Craft foods calling: nationwide schools, seminars and workshops teach you how to launch your own business

Most children don’t dream of selling cheese or hacking apart animal carcasses when they grow up, but it’s a popular fantasy for many adults. Like most romantic-sounding culinary vocations, making craft foods and beverages can be hard work, and a risky business enterprise. “No matter how passionate someone is about their product,” says Heidi Yorkshire, founder of Portland, Oregon’s Food by Hand Seminars, “without business skills, they’ll never survive.”

Yorkshire, a small business consultant and former food and wine writer, was inspired to launch Food by Hand in 2009 because she saw a niche. “Our courses are mini-apprenticeships in running a sustainable business.” Past curricula have included butchery and craft distilling.

Food by Hand offers two-to-three-day intensives that teach the “craft and business of artisan food.” While the courses are designed for prospective business owners, they’re open to anyone wanting to know more about handcrafted foods.

[Photo credit: Flickr user mystuart]Food by Hand has an artisan cheese program that teaches everything from tasting, buying, storage and shop design to creating a business plan. The course is led by esteemed Portland cheesemonger Steve Jones, the son of a Maytag Dairy herdsman. Additional instructors include an expert on business planning and a tax specialist.

Jones has been in the business for over 17 years and is now on his second retail cheese venture, Portland’s Cheese Bar. He’s an industry badass and the winner of the 2011 Cheesemonger Invitational (yes, it really does exist and let me tell you, as a cheesemonger, it’s a pretty intense occupation and competition).

Food by Hand’s fourth annual seminar on The Craft and Business of Retailing Artisan Cheese will be held in Portland from May 30-June 2, 2012, and costs $1,795 per person; a $1,595 early enrollment tuition fee is available if paid in full by April 1. Click here for details on how to register.

In Spokane, Washington, Dry Fly Distilling’s aptly named Distilling School teaches their “farm to bottle” ethos (they use only locally, sustainably-grown raw ingredients in their vodka, gin, bourbon and whiskey) in two-day and one-week courses designed to “provide a variety of hands-on training opportunities to aspiring distillers.”

Opening in Oakland’s Jack London Square in April is the Food Craft Institute. Supported by sponsors and partnerships with some of the Bay Area’s most renowned artisan food organizations, farmers and food artisans (some of whom are also the instructors) the new school aims to “reinvigorate the creation and success of artisan food craft business in the U.S. through a combination of…training courses steeped in technical techniques along with a rigorous entrepreneurship program.”

It’s easy to poke fun at the overuse of words like “artisan” and “handcrafted,” and even I cringe when I hear naifs dreamily speak of quitting their six-figure tech jobs and buying a goat dairy. The reality is that unless you put in the hard time doing internships and learning the business end of things — and that’s assuming you have real, honest-to-god talent and passion — you’re not going to succeed at any food business. Having seed money or disposable income doesn’t equal good product.

On the positive side, my former employer, a Seattle cheesemonger, did her homework and spent two years interning, developing a business plan and taking Jones’ workshop as well as making him her mentor. Her business has been a success from day one. If you’re serious about getting (food) crafty, you can run a viable business. Just don’t think it’s going to be easy.

and incubator kitchens such as San Francisco’s La Cocina have helped many craft food businesses get off the ground. If you’re considering a career in this industry, I highly recommend these and similar programs as resources. And don’t forget: craft foods make excellent travel souvenirs.

[Photo credit: lamb, Laurel Miller; cheese, Flicker user Mitchmaitree]

Why start a craft food business? Because you “can pickle that.”

California cooking classes teach artisanal, local food-crafting

Cooking classes are nothing new, but how about learning how to roast your own coffee beans, brew beer at home, or even prepare a roast chicken from scratch, including catching the bird? The Southern California-area Institute of Domestic Technology brings farm-to-table eating to a new level with workshops focusing on hyper-local food-crafting of everything from dairy products to artisanal mustard.

Classes are currently posted for March and April, with a few more on the schedule for early summer. Most workshops are around or under $200 including ingredients and lunch, and held at or near the Institute’s headquarters at Mariposa Creamery, north of Pasadena. The coffee roasting class will be held on April 28 with fees of $95 for supplies and snacks. The classes are a tasty way to take a piece of California home, and learn how to eat locally, wherever you are.

Photo courtesy Institute of Domestic Technology Facebook page.

Hang with Hardy at writers’ workshop weekend in Britain

If you’re a big fan of Return of the Native or Jude the Obscure, there’s a travel package that’s perfect for you. Built around the chance to hang with Thomas Hardy’s ghost – or, should we say, Thomas Hardy in ghost form? – Summer Lodge Country House Hotel is bringing four writers under its roof for a unique weekend of literary bliss. Guests will be able to learn how to make it as a writer from some heavy hitters, specifically Roger Collins, Marcelle Bernstein, Eric Clark and Jim O’Connor. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Hardy himself will weigh in with a few tips.

Roger Collins is an actor, broadcaster and writer, who counts his weekly International Herald Tribune column “The Frequent Traveler” among his claims to fame. Marcelle Bernstein is a novelist, nonfiction writer and journalist and has written Body & Soul and Sacred & Profane, both best sellers that later became feature films and television dramas. Eric Clark is an investigative journalist, and Jim O’Connor is an advertising copywriter who has pushed everything from forklifts to Australian rum.If you want to get in on the action, Summer Lodge’s Writers’ Weekend package includes two nights in a classic double room, a full English breakfast every day, champagne and canapés upon arrival and a three-course dinner Saturday evening. You’ll also be able to attend three writer workshop sessions over two days, sip tea and coffee during the events and receive a signed book by either Eric Clark or Marcelle Bernstein.

“Summer Lodge has close associations with Thomas Hardy,” says General Manager Charles Lötter. “He lived nearby and the hotel is at the very heart of the Wessex landscape he immortalized. The village pub, the Acorn Inn is featured in his novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles as The Sow & Acorn. What’s more, in his capacity as an architect, Hardy was asked to design the upper floor and the drawing room of Summer Lodge by the 6th Earl of Ilchester in 1893. So you could say the house is haunted by him – although I’ve yet to bump into him myself.”

Band on the Run: Shelter Valley Folk Festival in Grafton, Ontario

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life. Enjoy!

The Shelter Valley Folk Festival is only in its fourth year and you’d never know it. It’s one of the smoothest run festivals I have performed at in years. This was our first time there, but I walked onto the site on Friday evening and felt immediately at home.

I’m not sure if it’s the shape of the land, how it lolls uphill in Northumberland County (just south of Grafton, Ontario) and overlooks the huge sparkling body of water to the south: Lake Ontario. Maybe it’s the energy of the festival, which is geared towards community, local suppliers and artists, collective decisions, family. Or, maybe it’s all of the above combined together that draws around the event like an embrace and made my shoulders loosen up and take it in.

Whatever the reasons, it was a breath of fresh country air this Labour Day weekend.

I arrived to my band mates and friends lying in a pile in front of the stage Friday night, their faces lit up by spill of the stage lights, listening to Bill Bourne‘s set (accompanied by Michelle Josef on drums and percussion.) The pile gaped open to allow me to drop myself into it and we all huddled together staring up at the stars to the melodic lilt of Bill’s dancing guitar lines. Everyone was mesmerized and the whole audience seemed to be breathing in time to his tunes.

The next day, I kept running into my fellow artists who I knew weren’t programmed to play that weekend. I had read the schedule but their names weren’t on the performer’s lists. I found out shortly that many artists combine forces and volunteer at this event. It might have something to do with the founder, Aengus Finnan, an artist himself who was the visionary for this festival. And, while it may have been his vision to start with, many artists now share that same vision and lend their energy to prove it; they were doing things like MC’ing the stages, taking tickets, clearing plates in the dining tent, stage managing. That’s testimony right there to the magic in this event. It’s very rare to see musicians volunteering to work events that don’t include their music.

That’s belief in an event’s power.

That’s powerful.

We performed a total of seven times this weekend. Usually, I’d grumble a bit at being programmed so much at a festival. There was only one full concert on Saturday night, but we were playing in several workshops that included two or three songs round-robin style. (If you’re reading this from Australia, this is the “song swap” style of performance.)

What I found instead of pure exhaustion from these additional performances (which has been the case at other festivals at different times in my festival touring career) was an injection of energy from each workshop. We were collaborating with several other artists whose work all aligned beautifully with ours, like complimentary colours of a continuous musical spectrum. We did workshops whose themes were road stories, songwriting, community and collaborations, to name a few. I looked forward to each one and they all delivered that same post-performance grin.

A distinguishing feature of this festival compared to many others is the arts and wellness areas. In the artists’ booths, there were local artists from all different media whose only stipulation for being part of the festival was to provide demonstrations of their work to festival goers. There were people glass-making, painting, carving and paper-making for all to witness and learn from. Those booths were humming all day with onlookers and questions flying. I found it fascinating.

I was peering at the paper-making demonstration when there were suddenly horns blowing, shakers shaking and drums drumming coming down the path. Everyone’s head lifted and turned to see the kids’ parade walking towards us having already walked the circumference of the site and through the backstage as well. Kids were dressed and painted and smiling. Parents were filming. The young ones held onto a rope like the kind they have for preschoolers on walking trips through the city. It created this colourful spine around which the older kids and adult supervisors danced and jumped like the legs of an enormous caterpillar as it snaked its way around the remainder of the festival site.

This plastered a smile on my face as I took in the wellness area just beyond the artists’ booths. The area included talks and demonstrations of various body work. You could attend a shiatsu seminar and follow that up with a talk about sustainable organic gardening, for example, before catching a late afternoon musical workshop and then heading to the food stalls for organic and locally grown food.

All in all, this festival is educational, entertaining and healthy. The backstage area had full recycling drop points including composting and the use of re-usable plates, cutlery and glassware. It was healthy towards all things living, most importantly the Earth which we all can’t live without.

My friend Darlene (performer and volunteer at this festival) makes hula hoops as a side project to her amazing music and she graciously gave me one as a present this weekend. I think the gift may have been inspired by my long hula hoop session with a few eight-year-old girls in the open space to the east of the main stage on Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t stop playing with those hoops and I had to be tugged away when it came time for all of the performers to take to the stage for the finale songs.

Now I have a bright red hula hoop as a memory of this event.

And hopes to return some future year.

Shelter Valley Folk Festival is worth your attendance.