(Earth Eats theme music, composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey)
Kayte Young: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.
SHANNA HUGHEY: When I first started in herbalism every single teacher that I knew, every person that I knew that it was at the top of herbalism and farming was white.
KAYTE YOUNG: This week on our show, we visit with Shanna Hughey, also known as Medicine Mija of Wild Mint Apothecary. She talks about growing food and medicinal herbs and how her herbal practice connects her with her ancestors and with people of color around the globe. And we talk with the owners and bakers at Two Sticks Bakery and share recipes suitable for Valentine's day treats. That's all just ahead in the next hour here on Earth Eats, stay with us.
RENEE REED: Earth Eats is produced from the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. We wish to acknowledge and honor the indigenous communities native to this region and recognize that Indiana University Bloomington is built on indigenous homelands and resources. We recognize the Miami, Delaware, Pottawatomie and Shawnee people as past present and future caretakers of this land.
KAYTE YOUNG: After COVID-19 ravaged hundreds of meat packing plants across the country, several states prioritized vaccines for food processing workers, but as Harvest Public Media's Christina Stella reports many workers could end up waiting months to get the shot.
CHRISTINA STELLA: Lianila Gonzales can't wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine. She already knows what she'll do afterwards - go to warm, sunny, Texas, and visit her family.
LIANILA GONZALES: I want to travel. I want to go somewhere out. Now I can't go to see anybody because I don't want to go into anywhere. It's more safe for me and my family need to stay in my home.
CHRISTINA STELLA: Gonzalez supervises the morning shift at Lincoln premium poultry processing plant in Fremont, Nebraska, which provides chicken for Costco warehouses across the US. She saw her community really struggled with the virus and lost her own dad to the illness.
LIANILA GONZALES: This virus is really bad. I want to protect myself and the people who stay around the me and for my family and everybody. I need to protect because I'm working with a lot of people.
CHRISTINA STELLA: About 250 of the plant's workers have gotten sick over the course of the pandemic with two deaths. Cases in some bigger name plants across the region have been double or triple that number. In nearby Dakota City, Nebraska, nearly 800 workers at a Tyson beef plant tested positive last spring, forcing the facility to close for cleaning.
Now that vaccines are cleared for use many companies are eager to secure doses for their employees. Jessica Kolterman, a senior manager at the plant says Lincoln Premium Poultry has tried its best to plan ahead.
JESSICA KOLTERMAN: Everyone of our team members has been surveyed and to date we've had over 40% of our team members say that yes, they would be excited to receive the vaccine. So we were really excited and ready to go.
CHRISTINA STELLA: The company is hoping to up that number. Some processors like the mega packer JBS are even offering bonuses to workers who get the shot. Lincoln Premium Poultry isn't one of them, but Kolterman says the company is partnering with local health officials to provide information about the vaccine, especially to hard hit immigrant communities.
JESSICA KOLTERMAN: In our group specifically, we have people who are Spanish speaking, and we have people who are Korean speaking. And so those are two communities that we'll focus on with our educational efforts.
CHRISTINA STELLA: And there are some less official efforts too. Steve Key works on the same shift as Lianila Gonzalez. He's been talking up the vaccine with peers who might be on the fence and even put on an impromptu skit one morning, debunking misinformation.
STEVE KEY: If I can make a fool out of myself and convince one person that wasn't going to get it to take it out, I feel like I will have won.
CHRISTINA STELLA: At first he was one of the uncertain people, then he saw the virus up close when his wife tested positive after Thanksgiving. She was sick for most of December.
STEVE KEY: After seeing it firsthand I don't want it. My only question is when is it going to be here?
CHRISTINA STELLA: That's manager Jessica Kolterman's question too. Right now she's just waiting.
JESSICA KOLTERMAN: Ultimately, what will happen is I'll get a call from the health department and they'll say, "We have vaccines for you." It may be five, it may be 50, but we're going to have to mobilize immediately.
CHRISTINA STELLA: That call will come from Terra Uhing executive director of the Three Rivers Public Health Department.
TERRA UHING: I can tell you, I've got people beating on my door and every single industry trying to persuade us why they need to go first and that isn't even up to me.
CHRISTINA STELLA: But many States like Nebraska are still trying to vaccinate other groups first like people over 65, first responders, and teachers.
TERRA UHING: We got to really get the communities to understand this is not a bad rollout. This is not that we are not organized. We don't have the vaccine.
CHRISTINA STELLA: The shortage reflects larger supply concerns across the United States. Uhing only has about 900 doses a week to give across three counties.
TERRA UHING: We have allocated 61% to the 65 and older population going to our medical systems and pharmacy. So that's 550 doses that leaves me 350 doses a week. That's not very many.
CHRISTINA STELLA: So even though meatpackers are prioritized in Nebraska and many other states, it will take weeks if not longer to start vaccinating most workers. Christina Stella, Harvest Public Media.
KAYTE YOUNG: Find more from this reporting collective at Harvest Public Media dot org.
SHANNA HUGHEY: So this is the main garden area. This year we just did enough veggies for ourselves and lots of medicinal flowers and herbs throughout the summer. And we have a hoop house over here. And then we're going to double the space back that way, because we have about an acre. That's the plan for next year, now that Luna's a little older and I can actually devote some time to it.
KAYTE YOUNG: We're in the garden of Shanna Hughey west of downtown in Bloomington, Indiana. It's late summer, still plenty hot and humid, but the garden is beginning to wind down. Shanna is showing me around her garden area behind the house.
SHANNA HUGHEY: Right now we really just have like, basil, tomatoes, some herbs, okra over here. There's a bunch of stuff over there, like herbs and oregano and onions and squash. This was all cucumbers, but I took it out so I can put radishes and then over here I have some medicinals - nettles and tansy and then I have echinacea over there and back by that tree, I have a lot of lemon balm and dill.
KAYTE YOUNG [VOCIE OVER]: And there's a chicken coop.
SHANNA HUGHEY: Yeah, we're here.
KAYTE YOUNG [VOCIE OVER]: After the garden tour, I sat down with Shanna in her shady front yard to talk about her work.
SHANNA HUGHEY: My name is Shanna Hughey, and I am the owner of Wild Mint Apothecary.
KAYTE YOUNG: Shanna is known on Instagram as Medicine Mija. She shares beautiful images of plants, both wild and cultivated and herbal tinctures, teas, salves and tonics, which she handcrafts for Wild Mint Apothecary. She also shares information and instruction. She works from her home these days with her baby daughter Luna by her side. I asked Shanna to tell me about her journey as an herbalist. She said it started for her back in 2014.
SHANNA HUGHEY: I was really into essential oils and skincare. Having more melanated skin I was always really conscious of the lotions I was using and what I was putting on my body. And I started making my own skincare and then that led to more of the herbs and how to use them for my wellbeing and my healing. I think if you have more melanin in your skin, you're more likely to be dry and maybe exhibit some skin issues that people who are white don't. And the cosmetic industry and beauty industry is promoting it for fair skin and for predominantly white women. So I would put like certain lotions on and it would be like, this is not doing anything for my skin, I need something thicker in winter.
And then I have nephews who are black. I have like darker shades of brown and my family. So just seeing like skincare growing up, it just was a huge thing. And realizing that some of the things that are being sold are really drying to my type of skin and realizing that I needed to figure out how to make it.
Once I first started developing a relationship with herbalism, I went to like a conference and I did workshops and I really started my own personal studies with it. And around the same time, I also became really interested in gardening and food justice and sustainability. So kind of all happened around the same time. And I wasn't really able to make it a lifestyle until we bought land, really. My first garden, I just had a little urban porch garden, and I did all containers and I grew beans and okra and things that you wouldn't think could grow in little containers, but I did.
At first it was more, "Oh, this is interesting. It's fun to learn. It's also practical because then I have produce for myself and I don't have to go to the grocery store, and I have beautiful cutting flowers to decorate. I don't have to go purchase a bouquet." But then it became more about my personal healing journey and my connection to my ancestors and spiritual practice.
A way to fight against a really oppressive system that the discriminates a lot of against black and brown people and has stripped us of our ancestral practices, our culture, our roots. And so along the way, that's been more of my passion behind it. So yeah, that's kind of the space I'm in now is it's more about social justice and food justice and healing. And it's awesome also to be able to give back to the community and help.
When I first started in herbalism every single teacher that I knew, every person that I knew that it was at the top of herbalism and farming was white. I didn't understand why I never felt a hundred percent comfortable, or why the space wasn't as safe for me. Because herbalism, isn't just like taking herbs, it's a lifestyle. It's spiritual, it's healing, it's all this stuff. So when it clicked for me that, wow, I don't see any Brown or black leaders. I think like the overall goal for me is to make it more accessible for people like me. I'm not saying just black or Brown people, but I think it's close to heart in my heart because I just want that community for myself.
KAYTE YOUNG: She started wild mint apothecary with her herbal creations using natural and forged ingredients. I asked her about her instructional Instagram videos.
SHANNA HUGHEY: I really want my Instagram to be more accessible and have more info. But with having a baby, it's been really hard to. Because when I first started, I was like, "Here's the recipe, like here are the ingredients, here's how to do it. It's really not that hard."
I was doing a lot of foraging videos where I was like, "This is what a plantain looks like, or this is what Creeping Charlie looks like and hey, you can eat it." But I haven't had (time for it) like last year, I had way more time for it. And this year it's a little harder.
KAYTE YOUNG: One of the videos she did make walked through the steps of making fire cider.
SHANNA HUGHEY: I'm a folk herbalist or a community herbalist. So I like to use like what's growing around here. And so with firecider the reason why I love it is because it's stuff that's growing. It's like onions and garlic and peppers, and like whatever's growing outside or oregano, parsley, put it in there with apple cider vinegar. So it's really very accessible. It's easy to make. You don't have to really go identify anything. You don't really need to know how to grow it if you can find locally.
KAYTE YOUNG: Firecider or is fiery hot and intense. It's taken as a tonic with the hope of boosting the immune system. Shanna notes that folk herbalism focuses on the local environment.
SHANNA HUGHEY: If you're living in a community you know what's growing and if the foods are already around you or they're native to you, then you have a connection with them.
KAYTE YOUNG: And the practice of a folk herbalist is different from the practice of a clinical herbalist.
SHANNA HUGHEY: For me, it's about like preventative care and wellness, overall wellness. And I know how to treat allergies or gastro stuff or headaches.
KAYTE YOUNG: But she's not taking on the treatment of say diabetes or an auto-immune disease.
We talked about food justice and food access and how it relates to her work.
SHANNA HUGHEY: I think for me, with herbalism and growing food, it goes back to just being a minority and seeing so many black and brown people being so disproportionately affected by health issues in our world. And even they're more likely to get COVID and die from it.
And so if you look at that way, that our system is set up, the people who are oppressed are the ones who are least likely to get that good quality food. So to me, one of the biggest systemic issue is food, honestly. Because if you have quality food, you had access to medicine that wasn't super expensive, and big pharma wasn't like ruling everything then people would be healthier and not be dying and not be sick.
One of the important things that I feel is maybe undervalued when it comes to farming and herbalism sometimes is the importance for it for people of color, isn't just a practicality or a sustainability or a food justice thing, but I really do think it's healing. It's really a way to like take back our power. There was a lot, there is a lot of trauma and pain from getting your practices ripped away from you through colonization. So, I think one thing for me that's super important is for people to understand, is that for me, and for a lot of other POC who are doing this, it's like so much deeper. It's about connecting back to our roots and our ancestry, our ways of life.
My bisabuela was a native and also my great Grandpa on my mom's side was as well. And I have natives on my dad's side and as well as European and ancestry and some African ancestry as well. But all of that, those cultural practices that were really rooted in land stewardship and growing and healing was stripped away through colonization in South and Central America.
And there's a lot of immigrants and black folks who have experienced that. And to get back to land stewardship and growing and connecting to plants is so incredibly powerful to healing our generational traumas, our ancestral traumas, our colonization traumas. And so for me, that is like the root of all of it for me. It's incredibly healing and it brings me joy and I really want other people who are POC to be able to experience that connection to all of our past. Our culture keeps getting stripped away and then we're boxed out of farming and boxed out of these spaces that are just predominantly white and exclusive.
I'm really into ancestral movement. So, and that's like the theory of exercise is like separate and then there's movement that's rooted in what we would do as our ancestors, which is like baby wearing while we're working in the yard, weeding, growing foods, walking and community. Like all of that stuff is so tied in with the growing food. And so when you make it the center of your world, it heals so many parts of it within your life. It's nourishing literally and it's also spiritually very nourishing.
KAYTE YOUNG: That was Shanna Hughey, gardener and herbalist with Wild Mint Apothecary. On Instagram, she's Medicine Mija. That's medicine M-I-J-A and you can find her at Wild Mint Apothecary on Facebook. We have those links on our website Earth Eats dot org.
After a short break, we visit with the owners and bakers of Two Sticks Bakery in Bloomington. Stay with us.
Welcome back. You're listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kate Young. Next up a conversation from early 2020.
If you're lucky enough to have a locally owned and operated bakery in your neighborhood, then you know how happy the residents were in Bryan Park and Elm Heights near downtown Bloomington when Two Sticks Bakery opened on South Washington. Two Sticks opened their doors in 2018, the ground floor retail space of a new infill apartment building with an old town feel.
There's not a lot of parking. But that works because there's not a lot of seating in the bakery. It's more of a grab and go kind of place, with coffee, espresso, and a huge spread of handcrafted baked goods.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: And turnovers and scones and hand pies and focaccia.
KAYTE YOUNG: It's the kind of place you dash into on your way to work or pop in for a midday break.
They're open Tuesday through Saturday from 7:30-4:00 and Sundays from 9-2. Two Sticks has been buzzing nonstop since opening day. I sat down with the owners, Kassie Jensen and Amanda Armstrong to learn more about their approach to baking, and to running a small business.
KASSIE JENSEN: I'm Kassie Jensen.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: Amanda Armstrong of Two Sticks Bakery. Things that we offer, in my mind, it's broken down into breakfast pastries, savory pastries and cookies and bars and cake like treats like afternoon treats or breakfast treats. You can totally eat a cookie for breakfast. We don't judge. We have cinnamon rolls and Danish and turnovers and scones and hand pies, and focaccia, cookies. We have vegan and gluten-free options as well. Bars, cake, there's a cake every day by the slice.
KASSIE JENSEN: We have a custom cake menu online. We also can offer catering options where we can do half size bars of our regular offerings.
KAYTE YOUNG: I wanted to know how they got connected as business partners.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: We worked together at Feast and Kassie was working full-time at Feast and doing the farmer's market. I thought it was the coolest thing that she was pursuing her dream outside of it. And so I was interested in what she was doing, and I knew that an investor had approached her. And I knew that I didn't want to work that job the rest of my life, I needed something more. It's just kind of happened from conversation, I feel like.
KASSIE JENSEN: We were both really in similar places in life and ready to spread our wings and do our own thing and had similar goals in mind. So it kind of worked out well.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: We had an investor who we've paid off and who is getting ready to step out so that Kassie and I will be the sole owners.
KAYTE YOUNG: I asked Kassie how she came up with the name.
KASSIE JENSEN: I was homebaking cookies, like that's my thing. I always had cookie dough in my freezer and I was always making cookies. And I had later would look like, "Oh, all of the recipes call for two sticks of butter." I liked the idea of a number in a name. And so just suddenly came to me, I was like, "That's it two sticks."
I'm like an outdoors-y adventurous person. So I wanted the look of the logo to be more of an outdoorsy look, but it does mean two sticks of butter.
KAYTE YOUNG: I asked Kassie and Amanda what's been surprising for them about starting their bakery?
KASSIE JENSEN: When we look at our original numbers from our business plan, we have blown those numbers out of the water in a way that we never expected. It's just so much different than what I expected in that avenue, and just the tasks of taking on employees and living up to the challenges of being an owner in my own mind. So that has been a lot different than I expected.
KAYTE YOUNG [INTERVIEWING]: Can you say more about what the challenges are in your own mind?
KASSIE JENSEN: Yeah, for me personally it's just being a leader and not being afraid to speak my mind and say what needs to be done, and it just doesn't come natural to me. I'm a little bit more of the shy one of the two of us, and I thought it would be easier, but yeah, those. And just trusting others to do your product when you're not here and serve to it the way you want it to be served and display it the way that you want it to be displayed. And so really just finding a place of trust, I think is a big thing too, and that I'm learning to do. It's like I can't do it all, so I must step back and trust others.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: Well, for me, the whole process was fast and easy almost. Because you hear that starting businesses is all these challenges, and I feel like I started working on the business plan in November of '17 and we were ready to open eight months later. This was an empty room. So all of the things that had to happen happened really quickly and for the most part effortlessly. And so in my mind it was like, "Oh my gosh." Even our opening day, even how we came up with a production schedule for something that we hadn't been producing on a large, large scale, I feel like we all, even our front of house adjusted to it really well. So I was very surprised at how all of that happened.
KASSIE JENSEN: That just speaks to the experience that we had coming into this. I was at Feast for eight years. Amanda was there for three years. Jamie was there for six years. So we had all worked together in that environment for such a long time that I think just the level of production was way more than we expected it to be.
KAYTE YOUNG: And I knew you guys sold out, like on your first day, pretty early. Is that true?
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: Yeah, and a part of that was just having no idea what to expect. Even this Christmas Eve, we've only experienced one other Christmas Eve, and that was when we were only been open for about five months, so not as much knowledge of us. This last Christmas Eve, you could have pushed me over and had to scrape me off the floor. I was so blown away by the amount of people who were here waiting when we opened the doors. And we still did not have enough for the case that day. I mean, it was incredible. It's incredible. Yeah. The very first day though, we had no idea what we were walking into.
So now there's definitely a system like Saturdays are always busy days for us. And so now we know like, well, once the first bake is done, start baking more things so that we're ahead of the game. So yeah, some learning has happened in closing.
KAYTE YOUNG: So did you have employees from the beginning? Like did you need...
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: Yes. We had like told ourselves in our business plan that it was just going to be me and Kassie and we would bake and hop up front (laughs). But yes, we did open with (employees). Mainly because we decided to open with an espresso machine, which was not part of our original plan. So when we had the espresso machine, we knew we had to have a barista. So yeah, we definitely needed to have more hands and then progressed to needing to have a dishwasher and those kinds of things too.
KAYTE YOUNG [VOICE OVER]: I wanted to know how they balance customer demands with their own limits and needs.
KASSIE JENSEN: Our space is limited, which means our staff is limited. And so we have to say no.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: And I feel like our hours also dictate that. There's never going to be a time that I'm working until eight o'clock at night because we close at four. It's pretty limited. And I feel like Kassie and I are both really good about saying, "No, I'm tired. I can't do anymore." Or "Our prep bakers are already, they're already maxed out." So I feel like we have a really good handle on just being like, "We'll work as hard as we can work and then we're gonna go"
I mean, I have two kids, so I still have to go pick up kids from school and do those kinds of things. So thankfully the schedule is very conducive to that, so I can get up early and be done early and still have the evening to be a normal person.
KAYTE YOUNG [TO AMANDA]: Yeah. I think that's a rare thing for a small business owner is to be a regular person.
KASSIE JENSEN:: Yeah. And sharing the tasks that we've chosen to go in it together rather than taking it all on ourselves to share the tasks. And yeah, I'm definitely finding more often than not my body is forcing me to say no. So I'm listening to it and just going with the flow.
KAYTE YOUNG: Is that ever challenging when someone's really like, "Yeah, but I need this cake."
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: We hear that a lot. I mean, Kassie does all the custom cakes. So our front of house is usually the one who has to answer that question and to stand kind of be the first line of defense. We have a set schedule of how many cakes per day, and when we've hit that, max, we've hit that max and that's that protects Kassie. And it also makes it easy to be like, "We just can't." without feeling too personal about it.
KASSIE JENSEN: It wasn't in the beginning. And I definitely set those standards after just going a little too wild and feeling I could do it all for a minute there. And then I was like, "Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, hold the phone." And we would joke that Amanda would have to answer the phone because I'm too much of a pushover and I'd be like, "Yes, I'll do it." And then I'm like hanging up the phone, I'm like, "Agh, why did I do that?" So I'm like, "Somebody else has to answer the phone because I just can't." But now it's a lot easier. It's gotten easier
KAYTE YOUNG: In a time when there's Keto, and paleo, and gluten-free, and what made you think, "Oh, now is a good time for a bakery."?
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: Man I don't know. So my background's in dietetics, and I do a lot of playing around with my own diet just to see how I feel, but I don't know that we really thought about it that way. We just knew that there was demand for it. So to me, what we do is comfort food. It's not super elegant and a creation of art, it's things that taste so good. They either transport people back to a memory, or I feel like there's such a connection to food for people and how we do it. And our goal with how we produce our baked goods I think really hits that button for them. And it's apparently slightly addictive.
KASSIE JENSEN: I want to eat food and desserts that just make my mouth water. I don't care about the art - like the piece of art that you don't want to touch. I want something to make my mouth water, and that's what draws me to a bakery. And there's been bakeries around the country that I've visited and I've been inspired by. So I've kind of always taken pieces along the way. And I'm like, "Oh, I'd love to do that, and that, and that." I don't think we even thought so much about the diets and the fads. We've kind of snuck some of those in our daily vegan and gluten-free items and things like that. But I definitely felt it was something that was missing in Bloomington that just mouthwatering wholesome organic made from scratch baked goods.
So my mindset on food has always been more of like...
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: Everything in moderation
KASSIE JENSEN: Everything in moderation! Yes that's totally my... cause I'm not gonna eat until I feel sick, but I just love to just taste it and get enough, and really taste it though. I mean we've been talking a lot about this lately about just being mindful while you eat your food and rather than staring at your phone or doing all these other things, but really tasting your food. And that's something we've been bringing up lately.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: So if it's an everything in moderation approach and not just Twinkies in moderation but think about the quality of what you're eating. Something that's really high quality is going to be more satiating than... I mean I could slam for four Twinkies, but the honey caramel pecan bar that Kassie makes, I can only eat half of it, and then I'm good. So I think there's that lesson too, in just being really intentional about what you're eating and really enjoying it and don't have any guilt about it. Just enjoy it and then go do other things. Go be a nice person.
KAYTE YOUNG: I follow you on Instagram and your presence is really consistent. And I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about your approach to Instagram and how you use it.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: In previous work realized the power of social media. It's free, first of all, and it is marketing, and you can use it that way. And so I'd course and learned how to word things, what the picture should be like. So when we opened, we didn't have money for advertising, advertising is crazy expensive. And we were like, okay, well we'll just do social media. And I realized that I needed to be very consistent with it. So we would post our post each day, but also like people want to know all the time. People will call and be like, "What's in the case right now? Is there anything left?" Like, okay, so let's show them what's in the case, first thing in the morning you'll know what kind of cake we have or whatever.
So it was intentional and also it's really fun. I think people like being able to connect with us. A lot of people, I have no idea who they are in person, but we're basically best friends online. And I think that that's part of our goal. The openness of the environment here is to be able to connect with people and being on social media. And handling the social media ourselves and answering the messages ourselves and replying to the comments, that's important to everyone, including us. So yeah, social media has been an amazing tool and people tell us all the time that they saw the story and that's why they came in or they saw the posts. So it definitely is effective tool for marketing, for us.
KAYTE YOUNG: Connecting with the customer is a big part of what you're doing here, and I think that's really obvious in the visual aspect of the kitchen being right there.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: Right. Yes. Yeah, that was very intentional too. And it's fun because for the most part I can hear interactions and it's like, if they need to talk to us or there's a situation where one of us needs to step in, we're able to do that. And I think that helps us to be better owners and makes our staff feel supported as well. I don't know, and just to be able to connect with people who support us is really important. I mean some people come every single day and it's hard to say thank you for that and what it means to us, but to be able to build a relationship with a customer is pretty remarkable.
KAYTE YOUNG [VOCIE OVER]: Kassie was kind enough to walk us through the steps of her pecan bars.
KASSIE JENSEN: The honey caramel pecan bars. And basically I start with a triple batch every time I make them. And I start by doing the shortbread crust first. And I can actually do a couple of bowls of shortbread crust and have them ready and prepared at a time that way I can bust out a batch as fast as possible. And so basically I will flail these 9 x 13 pans and then split that shortbread crust into three. And then that gets baked for 11 minutes. And so a slightly golden shortbread bottom, and it comes out of the oven. And then I begin to work on the filling, which takes our biggest pot possible.
And I put the ingredients, which is the butter, brown sugar, and honey to make a caramel. And once, so you get it to like a boiling, and you boil for three minutes and just like a caramel, you have to add your butter and heavy cream. So it gets it to stop cooking. And so you add your butter and cream and then the pecans, you fold it all in.
And after I've got the crust out of the oven, I split the filling into three on these, and then back in the oven it goes, and it goes for another 13 minutes. And these are pretty precise. They're solid and there's no strain, like cakes it can maybe need another 30 seconds or another minute. These are solid every single time.
KAYTE YOUNG: How many bars will you get out of each pan?
KASSIE JENSEN: So this will be cut 3 x 5, so I'll get 15 out of it. And you've seen them, the portion size is pretty generous. I mean, you can only eat about half of it, I think. And you definitely share it with somebody. So they have by far become one of our best sellers and felt like something I would look back as the thing that started it all almost.
KAYTE YOUNG [VOICE OVER]: Here's Amanda describing the bars.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: Well I'm a sucker for shortbread. So the crust is the most perfect, delicious shortbread base. And the filling, it's like a caramelly covered pecan, but the honey adds this layer to it that makes people say, "Why are these so good?" And I think that's what it is. It's like become pecan pie tightened up, so it's more caramel-y and in a bar form, and they're pretty mind blowing.
KAYTE YOUNG: Amanda Armstrong and Kassie Jensen of Two Sticks Bakery also share their vegan, gluten free peanut butter bar recipe on our website, Earth Eats dot org. After a short break, we'll hear a conversation with Amanda about how the bakery adjusted their business model when the pandemic hit, stay with us.
We're approaching the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the COVID-19 restrictions. By now, we might be used to wearing masks, keeping our distance and keeping our restaurant dining to take out. But back in mid-March things felt quite chaotic and uncertain. In May of 2020 I spoke with Amanda Armstrong about what it was like at the bakery that first week.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: People were still entering the space, and so I realized that this wasn't going to last. And we either needed to decide to close, or we were going to have to go online. The week earlier I was like, "I do not know how to set up an online store, I am not setting up an online store." and literally that Sunday the 22nd, I was like, "We have to do this, we have to at least try."
KAYTE YOUNG [NARRATING]: That's Amanda Armstrong, co-owner of Two Sticks. They use Square for their point-of-sale service, and Square has an online store system.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: So, I spent Monday playing around with it, figuring it out. Tuesday we opened with online ordering.
KAYTE YOUNG: They quickly moved to taking orders exclusively online.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: Which was frustrating for people who didn't know and would just come, or if they're older, or if they don't have internet access. It would be sometimes hard to explain.
KAYTE YOUNG: It had to be all or nothing, both to reduce physical contact, but also to keep track of their inventory in their system.
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: So, we're just completely online orders only at this point. No phone call orders as well.
KAYTE YOUNG: The next question, how's business?
AMANDA ARMSTRONG: So, we have kind of a goal number in our mind. We know what that number is that we need in order to make a profit, not just break even, but make it worthwhile to be open.
So, that whole first week I was definitely paying attention to the numbers, and we exceeded them every single day. And every day since then it has been amazing. Like, extraordinary numbers for regular times, let alone carry-out only, quarantine times. It's been incredible, incredible.
KAYTE YOUNG: A few days after this interview they posted on Instagram - a request for patience from customers. Apparently Two Sticks sells out on their online store within minutes of opening at 7:30am.
In a way it's a good problem to have, but it makes for some unhappy customers and some of them are quite vocal. Luckily there's plenty of grateful and supportive customers too, who are just happy that Two Sticks is making it work in the midst of a pandemic.
Please note that last piece about Two Sticks' online store is from May of 2020. In September, the bakery switched back to in-store purchasing takeout only with very strict policies. Only two people are allowed in the store at a time, masks are required at all times - no sips or nibbles inside and no cash purchases. They also have a relatively new item available, take and bake cinnamon rolls. Find their contact information at Earth Eats dot org.
If you've taken up gardening during the pandemic, you're certainly not alone. COVID gardeners popped up all over the country with more people working from home and wanting to grow their own food. That's led to a huge spike in demand for seeds and as Harvest Public Media is Dana Cronin reports, seed companies are struggling to keep up.
DANA CRONIN: Steve Larimore was hoping to triple the size of his garden this year, near Bend Oregon. Once his seed catalog arrived he started to put his order together and then he hit a snag.
STEVE LARIMORE: Out of about 60 items I ordered, a third of them were sold out already.
DANA CRONIN: Tomatoes, kale, lettuces, sweetcorn, all gone. He couldn't even get ahold of his favorite zucchini, the zucchino rampicante.
STEVE LARIMORE: That was one I was really looking forward to growing again because it did very well. And it's quite unusual, it gets about two to three feet long and curls up in all kinds of interesting shapes.
DANA CRONIN: Home gardeners across the country are facing similar problems sourcing seeds for their spring gardens. Last year nurseries and seed companies saw historic levels of demand. And so far, this year is no different.
NIKOS KAVANYA: The closest before COVID hit was during Y2K. Y2K was this little bullet compared to this.
DANA CRONIN: Nikos Kavanya is a purchaser for Fedco seeds based in Maine. She says since the pandemic Fedco has hired more customer service reps, increased the number of daily worker shifts and had to get creative to find enough seeds. Since the pandemic started, Kavanya says they typically reach their daily ordering limit within 10 minutes.
NIKOS KAVANYA: It feels to me like the gold rush, and everybody's at the starting line and the gun goes off and choo!
DANA CRONIN: But Kavanya emphasizes while you may not be able to get your favorite seed variety, there's no overall shortage.
NIKOS KAVANYA: It's not so much shortage of seed, but it's that we don't have the staffing to ramp up that quickly, especially in COVID.
DANA CRONIN: Baker Creek Seeds located in Missouri is in the same situation. Right now it's seeing five to six times more demand. Its seed packing machines just can't keep up and managers have had to bring in more human hands to help sort and package seeds. Kathy McFarland says her seed company is also constructing a 50,000 square foot warehouse in order to expand their operations.
KATHY MCFARLAND: We are now figuring out that that 50,000 square foot warehouse is not big enough. We're looking to expand again already, before we even have that one up and running.
DANA CRONIN: The spike in seed demand is causing a shortage of certain produce varieties. And that especially poses a problem for commercial farmers. They carefully plan their yearly crop based on specific factors. Things like climate, irrigation needs, harvest timing, and yield. Hans Bishop helps run Prairie earth farm in central Illinois, where he's in charge of seed acquisition. He says this year they've had to make some adjustments, including buying different kinds of onions.
HANS BISHOP: We don't know how these different varieties are going to perform if we're trying something new. We're just going to have to wait and see if it performs the same or better or worse than what the varieties that we have grown to trust over the years.
DANA CRONIN: Bishop's strategy next year is to try hard to get in ahead of the home gardeners when ordering his seeds. Oregon gardeners Steve Larimore says he's planning on saving his seeds from this year's garden and using them as bartering stock with his garden club next year. I'm Dana Cronin, Harvest Public Media.
KAYTE YOUNG: Harvest Public Media is a reporting collective covering food and farming in the Heartland. Find more at Harvest Public Media dot org. Next up we have a quick and easy chocolate cake recipe for Valentine's day. This one is from Susan Mintert. This type of cake recipe came about during the depression, when rich ingredients like eggs and butter might be hard to come by. It might sound humble, but it hits all the notes you're looking for in a chocolate dessert.
Susan is in her kitchen with her mother and her daughter.
SUSAN MINTERT: This cake consists of flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and soda for your dry ingredients. And then you're going to add some vanilla, some vinegar and some salad oil, and then two cups of water. So those are the ingredients and we're just going to put this together.
You mix it all up in your baking pan. So I have just a 9 x 13 baking pan here, and we're going to put all the ingredients in the pan, and we are going to mix it up and then bake it. So it's just as easy as that.
So we've combined all the dry ingredients into our baking pan and we're going to just thoroughly mix those together. I like to use a flat wire whisk; it works really well for this. You can also use a fork. This is the only part of this cake that even takes very long.
(Sound of dry whisking in the pan)
So now this is kind of the fun part. When you get this mixed together, make three wells in the dry ingredients here. Into the first well, we're going to put two teaspoons of vanilla. Into the second well two teaspoons of vinegar. And into the third well were pouring in a scant two thirds cup of oil, and I always use canola oil. On the top of this we're going to pour over two cups of cold water. So we're just going to kind of pour this over the top and you want to be careful here, so you don't splatter. Then we're going to take that whisk again and just whisk it together.
All right, so we've just about got this and it's not going to be perfect, like without lumps, but you do want to get all the dry ingredients well incorporated and get that oil mixed in. Our oven is preheated to 375. Okay.
SUSAN MINTERT'S MOM: So the leavening agent of this cake is baking soda. Right? So that's reacting with vinegar, right? Probably?
SUSAN MINTERT: Yes. The baking soda with the acid would create the bubbles.
SUSAN MINTERT'S MOM: There are tiny bubbles in there already.
SUSAN MINTERT: Already, yeah. Already some bubbles, that's right. So we've got it ready. We're going into the oven. And it only takes 30 minutes to bake, we'll have dessert in no time. The other thing about this cake which we didn't really comment on, but we mix all the ingredients in the baking pan and the baking pan was not greased or floured ahead of time, nothing at all. It was ungreased. It works. It will come out of the pan when it's done. So we'll see how it comes out.
KAYTE YOUNG [VOCIE OVER]: The cake bakes for about 30 minutes in a 375-degree oven, but don't worry about writing it all down. This recipe can be found on our website, Earth Eats dot org.
SUSAN MINTERT: So our cake has been out of the oven now for a couple hours, we have it served with strawberries, with a little sugar and a dollop of creme fresh on the side. Cake has a nice texture. It's nice and moist.
SUSAN MINTERT'S MOM: It does
SUSAN MINTERT: And the creme fresh gives you a little, a little of that creamy element, but it's not too sweet. Yeah. All right. I think it's a keeper.
KAYTE YOUNG: That was Susan Mintert in the kitchen with her mom and her daughter. Susan Mintert is the host of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast. And she's a home cook herself. Find more wherever you get your podcasts or at Indiana Home Cooks dot com.
For another Valentine's day treat, check out our latest recipe video on the Earth Eat's YouTube channel. This one is for heart shaped pastry cookies filled with red raspberry jam. This video also has step-by-step instructions for making my favorite flaky pie pastry. Search for Earth Eats on YouTube. We've got 10 recipe videos from my home kitchen, they're between 5 and10 minutes long, and sometimes one of my cats makes a cameo appearance. While you're there, you can subscribe to our channel. We really appreciate it. Earth Eats on YouTube with producer Payton Knoblech. Find us. That's it for our show. Thanks for listening, we'll see you next week.
RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Spencer Bowman, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Payton Knobeloch, Josephine McRobbie, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed.
KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Shanna Hughey, Amanda Armstrong, Kassie Jensen and Susan Mintert.
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 artist at Universal Productions Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.