Give Now  »

A second-generation baker takes the family business to the next level

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript

Transcript

(Earth Eats theme music)

KAYTE YOUNG:  From WIU in Bloomington, Indiana, I'm Kayte Young, and this is Earth Eats.

BRITTANY KIEL: Just cheer people up, so many people come in, havin’ a bad day or whatever is goin’ on--and who’s not cheered up by sweets, ya know? So, it’s kind of fun to be able to be there for people in a way that you might not expect from a bakery.

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show we visit with Brittany Kiel at Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery in Columbus, Indiana. We talk about running a bakery in a pandemic, and the challenges and rewards of taking over the family business. 

Oh, and we talk about pie. 

Plus, we visit a craft brewery in North Carolina experimenting with local botanicals.All that just ahead, so stay with us. 

(Earth Eats theme music fades)

(Up-beat music)

KAYTE YOUNG: Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats.  Bakeries have always felt like magical places to me. I can remember as a child there was a small bakery in a strip mall, a couple of doors down from the laundromat. While waiting for dryers to finish their cycles we'd wander down the walkway peering into windows of insurance offices, title companies, and dry cleaners.  The only window worth a second glance was the bakery window. We push our faces against the glass pointing at the display cakes and cupcakes, coveting the lush roses made of pink icing and feeling scandalized by the risque belly dancer cake topper that lingered in the front case for years gathering dust in the hardened buttercream creases.

Though the shop was usually closed when we were there, the aroma of white cake and sugar infused the air outside the glass doors. As an adult, I fell in love with the craft of baking myself and as a result, I rarely purchase baked goods anymore. But I'm still enamored with bakeries, which might be why they're featured so often on this show.  This summer when I judged the baking contest out at the County Fair, my fellow baked goods judge asked me if I'd ever been to Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery in Columbus. She assured me that their pies are legendary. I recently had the chance to check it out for myself and to meet the second generation owner, Brittany Kiel.

I set up my recording equipment in the tight kitchen on a Monday morning when the shop was closed. Mondays are production days though, so ovens and fans and commercial kitchen equipment buzzed in the background while Brittany and I spoke through our cloth face coverings.

BRITTANY KIEL:  My name is Brittany Nicole Kiel and our bakery is Ahlemeyer Farm Bakery.

KAYTE YOUNG: Ahlemeyer Farms is a small made-from-scratch bakery with a history.  I started our conversation by asking Brittany about her recent move towards offering vegan baked goods in her shop.

BRITTANY KIEL:  It started last year. Actually, almost two years ago now with the fruit pies, they were the easiest to turn vegan.  The crust is naturally vegan the way we make it so that wasn't too hard, we used just shortening instead of lard and other ingredients.  And the fruit pies, when they weren't vegan, they had a little bit of butter inside of them, and then the cow milk on top.  So we've stopped adding the butter inside.  And then we brushed the top with coconut milk. We were doing soy milk, but we've been trying to just make it as allergy friendly as possible and soy is in the top 8 allergens I think it is so we try to use it as little as possible too.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So what was your thinking around making your bakery vegan?  Is it something that you felt like your customers were looking for? Or is it something that was a personal passion for you?

BRITTANY KIEL:  It actually is a personal passion for me.  Some of the customers were not excited to hear that we were turning vegan.  And we've had quite a few that have been like ‘Oh, I don't want to try that. It's vegan.’ and I've sent home items with them just for free apps like’ try this. I promise you won't be able to tell the difference.’ And we've had every single one of them have come back and said, ‘Oh my gosh. You're right, I can't tell the difference.’ So that's been really exciting. I feel like we've been spreading awareness that vegan doesn't necessarily mean gross, you know.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yeah, I mean, I think it depends on the the thing that you're making and how important the dairy product or the eggs or whatever is to it, and so I can imagine many baked goods, not it not really being an issue.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yes, that's very true, but some of them were a little more difficult to transition over.  Eggs were one of the hardest things to replace because they kind of serve different purposes in different baked goods, so sometimes we use like flax instead of real eggs and that works as a binder. Sometimes we use aquafaba.

You know about that? Iit's a chickpea brine. The liquid that comes in chickpeas, and actually you can use the liquid from any beans, but they act as egg whites, and you can use them to whip up into a meringue and in baking they kind of bind, but still give it an area tax After whereas the flax gets more dense when it does its binding.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And so what about when the egg is used as part of the leavening?

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yeah, sometimes you can add a little bit of baking soda or baking powder to help lift it, but also you can use pumpkin and applesauce as egg replacers, and banana is another one. There's a lot of different options out there, so it took some playing around with some of the recipes to figure out what would work best, but everything that we've got on the shelf vegan, I feel like we've got pretty much on point with where it was to begin with.

There are still a few things that aren't vegan on the shelf.  The sugar cream pie.  It's what we're known for and just it's the cream pies period.  The meringue pies and the sugar cream that we offer in vegan, but there you can tell they're vegan so we don't carry it on the shelf all the time.

KAYTE YOUNG: Well, I think that makes sense.  If it's going to compromise the quality of your product to just be like, well, that's the one that we're not going to. But we have plenty of other options and I don't know I just have a lot of respect for not needing to be purist about something. 

BRITTANY KIEL:  So it was definitely a goal to not compromise the quality. It's my family bakery and my great grandma's recipes handed down to me. So I thought a lot about what she'd be disappointed if she knew I was changing these recipes and not just sticking with the family.  You know what we've done for all these years? But I kind of came to a conclusion of someone invented these recipes that I'm sure they tinkered with them to fit whatever you know worked with their time period and what they had on hand. So I feel like they maybe would be proud that. We've done the same thing in a way.

KAYTE YOUNG: That sounds like you just have a lot of respect for the tradition of the cream pie, and you know what? Don't want to mess with it until you can figure out a way to do it that works.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yeah exactly.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So how do you make your pie crust then? You've mentioned lard, but I always use butter in mine. So what is your method or?

BRITTANY KIEL:  We used vegetable shortening in ours and we always have, so that's why it was already vegan hit.  Which is nice.  And then we add flour and we chopped that up until it's kind of fine pieces.  And then we add water to it. Cold water and mix that up until it's a dough and that's all we put in ours. I know a lot of people add different things to it, but it's fairly stuff. We usually make a big batch of dough.  It makes about like 50 total crusts and we'll roll maybe 40 of them into the pie shells and we can freeze them ahead and then the last 10 we do into the tops for' em and those we have to refrigerate instead of freezing,

KAYTE YOUNG:  But so then when it comes to pie assembly, you just have all those rolled out and cut to size, and so you can just kind of get into a rhythm.  I would imagine.

BRITTANY KIEL:  That's what we try to do for sure.  Sometimes it's hard to get ahead on the pie shells, though, because we're busy  an they we've been picking up business in here, so we've had a lot of empty shelves lately. Just things that are selling before we can even get them on the shelf which is a good problem to have, but it's still kind of a problem when people walk in and don't see anything on the shelf you know ?

KAYTE YOUNG: How how long have you been having such booming business?  Has that been from the get go or from when you started doing it?

BRITTANY KEIL:  Well, it was my parents bakery before you know and when we were on Central Ave we had a facility that was probably three times bigger than this or 4 maybe and we had like 3 ovens and we could get a lot more product out and we had a lot bigger following too.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I'm talking with Brittany Kiel, owner of Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery in Columbus, IN.  After a short break, we'll hear more about the history of her family business.  Stay with us.

I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.  We're talking with, Brittany Kiel, baker and owner of Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery in Columbus, IN.  I asked her to tell us the story of how her family's business got started.

BRITTANY KIEL:  My parents had a fruit stand in Kokomo for a few years and some of the bananas and produce as they started to get older they thought, oh we're just going to turn him into a banana bread and sell it and see how that goes and it was a big hit and so my parents were like ‘hey, maybe we should just do a bakery’, you know? And that's how the idea got started. And my my dad parents lived in Columbus and so that's why they wound up coming to Columbus to open it.

So it was almost over 30 years ago they opened the first location on National Road and it got pretty busy there. We kind of outgrew the space, and so we moved over to Central and it was huge. We had to renovate it in tear it all out and gut it and put in ovens and make it into a bakery. But it was and we had a deli and served lunch there, not just pies. Yeah, and we did catering it got pretty big at that time and we had probably 10 employees at our biggest I would say plus my family so I guess more like 15.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What did the bakery really become well known for like what was kind of your signature?

BRITTANY KIEL:  Definitely our pies and our pie crust in particular.  People always say is pretty flaky. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  So this method of cranking out a lot of pies at a time is something that you're familiar with,

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yes. When we were over on Central, we had a big walk in freezer and so we were able to assemble the entire pie and just put them on like this and put them in there and freeze them and then at Thanksgiving we get just overwhelmed with orders, which is great, but we run out of space.  We run out of everything.  We can't we wind up selling out in the first half hour of the day, Thanksgiving Day, and then the rest of the day is just giving people their orders.  Which we squeeze hundreds of pies into here now, so we'll have like all these shelves full of pies.  We rent a trailer and fill it with pies. Just we get backed up on open space 'cause we can only bake about 50 pies at a time, if that maybe forty.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Only?

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yeah, I know, but when you've got hundreds to do, you know we literally work around the clock for like 3 days straight to get everything out so it gets pretty wild in here.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And so it's not like you just, you know, hire a couple of temporary employees because you've got space limitations.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yes. Exactly, yes, so many people are like, well, hire some more people, but we are all like on top of each other as it is trying to assemble pies, bake the pies, store the pies you know, and the ingredients for all of it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  OK, so they had the store if it. Got really big and it had a, uh big following very popular.  Pretty big baking capacity, it sounds like.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yeah, that's true.  I feel like we bake so much right now at Thanksgiving, but I looked up some of the old numbers and it was like 100 of every variety of pie. I don't even know how they did it even with all the space, it was probably 10 times the volume that we put out now.

KAYTE YOUNG: Changes in the family pushed the business from their large capacity kitchen on Central Ave into a new location. It was in a much less visible spot, tucked away in a strip mall on a low traffic road. They lost a lot of business. After three or four years they moved the bakery to its current location on 17thstreet where it's been for the past eight years. Brittany says she's been working in the bakery most of her life, but she took over operations about two years ago.

BRITTANY KIEL:  As a child I had to stand on a milk crate to reach the table and roll pie dough but then by the time I graduated high school, I was like I'm never going to work in that bakery again.  I didn't love it and I went away to college and worked somewhere else for a while, but then my mom needed some help and I wanted to come back home. So I came and started helping again and slowly over time her health sort of declined and she was having a hard time and so I said well, I'll just do a little more and a little more and now we've transitioned over to it being my bakery.

KAYTE YOUNG: Yeah, and do you feel excited about it now?

BRITTANY KIEL:  Oh yes, it's much better than when I was growing up. Of course I feel much more like pride and love for it. I know it's my family's and they've done so much to build it. I love the people, the customers and the community we've built.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And Brittany says that she loves having the chance to share vegan baked goods at her bakery.  But removing animal products from many other recipes wasn't the only change she made as the next generation owner of Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery.

BRITTANY KIEL:  We have people ask so often. Why did you paint it like this? Why is it so colorful? I say. ‘Look at my hair.’  I really like color.  We're trying to make it a happier place, you know?

KAYTE YOUNG:  When I met Brittany, her dark brown hair was cropped short with a bright red, orange, and yellow whip on top like a flame. As she said, she likes color. I asked her to describe the interior of the bakery and some of the changes she's made.

BRITTANY KIEL: Someone just this past week described it as 'whimsical'.  We've painted the racks, the shelves that are for sale goods are on to be pink and we've decoupaged with different wrapping paper and tissue paper to have fun, colorful designs on the tables.  And then we've got drippy, colorful paint on the doors. It's kind of just like a rainbow exploded in here. I feel like just all kinds of color.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yeah, and but there's a lot of pastel, so it's kind of has a softness too. And yeah, very whimsical. There's some streamers and some different colored beads. Kind of rainbow beads going on, and the the decoupage is like wrapping paper and tissue paper and there's some like cupcakes and stuff on. It's really. It's really cute.

BRITTANY KIEL: We tried to keep it sweet.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So how is most of your business going now is a lot of it pre-order, or how? How does that work?

BRITTANY KIEL:  We sorry we try to encourage people to pre-order, but we still have a lot of walk-ins. Also, for example, Friday we had over 50 pies on order and over 50 breads on order alone, not counting the walk-ins and then we also take pies to local farmers markets to sell like the Bush's market and there's one up in Franklin we take pies to and breads that we get a lot of business from.  They're almost like having a second store.  So many people buy from those locations.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So what does your schedule look like?  When do you get all the baking done?

BRITTANY KIEL: Yeah, it's been difficult. Just this summer we reduced our open hours just to try and help us be able to get ahead in the closed hours to have items to put on the shelves so right now we're open for business Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10 ‘til 2 and Thursday, and Friday is 10 to 6.  And then we come in on Monday all day and bake. We stay until till seven at least on Tuesday and Wednesday and bake after we've closed, we come in usually at 7 ish in the morning and start baking before we open, we're just here a lot.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You get more business sort of on the weekends on Fridays and the weekends.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Definitely, I'd say Thursday, Friday are definitely our business busiest days. And then Saturday is pretty busy.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Whew the whiff? I've just got a whiff of something sweet baking. It's starting to smell good. I don't know if it's the pie or other things you have in there.

BRITTANY KIEL: Well, we have, I think banana bread just came out and some baked shells which are cream pies.  The base of it is a baked shell instead of raw.

KAYTE YOUNG:  OK yeah, yeah. So what do you think you're going to do to deal with the high demand for your product?  Do you think you're just going to try to stick with where you are and just do it well or do you expect to expand or what are your thoughts?

BRITTANY KIEL:   Honestly, it's been a big discussion and debate right now for me and my mom.  She still helps to advise me.  Whether we want to try we we need to hire some more people and we need more space, obviously.  So we're not sure if we're going to have to try and find another building or try to squeeze some more people in here or what exactly we're going to do, but probably one of the two. We've really, really been trying to push and encourage people to put in orders ahead of time so that if someone orders ahead, we can make it. We know that they're coming for it. We know we need to do it, you know. And so that helps a little bit.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So what kind of impact has COVID had on your business?  'Cause it sounds like it was pretty soon after you took over.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yeah, it's it was scary for a little while. We had to be closed for a couple of months. It was very slow at first. People just didn't really want to get out, you know,

KAYTE YOUNG:  And how did you do the reopening?

BRITTANY KIEL:  Well, let me think about this.  I think it was at a holiday that they lifted the mandate that we had to be shut down, and so it was kind of scary 'cause I thought I I don't know. Usually it would be busy for that holiday, but do I bake a lot? How am I going to manage the crowds of people?  I don't know if you notice, but we have little stickers out there to say, be sweet, give him six feet and we measured and put them six feet around and we had to rearrange the tables to try and make a single file line so that people weren't too close to each other because it at the holidays it wound up still being busy. I think is either Easter or Mother's Day. Somewhere in there it was.

KAYTE YOUNG:  OK. OK. So it was in the spring.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yes, we've required masks the entire time it was mandated, and even beyond we've been trying to require it, although we've gotten quite a bit of pushback from people but we are trying to keep ourselves safe and our customers. We have a lot of older customers and I want it to be a safe place for everyone, you know. And we've offered curbside service for people who don't want to put a mask on.  And we say just call us and we'll bring a pie out to you and that's worked for some people, but not.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I'm sure people love--with baked goods, you just want to look at it,

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yes, that's very true, uh huh. Yes, we have a fairly active Facebook page and also Instagram. But because we've been so busy, it's kind of a fine dance because when I share posts on there we get busier, which is great, but then we sell out and people come in and say where are your pies? What's going on? You know, so I've been trying to use them as a platform to say ‘Hey come in but make sure you order ahead or we might be sold out of your favorite item, but we'll have something on the shelf.’

KAYTE YOUNG:  So pies are one of your signature items, but what other things do you bake?

BRITTANY KIEL:  We do cookies and sweet breads and brownies, lemon bars, yeast, breads and noodles. Oh  rolls, of course. Cinnamon rolls and pecan rolls and peanut butter rolls.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What kind of cookies do you do?

BRITTANY KIEL:  We do chocolate chip cookies. Snickerdoodle ice cookies. We do a sour cream iced cookie which is not really using sour cream, but the original recipe was, and it's a softer cookie. And then we do the original sugar cookie iced, which is a little bit harder and we have peanut butter cookies. Pecan sandies, a turtle cookie which is kind of an interesting story. That one is an accident cookie. Someone was making the pecan sandies and accidentally put the carob syrup in instead of oil and we were like, well, we'll just bake them and see how it turns out and we kind of love them. It was like a chewy sweet version of a pecan sandies so we drizzled chocolate on them, and now they're turtle cookies.

KAYTE YOUNG:  They also make cakes and cupcakes by special order.  And they do not do wedding cakes. The bakery's top sellers by far, though, are their pies. I asked Brittany if she could walk us through the steps of making one of her fruit pies. She generously agreed to demonstrate a blackberry pie assembly.

BRITTANY KIEL:  So for the pies,  first we have our homemade pie crust that we've rolled by hand and we put about a pound of fruit in there a little bit less on the berry pies, 'cause the berries get very juicy and run everywhere you can imagine. And all of our fruit pies we use fresh frozen fruits. They're just the most basic ingredients, and then we put a scoop of our fruit pie mix on there, which is just a mix we make ahead it's flour and sugar is the two ingredients. And try to sprinkle it evenly over the berries to keep it evenly distributed as it bakes. And then take a little water. Let the Edge 1st, and then we'll take a top crust. And put it on there and you just tap the edges down to get good seal. And then kind of push the air out before you finish sealing it so it doesn't bubble up in the oven.

And then we cut we cut different designs for the different fruits so that we know what they are when they come out of the oven. So for blackberry we cut 6 vent holes so the steam convinced out. And then we just cut the crust off the edge here and then we go ahead and flip the top so then it looks nice and just to give it an extra good seal.  It's kind of funny everyone has their own signature flute. You can tell who makes the pie by how the flutes look, you know. And then now that we've gotten vegan, we dip into coconut milk instead of dairy cow milk and brush that across the top. You want it to be pretty even, but no puddles anywhere. And then we take sugar and just lightly sprinkle that on top. You want it to be kind of opaque, but not like standing sugar anywhere, and it's ready to go in the oven.

KAYTE YOUNG: Oh my gosh, that's such an efficient pie making.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yeah, hold on.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And then what's your oven temperature?

BRITTANY KIEL:  350, we bake pretty much everything around 350.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What's your favorite part of doing the business?

BRITTANY KIEL:  Definitely getting to meet new people and keep up the relationships with the ones we have. All the people, you know, just cheer people up to so many people come in like having a bad day or you know whatever is going on and who's not cheered up by sweets, you know? So it's kind of fun to be able to be there for people in a way that you might not expect from a bakery.

KAYTE YOUNG:  In terms of like you know how a lot of food businesses were considered essential services and people might say, well sweets might not necessarily be considered essential, but when you're talking about the cheer and the happiness that it brings to people to have a treat, it does kind of make sense.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yeah, when we first opened back up after the pandemic it was slower of course, but as things have progressed I feel like it's been it's kind of helped business pick up because we've had a lot of people come in and say, like ‘oh, it's just been such a rough day and I just need some sweets’, you know? So yeah, I feel like people definitely find comfort in sweets. 

KAYTE YOUNG: And did you also find, too that maybe people wanted to support their local businesses more?

BRITTANY KIEL:  Definitely, we've had a lot of people say, oh, I want to support my local businesses, which is so great. It's been a blessing.

KAYTE YOUNG: One special feature of Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery, the kind of thing you'll only find at small independent businesses like theirs is their pie of the month subscription.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Once a month, people come in and get a pie that we don't carry on the shelf. We basically invent a flavor like blueberry rhubarb.  We've done chocolate, peanut butter, banana, a cherry pecan, just all kinds of fun flavors and the idea started with Mr. Bill, one of our regular customers who's been coming for like probably three years now and every single week he gets a surprise pie, which is just anything I can create that's not something you would find on the shelf and then he'll call back and try to guess what was in it which is so fun.

KAYTE YOUNG: OK, so how did it get started with him? Like you make it for him and he knows to expect it? He comes in and gets it and then he tries to guess.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Exactly and he takes it I think the Legion or one of the clubs around here and then shares it with his friends and they all try to guess. Now it's definitely evolved over the years, but it started he was just a regular that came in an got apple was one of his favorite flavors and eventually he said, “Next week I want you to make me a surprise. Just surprise me.” I think he was just ready for something different and I said, “alright, anything?” and he said, ”yeah” so I did and then he said, “that was pretty good. Will you do that again next week?” and it's evolved for three years now into this.


KAYTE YOUNG:  So it's something that's fun for you too.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yes. Oh yeah, definitely. I've tried out so many different things on him and I don't think he's ever complained, even with some of the weird things I've sent him, like a zucchini pie for example.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes wow, so how did that turn out? Did you like it like was it good?

BRITTANY KIEL:  Yeah that was just two weeks ago. I think that I did that one and he and I both liked it. It was kind of like an apple pie, but with you could tell there was squash in it, almost like when you bake a squash with brown sugar and butter on it, you know but in pie form, 

KAYTE YOUNG: yeah, so how did it turn into the pie of the month?

BRITTANY KIEL:  Oh so last year around Christmas time we were just trying to come up with different ideas for people to give as gifts. People like to come in and get candy trays and pies, of course. I said, hey, why don't we offer people a surprise pie? Basically we offer a three month, a, six month or a full year subscription and they just come in on the second Wednesday of the month and pick up the pie. We ask if there's any dietary restrictions we should know about, or anything like that, but pretty much we just make one a surprise flavor.

KAYTE YOUNG: It also sounds again like that relationship building too.

BRITTANY KIEL: Oh yes, definitely.  I've gotten to know all of them and become friends with some of them. We do delivery with it too, so a few of them I've delivered to every month since January. And yeah, it's definitely built up some relationships.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I've been talking with Brittany Kiel. She's the second generation owner of Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery in Columbus IN. This is great. I really appreciate you talking to me.

BRITTANY KIEL:  Thank you, it's been great talking to you.  Thanks for coming, yeah.

KAYTE YOUNG: Find out more about their pies, cookies, sweet breads and rolls, and about their vegan offerings. We have a link on our website, eartheats.org. They are currently taking orders for Thanksgiving. But probably not for long.

(music)

Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats.  At a craft brewery in the south, beer makers locally source everything from wheat to watermelon and even chestnuts for their experimental beers. Josephine McRobbie tells the story of Fullsteam Brewery.

JAMIE WHITE:  Make it every summer we use a ton of basil.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  At Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC. Bartender Jamie White is pouring pints of a summer basil farmhouse ale. The brewery makes the usual pilsners, IPA's and porters, but among the hops and wheat are some more esoteric ingredients.

JAMIE WHITE:  My favorite one on tap is the barrel aged Ava, so it's a beer that we actually made in 2018 with great belief and elderflower.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Fullsteam Brewery's mission is to support local agriculture through what it calls a southern beer economy. In a little over 11 years the company has purchased over half $1,000,000 worth of southern farmed ingredients, this includes a huge amount of grain like wheat, barley, rice and oats. It also includes the fruits, herbs, flowers and nuts that add color and flavor and aroma to their beers. And while the South is a huge region that can hardly be called local, some ingredients come right from the brewery's backyard.

HANNAH PARIS:  Urban foraging was a concept I hadn't done before, and that was a lot of fun. We actually left our building with buckets in hand and walked to the parks that surround us.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Hannah Paris is head Brewer at Fullsteam. She's describing Wild Durham, a beer that she and her team made in collaboration with a local arts magazine.

HANNAH PARIS:  In that season we got magnolia leaves and the cherry blossoms were blooming and got some Violet blossoms in there. Yeah, and then we did some locally foraged persimmons as well. It was a really unique beer. A lot of times when we do foraged beer they tend to stick to like saison's or fruited like typically fruited beers, right? And then that was so much fun 'cause it was an IPA and to have all these weird ingredients in it and it just came out so wonderful.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Hannah started home brewing while she was in college.

HANNAH PARIS: And I took a job in what we in the industry called the real world for a little while and it just wasn't for me. Sat in a cubicle for 8 hours a day and it was just miserable.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  She kept brewing at home while moving into the beer industry for work, and she was always experimenting with recipes.

HANNAH PARIS:  I've always been really interested in using odd ingredients. My very first IPA ever I brewed I brewed with pawpaws. They are the largest fruit that grows natively to North America, but they they don't have a long shelf life, so that's why you don't usually see them in the grocery stores, but they're a fun ingredient. They're kind of like a cross between a mango and a banana. It's almost like custard like texture inside, but they're really delicious and super fragrant.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE: Over the past three years, Hannah has created a lot of beers for Fullsteam. One is a Madeira barrel aged barley wine made with chestnut flour. When she made this one she was interested in highlighting the plight of the American chestnut tree .

HANNAH PARIS:  Functionally extinct means, like there are still some, but here's the problem with chestnut trees, is they fall to a chestnut blight and there are still chestnut trees here, but they can't really grow, and there's actually a foundation here in America that is trying to bring back the chestnut tree.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  An ale called common good features local corn grits. It's modeled on an American beer style called Kentucky Common.

HANNAH PARIS:  Prohibition is probably a lot of the reason why we don't have more beer styles that come from here, because it just put a halt on beer making. But yeah, so Kentucky Common was and kind of an answer to loggers. People wanting something crisp and light to drink, but they wanted it faster from being brewed and through fermentation to being served in glass was really only eight days is extremely fast. They would just roll those barrels into taverns and pour out of them.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Fullsteam has a handful of staple beers in its main collection, but these limited releases which are available on tap and canned or where the staff really get to be creative.

HANNAH PARIS:  It's an interesting beer. It's just kind of historical styles they don't they don't always age well, and then they're hard to sell, but sometimes it's really fun to brew them and just educate people on here's a weird style that used to be popular pre prohibition.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Hannah takes me back to the production room where she oversees a staff of about five people.

HANNAH PARIS: We don't really have a pilot system, so a lot of times that's just us breaking out our old homebrew equipment to test out what we think would be cool flavors.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Her preferred workspace is at the giant tanks at the beginning of the beer making process there where the milled grain is cooked and the sugars are released.

HANNAH PARIS:  I love being on the brew deck I am I'm a hot side person. In the industry we call that hot side and cold side.  Cold side is fermentation and packaging. I just like being in the raw grain and hops and that's kind of my home and that's where I got started. That's kind of where I still love. I think it's just the intensity of it. Like it's it's warm, it's raw and just a lot of heavy lifting.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  It's also where most of these additional ingredients are added.

HANNAH PARIS:  We have this wonderful tank just for adding ingredients, we add them into the whirlpool, so once we're done with bowling but the wort is still really hot, that's when we'll add these ingredients so that we can save their fragile flavors.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Others are added on the cold side.

HANNAH PARIS:  Sometimes we'll make a puree out of them. We'll cook that puree so that it's safe to add, and then we'll add it into fermentation. I've also made syrups. I made a violet syrup one time to add to a beer and that's just making sure that there's nothing going into that beer that we don't want to go in but we're still getting those wonderful flavors and colors.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Fullsteam use of regional ingredients means that some beers act as a history lesson or as a kind of call to action. A logger called Tidewater uses Carolina Gold Rice, a grain with a complicated and painful history. Originally cultivated in West Africa, it was brought to the US as a crop that was farmed by enslaved people in South Carolina. The beer's recipe pays tribute to Japanese brewers, but the ingredient itself hits very close to home.

HANNAH PARIS:  Carolina Gold Rice is kind of the grandfather of rice in America, but we also wanted to show respect to the people who grew it back then. So we actually donated part of the proceeds of that beer to the Many Faces Initiative, which is, it brings in people of color learn into the brewing industry.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Hannah came to Fullsteam partially because she was impressed by initiatives like this. To her they showed that the company was willing to engage with the fact that food is political and personal.

HANNAH PARIS:  You know, being a woman in production brewing is it's not common. Only 10% of the beer in the United States is made by women. And such a small amount, considering that you know when beer was being made hundreds of years ago, women were the people who made it. Something that drew me to Fullsteam was the fact that they they try to be a part of these movements beyond just making beer, they try to really, truly be a part of our community and the greater community and try to actually do good.

You know we were, we're using what tools we have, which is beer. But we're trying to not just be beer, right? We're trying to be a good member of the community.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE In a separate back area, is Chelsea Amato, the company brand manager and graphic designer.

CHELSEA AMATO:  Fuollsteam has a really strong identity. This red backward F logo. When I got here, the design was a little bit Russian Constructivist, just with some of the jagged edges of the letters. There were about five different logos that were being used, and I wanted to streamline what we're using and why. We wanted the brand to feel inclusive. We wanted it to feel modern. We wanted it to focus on agriculture and industry.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Chelsea moved to central North Carolina three years ago.

CHELSEA AMATO:   I worked in museums in New York for a while, and then that kind of grind got to be too much for me and my wife and I wanted to have a bit of a slower pace and get back to nature so we moved to Durham, NC and this popped up and I love craft beer and I'm passionate about the environment so it kind of felt like the perfect fit for me.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Chelsea has designed packaging for dozens of Fullsteam beers, including ones that commemorate Pride, Month and Juneteenth, a rare exception is 'Things we don't say' a national campaign for mental health. For this beer, dozens of companies brewed from the same IPA recipe and used the same artwork. The design of the can includes suicide prevention hotline numbers and a QR code that leads to mental health resources.

CHELSEA AMATO Within the brewing industry and I think places in general we don't talk about mental health 'cause it's seen. There's a lot of stigma around it. This was a push to say hey, things are hard. We're here for you. It's good to speak up and it's OK not to be OK.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  We're talking about all of this under a brick wall that's plastered with stickers.

CHELSEA AMATO:  So we are staring at a wall of hundreds of labels.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  This is like the archive.

CHELSEA AMATO:  Yes, it's the archive. It's the unofficial archive. So far to the left, those are labels that happened before I was even here, and then we moved to the right and yeah, so we're looking at a lot of, I think a lot of botanical prints colors.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Do you use some like public domain images?

CHELSEA:  Absolutely yes.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  OK.

CHELSEA AMATO:  So I use Flickr Commons and they have the database of all the different libraries and institutions, so I get a lot of imagery from that and then I edit It in Photoshop and tweak a little bit, make it different colors to kind of bring it up to 2021.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Chelsea points to the artwork for the Kentucky Common Ale.  

It was often sold and consumed at horse races, so we took historical course images and then I drew these little vector beer mugs, kind of overlaid them on the horses face to make it seem like all these horses were drinking the beers, but yeah, that's just another way that we melded these two worlds, kind of like agriculture and industry.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  Due to the lead time it takes to create labels, Chelsea doesn't usually try a limited release beer until they've already created its visual imagery, and so they're always curious to see how the look, taste, and story of a beer worked together.

CHELSEA AMATO:  Delicata our farmhouse lager teamed up really beautifully with the label. The label has different grains on it in oranges and purples and the the beer itself had just like this delicious summery r earthy flavor and just is, I don't. I don't even know if I can put it into words, but when I was drinking that beer and saw the label, it just it felt like that was the flavor.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  As we leave, Chelsea tells me about an upcoming limited release, a muscadine grape IPA made in collaboration with a brewery the town over.  It came about when a local environmental group asked if they'd like to harvest some overgrown wild grapes from one of their properties. In exchange, the beer makers will help to rebuild the trellis next year. It's the perfect example of Fullsteam's dream of the southern beer economy.

CHELSEA AMATO:  It's just amazing that we can work with different vendors and suppliers and farmers and other breweries in the area. It feels it's just like a really beautiful place to be.

JOSEPHINE MCROBBIE:  For Wi-FU’s, Earth Eats I'm Josephine McRobbie.

KAYTE YOUNG:  4 decades ago, two cities, one in Kansas and one in Colorado, competed for the world's largest meat packing plant. For the winner, it meant becoming the epicenter of the region's beef industry. For the other, it meant a continued economic slide all too familiar to rural America. As David CONDOS reports, that fateful outcome has forever altered the trajectories of both towns.

DAVID CONDOS:  Larry Jones lives in a farmhouse just outside Garden City, surrounded by Rosa Milo.  But even out here on the sparsely populated Great Plains, he runs into traffic jams.

LARRY JONES:  The lights coming on the highway. It's about 5:30, so when the 1st shift starts coming in its line of cars and the line of trucks.

DAVID CONDOS:  Why? His farm and cattle company sit next door to one of the country's largest meatpacking plants, Tyson Foods Finney County beef plant.  With over 3000 employees, this sprawling slaughterhouse butchers more than 6000 head of cattle every day. Jones, who's also a county commissioner, says having the plant here cut trucking costs for local livestock owners and supercharge the local economy.

LARRY JONES:  Driving through Garden City, it's changed immensely if you'd been here 20 years ago and looked at it you wouldn't recognize the town.

DAVID CONDOS: More jobs, an influx of immigrants. A growing town in a region that has lost population for generations. This meat packing plants arrival in 1980 marked a turning point for Garden City, making it the fastest growing part of Kansas almost overnight. But the decision to build it here also changed the fate of another town, Lamar Colorado.  That's because Lamar was the runner up in the contest to land the plant decades ago.

In the 1960s and 70s, the number of water wells drilled into the Ogallala Aquifer under Western Kansas skyrocketed. It created an ecosystem. The aquifer waters the corn. The corn feeds the cows. The cows drive the meat packers.

OLD TIMEY ANNOUNCER VOICE:  Although many processing plants are located near metropolitan areas of consumption, there is a growing trend to locate plants and areas of supply.

DAVID CONDOS:  As this film from Union Pacific Railroad points out, meat packing plants historically operated in urban centers, Kansas City, Chicago, but in the 1960s, packers began to build plants in the countryside away from big city unions and closer to cattle.

OLD TIMEY ANNOUNCER VOICE:  Today, a pound of meat travels an average of 1000 miles from the open plains to the kitchen range.

DAVID CONDOS:  Don Stull tracked the meatpacking industry's impact on Garden City for more than three decades as a University of Kansas professor and he catalogued it in this book Slaughterhouse Blues.

DON STULL Garden City was more or less the first of what became these boomtowns tied to food processing. It was largely a light agrarian community in 1980 and within five years Garden City grew by 1/3.

DAVID CONDOS:  Its rapid growth also brought change The town still wrestles with today.  Housing shortages, strains on health care, education, social services. And since many of the plant workers were and are immigrants and refugees, it would remake the town in a way that worried some white residents. But local leaders bet big on the plant to secure the community's future economy and by many measures it worked. The beef industry now pumps around $2 billion into the county's economy each year, and the city has parlayed that growth into becoming the region's retail hub. It boasts the only target store for more than 200 miles. So what would Garden City look like today without meat packing?

DON STULL: Well, look at Lamar.

DAVID CONDOS:  Lamar Colorado sits 100 miles West of Garden City. The towns share the same river, the same highway, the same railroad line, and the same Dust Bowl, past and through the 1960s they had roughly the same number of residents, but Garden City's population has just about doubled since 1970. It's now over 28,000. Lamar's remained stuck around 7500 while Garden City gained another 1500 people in the latest census, Lamar lost more than 100 residents. Russ Baldwin takes a left turn off of Lamar's Main Street.

RUSS BALDWIN:  Yeah, behold, the former Burger King.  Home only of the next whopper.

DAVID CONDOS:  Plywood boards covered the drive through window. KFC left town too. Within minutes he drives past the old Kmart vacant.  The airport? It lost its last commercial flight more than a decade ago. Baldwin moved to Lamar the same year the plant opened in Garden City and now runs the town's weekly newspaper. He says the last 15 years have been particularly tough.

RUSS BALDWIN:  It's here sitting there going You know what's next? The Locust invasion?

DAVID CONDOS:  It wasn't always this way. Stephanie Gonzalez heads the regional Economic Development Organization she grew up in, Lamar, in the 1980s.

STEPHANIE GONZALEZ:  I remember seeing buses running East and West, North and South. I remember having a lot of people up and down Main Street, that's what we need to get back to.

DAVID CONDOS: Those buses brought in workers for the town bus factory, which employed roughly 600 people at its peak. But that factory laid off its last 300 workers in 2006, including Gonzalez parents. 15 years later, she says the town is still searching for new employers that can make up for all those lost jobs. But there's a perception that Lamar doesn't have enough workers to make it worthwhile to do business here. It's a vicious cycle that's repeated across rural America. Having fewer jobs and businesses makes it hard for towns to attract and retain residents. Having fewer residents makes it hard for towns to get new jobs and businesses.  Meanwhile, Garden City growth makes it even more difficult for nearby towns like Lamar to compete. Gonzales says Lamar residents often drive over an hour to shop in Garden City. That speeds the demise of businesses in Lamar.

STEPHANIE GONZALEZ:  The development that we're seeing with Garden City and the growth that they've experienced could have really benefited Lamar and the surrounding areas. You know, had there been maybe some different mentality at the time.`

DAVID CONDOS:  That mentality? A fear of change. Some people in Lamar worried about bringing in immigrant and refugee workers.

STEPHANIE GONZALES:  We should have welcomed the diverse numbers of people that would have been employed in a facility like that.

DAVID CONDOS County Commissioner Wendy Buxton Andrade says that outlook kept Lamar from pushing harder to get the meat packing plant, even though she says the town is more welcoming now.  Changing that mindset has been a decades long struggle and people in Lamar still talk about what might have been.

WENDY BUXTON-ANDRADE: 40 years later, Hindsight's, always 2020 and I think it's a shame. I think we missed a huge opportunity.

DAVID CONDOS: Back at the Tyson plant in western Kansas, a steady stream of trucks carry cattle in and meat out. Even after 4 decades of growth, beef still, directly or indirectly, drives nearly all of Garden City's industries. Here's Kansas Professor Don Stull again.

DON STULL:  If the Tyson plant were to close tomorrow, Garden City would be in a world of hurt.

DAVID CONDOS:  Within decades, much of the underground aquifer that fuels the beef ecosystem around Garden City will run dry and that could send big plants like this one packing in search of more reliable water sources. So even with Garden City recent prosperity, Stull says it's likely just a matter of time before this boomtown goes bust.

DON STULL:  Ultimately, unless something can be done to turn that trend around, Western Kansas will look like eastern Colorado.

DAVID CONDOS:  In Garden City, Kansas. I'm David CONDOS.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Find more from this reporting collective at harvestpublicmedia.org.

(Earth Eats Theme Music)

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eoban Binder, Mark Chilla, Abraham Hill, Peyton Kenoblack, Josephine McRobbie, Daniela Richardson, Harvest Public Media, and me Renee Reed.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Special thanks this week to Brittany KIel. Everyone in Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery, Jamie White, Hannah Paris, Chelsea Amato and everyone at Fullsteam Brewery.

RENEE REED:  Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artists at Universal Productions Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.

Brittany Kiel, with brightly colored hair, standing at a long counter, with pink and yellow walls, a brightly patterned curtain in the background.

Brittany Kiel likes color. When she redecorated her bakery she wanted it to be bright, playful and sweet. (Kayte Young/WFIU)

"Just cheer people up! So many people come in, havin’ a bad day or whatever is goin’ on--and who’s not cheered up by sweets, ya know? So, it’s kind of fun to be able to be there for people in a way that you might not expect from a bakery."

This week on the show we visit with Brittany Kiel at Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery in Columbus, Indiana. We talk about running a bakery in a pandemic, and the challenges and rewards of taking over the family business. 

Oh, and we talk about pie. We talk quite a bit about pie.

Plus, we visit a craft brewery in North Carolina experimenting with local botanicals, and Harvest Public Media shares a story about how one meat processing plant determined the fate of two towns. 

---

Ahlemeyer Farms Bakery is a small, made-from-scratch bakery with a history. It's been a Columbus institution for more than 30 years. The bakery has survived its share of ups and downs and several relocations over the years. During its time on Central Avenue the bakery boasted a deli, served lunch, and was known for its flaky pie crust. For the Thanksgiving holiday they often cranked out hundreds of each variety of pie to satisfy customer demand. 

They have been in thier current location on 17th street for eight years, and Brittany Kiel took over the business from her mother about 2 years ago. She's made a few changes including brightening up the interior decor and converting most of the recipes to vegan. There are a few classics that don't meet her standards in their vegan version, such as their signature sugar cream pies. So, out of respect for family tradition, she sticks to the original recipe for those. 

In our conversation, Brittany tells the bakery's story and discusses the challenges and rewards of taking over the family business. 

Music on this episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.

Stories On This Episode

Craft brewery Fullsteam is aiming for a “Southern beer economy”

cans of Churro Churro

At a craft brewery in the South, beermakers locally source everything from wheat to watermelon for their experimental beers.

How a meatpacking plant changed one Kansas town 40 years ago and left a Colorado community behind

People shoveling dirt at the groundbreaking of the meatpacking plant

Four decades ago, a town in Kansas and a town in Colorado competed to become home to a giant meatpacking plant that, at the time, was the largest of its kind in the world. Here’s what has happened to them since.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Earth Eats

Harvest Public Media