Their private reserve, which is NOT for sale, is aged over 70 years.

And let me tell you.  It’s something special.

Check out the color and thickness.

No thickeners or artificial colorings, that’s just what happens to grape must when you expertly age it for a really, really, really long time.

Then they coaxed some into a bottle for me to take home.  WOW.

I have no idea how many pounds of grapes are represented in my little bottle of their reserve.  Balsamic loses about 10% of its volume for every year it ages though evaporation, and it’s been estimated that a cup of 12 year affinato represents something like 70lbs of grapes…so maybe I’ve got a whole field’s worth in a little 3.4oz bottle at home.

It certainly tastes like it.

Box Art By Garrett Marx

May 23, 2014

Because a lot of the meat sold on MarxFoods ships from our New Jersey facility, but is photographed here, we often get “care packages” of goodies to be used in photo shoots, recipe development, etc.

While boxes filled with New Zealand grass-fed beef are plenty exciting on their own, my brother Garrett has taken it upon himself to inject his signature style of humor. Each box destined for the Seattle office arrives covered with drawings and messages that leave little doubt as to who handed it to the FedEx guy.

We’ve decided to start memorializing Garrett’s artistry for the world to enjoy (and future inclusion in any eventual collections of his work in art galleries).

Here’s his latest:







Newark Shipping Crew

Farmbox Greens at Marx Foods!

May 13, 2014

I’m super excited to be the first retailer in Seattle (and maybe the country) to offer urban-farmed microgreens from Farmbox Greens.

Not only are they gorgeous, but they’re also delicious, thanks to a perfectly balanced regimen of light, moisture and nutrients.  Dan, the owner of Farmbox Greens, has achieved this by building a perfectly controlled urban farm right around the corner in West Seattle.

Urban farming was once only found in futurists’ dreams, but mission-driven entrepreneurs like Dan are making it a reality – hoping to develop a model that can have national impact.

You’d walk right by Farmbox Greens in West Seattle, because it looks like a garage.  In fact it actually IS a garage…at least on the outside.

On the inside it’s a squeaky clean, perfectly controlled, state of the art facility where they grow these tasty greens as sustainably as possible.  This isn’t a side project for Dan (a landscape architect by day).  It’s a crusade.  He wants to teach us all how much tastier and more efficient (in land and resources) urban farming can be.  And the results are delicious.

We had a lot of fun visiting the Farmbox facility and shooting this video.   I think it really captures who Dan is, what he’s doing, and what makes these microgreens so special.

North Olympic Peninsula Urban Foraging

December 31, 2013

The Olympic Peninsula is home to abundant natural beauty–the Hoh rainforest, the Olympic mountains, the Pacific coast. It is also home to a sort of agrarian renaissance, with an impressive diversity of farms, from livestock to orchards to vineyards.

Here are a few notable spots between Chimacum and Port Angeles on the north peninsula:

Chimacum Corner Farmstand
Awesome farm stand and natural foods store with a heavy focus on local farmers and producers. They have a full selection of fresh, frozen, and dry goods as well as beer and wine. On Sundays they host the Chimacum Farmer’s Market. (9122 Rhody Drive Chimacum, Open Daily, 360.732.0107)

Chimacum Farmers’ Market
Small market with a nice selection of vendors to cover all the basics: produce, meat, dairy, and bread. With food carts and live music every week, this is a sweet spot on a Sunday. (Chimacum Corner Farmstand, Sundays, June – October)

Port Townsend Farmers’ Market
An awesome market for a small town: all the food groups are covered, plus great prepared foods, body products, crafts, and live music. (Tyler St between Lawrence St & Clay St Port Townsend, Sundays, April – December)

This store has a nice collection of local goods, plus knickknacks and crafty-type things. Stop in here for picnic provisions before a hike or boat outing. (810 Water St Port Townsend, Open Daily, 360.385.5560)

Cidery Tasting Rooms
There are two cider makers in Port Townsend, Alpenfire and Eaglemount, that comprise a nascent community that is small (for now) but scrappy, endearing, and personable. Their tasting rooms are not the sleek, well-appointed tasting rooms of established Washington wineries, but the people pouring your tastes are the same people who are tending the orchards and working the cider press. For example, after you’ve sampled the ciders and chatted with the farmers, they might leave to hop on a tractor and move some rocks (or any other number of tasks essential to producing great cider).

Eaglemount Wine and Cider
(2350 Eaglemount Road Port Townsend, Seasonal hours or by appointment, 360.732.4084)

Alpenfire Cidery
The tasting room at Alpenfire is charming and adorable. On some days they’re offering pizza from the outdoor wood fired grill. Alpenfire also produces a couple of apple cider vinegars. (220 Pocket Lane Port Townsend, Friday – Sunday, 360. 379.8915)

Nash’s Organic Produce
Nash’s is an awesome farm-sourced grocery store with a full range of fresh, frozen, and pantry items, lots of local products, and great produce, much of which comes from their 450-acre working farm. Nash’s raises organic veggies, fruits, grains, seeds, and pastured eggs and pork. (4681 Sequim-Dungeness Way Sequim, Tuesday – Sunday, 360.681.6274)

Alder Wood Bistro
The most notable restaurant on the north peninsula. Alder Wood Bistro is so serious about locality and seasonality that they designate menu items by proximity: local (Sequim-Dungeness Valley), 100-mile radius, and regional (WA, OR, CA or BC). Just as importantly, the food is solid. (139 W Alder St Sequim, Tuesday – Saturday dinner, 360.683.4321)

Additional North Olympic Peninsula resources:

Port Townsend
Port Townsend Food Co-op
414 Kearny St
Open Daily
T: 360.385.2883

Aldrich’s Market
940 Lawrence St
Open Daily
T: 360.385.0500

Sequim Open Aire Market
Cedar Street, between 2nd Ave & Sequim Ave
Saturdays, May – October

The Red Rooster Grocery
134 1/2 W Washington St
Open Daily
T: 360.681.2004

Port Angeles
Port Angeles Farmers’ Market
Corner of Front St & Lincoln St
Saturdays, Year-round

Country Aire Natural Foods
200 W 1st St
Open Daily
T: 360.452.7175

Good To Go! Natural Grocery
1105 S Eunice St
Monday – Saturday
T: 360.457.1857Post

Written by Justin Marx

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Urban Foraging Guides

Willamette Valley Urban Foraging

December 31, 2013

If you’re driving through the Willamette Valley wine country between Portland and McMinnville on Highway 99, these are good shops to fill your picnic basket or fortify your wine tasting tour.

Beaverton Farmers’ Market
A huge, diverse market, easily twice the size of an average farmers’ market.
(SW Hall Blvd between 3rd & 5th Sts, Beaverton, Saturdays, May – November)

Red Hills Market
A nice little deli-type market with a menu of cafe style offerings plus cheese, wine, spirits and anything else you might need for a picnic, much of which is sourced locally. (155 SW 7th St, Dundee, Open Daily, 971.832.8414)

Fino in Fondo
Fino in Fondo is primarily a salumi producer, but their small retail shop also has cheese, charcuterie, and a few pantry items. This is not a locally focused shop, but their stock is quality. (777 NE 4th St, McMinnville, Tue – Sat, 503.687.1652)

Harvest Fresh
Natural foods store with all the trimmings: bulk section, deli & prepared foods, supplements & body care, etc. (251 NE 3rd St, McMinnville, Open Daily, 503.472.5740)

Post Written by Justin Marx
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Portland Urban Foraging

December 31, 2013

Portland is a little powerhouse food city of the West Coast. It has the food resources of a much larger city: nationally-acclaimed restaurants and bars, an impressive number of well-stocked farmer’s markets, all manner of natural and specialty food shops, and a comprehensive network of artisan food producers. The list of resources presented here is long but is not exhaustive. These are my favorite spots:

City Market Northwest
In Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood there’s a permanent indoor market that houses multiple independent vendors–it’s called Melrose Market and was conceptualized by chef Matt Dillon, whose restaurant, Sitka & Spruce, anchors the market. City Market Northwest is similar in concept–multiple vendors under one roof–but from the perspective of a retailer rather than a chef. Each grocery department is covered by independent businesses, so you get the quality, depth, and expertise of a boutique shop combined with the convenience of one-stop shopping. (735 NW 21st Ave, Open Daily, 503.221.3007)

Flying Fish Co. & Kruger’s Farm Market
The seafood here is high quality and all sustainably sourced. They also have a small selection of local meat, eggs, and pantry items. Right next to the Flying Fish Co., is Kruger’s Farm Market–one urban outpost of Kruger’s Farm, which grows fruits, veggies, and flowers on the outskirts of Portland. Between Kruger’s and Flying Fish Co. there’s a nice selection of seafood and produce, plus a few extras. (2310 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Open Daily, Flying Fish: 971.258.5212, Kruger’s: 503.235.0314)

A classic Italian specialty shop featuring a lot of great imported goods. The fresh departments are limited, so save your meat and produce shopping for another stop. (3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Open Daily, 503.232.1010)

Woodsman Market
Something of a retail larder, this shop has a small selection but is laser-focused on high quality, local, and artisan goods. They have charcuterie (local, imported, and house-made), local meats butchered in-house, cheese, eggs, fresh produce, and a collection of pantry goods. (4529 SE Division St, Open Daily, 971.373.8267)

Foster & Dobbs
No fresh departments here, but the local charcuterie, cheese, and pantry goods they carry are great quality. (2518 NE 15th Ave, Open Daily, 503.284.1157)

Market of Choice
A small chain of natural grocery stores based out of Eugene, with one location in Portland. Check it out for the great selection of Oregon products. (8502 SW Terwilliger Blvd, Open Daily, 503.892.7331)

Mr. Green Beans
A DIY foodie heaven, Mr. Green Beans sells “domestic arts” equipment–everything you need to roast your own coffee, make cheese, and put up pickles and preserves. (3932 N Mississippi Ave Open Daily, 503.288.8698)

Portland State University Farmers’ Market
This is Portland’s big market. Set in a gorgeous location with a full range of farms, food producers, and even some apothecary items. (South Park Blocks, SW Park Ave at SW Montgomery St, Saturdays, March – December)

There are so many farmers’ markets in Portland; for a list of all the others check out this 2013 Guide to Portland Metro Area Farmers Markets.


Post Written by Justin Marx

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More of What We’ve Been Reading

December 09, 2013

Naturally Grown: An Alternative Label to Organic

Many people don’t realize that the increased cost of Organic isn’t just less efficient/more expensive growing techniques or farmers charging a premium for their work.  Organic certification can be very costly.  Sure, it helps ensure everybody’s following the rules, but it can also bar the door for small producers.

We actually sell at least a few products that could be considered organically grown, but can’t call them that, because they haven’t been certified.

Soylent: An Offbeat Food…

The idea of people subsisting on industrially processed food replacement shakes isn’t exactly something that lights our fire.  On the other hand, there are a lot of people out there who don’t have the time or energy to cook…and alternatives often offer incomplete nutrition and/or are unhealthy takeout.

As unappealing as we find Soylent’s ingredient list…we have to admit it’s better than what’s in a chicken nugget or a certain competing product….

FDA Moves to Ban Trans Fats

A lot of people don’t realize that they could still be eating trans fats.  As long as each serving of a food contains .5grams or less of trans fats, it can be rounded down to zero on nutrition labels.

Sure, that doesn’t seem like much…but as this article points out, as little as 2 or 3 grams per day can be a problem.

Why Are Pig Farmers Still Using Growth Promoting Drugs?

An excellent question that more people should be asking…

Urban Foraging Guides

November 26, 2013

It’s easy enough to find guides on which restaurants, bars, and food trucks to sample when visiting a city, but guides on where to shop for food are considerably harder to come by. Sometimes you just want to cook a meal, or pack a nice picnic, or have a snack that didn’t come out of a hotel minibar. The following guides are meant to help with all of those needs.

These guides are also useful if your intention for traveling (as it often is for us) is to savor the unique culinary landscape of a place–much of a city’s character can be discovered though its farmers’ markets, shops, and food producers. Plus, you never know what tasty local specialty you may stumble upon. Go forth and forage!

Willamette Valley
North Olympic Peninsula

Going to the Source: Chicaoji!

November 26, 2013

Chicaoji Hot Sauce is one of my favorite products we sell, not just because it’s local and tasty, but also because of the down to earth guy who makes it: Randall Waugh. He’s a solid guy!

I recently got to go to Lopez Island to interview Randall and watch Chicaoji being made – check out the video below:

Truffle Hunting in Italy

November 04, 2013

One of the highlights of my recent food scouting trip to Italy was getting to hunt bianchetti truffles & fresh morels.

I love wild foods –especially wild mushrooms. The forest contains some of the most delicious foods and some of them, like mushrooms and truffles, are defenseless and just waiting for you to pick them.

I wish it was that simple. Our hosts can see the forest floor like Neo can see the matrix.

My guide was Luigi – a 26-year foraging veteran in Emilia Romagna who started out with a farmer’s market stand and is now king of the small specialty food & hospitality empire that produces our favorite Selezione truffle oils.

Luigi and one of his foragers brought a dog along to help with the truffles. Dogs help locate truffles with more accuracy than humans – allowing them to be gathered without digging up large portions of the ground. This is better for the forest and better for the truffles. By not disturbing the delicate mycological organism underground that produces truffles, you help ensure they’ll still be around next year. And, dogs can tell at a distance whether a truffle’s fully ripe, so you’re not plucking truffles before (or after) their time.

You’ve probably heard of people hunting truffles with pigs, and some still do, just not in Italy. It’s illegal to use pigs there because of Italy’s forests are different and pigs would damage the ground.

We were especially glad to have the dog with us on this trip because bianchetti season was almost over – the truffles still out there were tiny – about 5g each. They’re really, really hard to find if you don’t have a trained nose down on the ground.* As it turned out, they made the truffle hunting so easy for me that it wasn’t very rewarding. The dog did most of the work and then my guide pushed the dirt aside and said something like “here, take it.” It was like taking an egg out of an unguarded chicken nest. Too easy.

Next we moved on to the morels. Believe it or not, despite having eaten tons of morel mushrooms over the years that grow within a couple hundred miles of my home, I’ve never actually hunted them myself – so this was a great treat.

Unfortunately we couldn’t use our canine assistant here…the only way we could find them is to train our eye to watch for the white/cream color of their stems – picking them out amongst the leaves and debris on the forest floor.

Luigi’s got the eyes of a hawk, I’d walk right past a bunch of leaves where he’d immediately spot six morels. Foraging at this level really is an art – a combination of eyesight, knowledge, experience and perseverance. I got better at spotting them the more time we spent looking, but I’m not going to be at his level anytime soon.

The entire trip to Italy was an incredible experience – the food, products, and the people producing them here are amazing, but this foray out into the wild was a particular highlight.

*Note to self: I need to put Nyoki to work next Oregon truffle season – it’s time he earned his keep.

Post Written by Justin Marx

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