Say “Hey Vanessa!” and you’ll see two heads turn toward you. Vanessa Walsten and Vanessa Bakken are the co-founders of Farmented Foods, a local Montana vegetable fermentation company. They met in 2016 in a class at Montana State University. Little did they know that their class project was going to launch them into a career they could never have imagined.
Vanessa Walsten grew up in Kalispell, Montana and spent her early years romping around the wilds of Montana with her six siblings. Enjoying all the wonderment that this place we call home holds, Vanessa developed an appreciation early on for the land and the resources it provides us. At age 26, Walsten graduated with a degree in graphic design. While working in the field of graphic design, Walsten enjoyed the work but knew she wanted more. After deciding to enroll in Montana State University’s Sustainable Foods and Bioenergy program, Walsten made the move to Bozeman, MT where she would soon meet Vanessa #2 and combine her two degrees into a passion.
Bakken grew up in Eastern North Dakota with a family Farm not two hours away in Minnesota. Her dad spent many days driving to and from the farm during harvest and planting season with younger Bakken in tow. Although admittedly never that interested in the farming aspects of the farm (she was more interested in the new baby kittens, driving around on the four-wheeler and spending time with grandma), she learned early on the importance of a healthy growing season, how every little thing can affect the yield of a crop, and that farm life is hard work. After many family trips to Montana growing up, Bakken set her sights on Montana State University and was accepted into the Business College where she would earn her Business Marketing Degree in 2017.
In the Fall of 2016, the Vanessa’s both enrolled in an interdisciplinary course called Farm to Market. Soon the two Vanessa’s would realize they were not the only Vanessa in class (a rarity), be paired together for the final project, and after much excitement, countless hours of work and a bit of "screw it” mentality, would decide to launch their idea into a full fledge business.
Over the course of the semester, Walsten and Bakken would work with a partner farmer to develop a value added product out of what they grew. The Vanessa’s wanted to take it one step further and help their farmer solve a problem he, and farmers everywhere face: what to do with the ugly vegetables they can’t traditionally sell? Walsten, an avid fermenter, proposed creating a fermented product. They instead made three: Radish Kimchi, Dill Sauerkraut and Spicy Carrot Chips.
After much market research, product development and a whole lot of support from the MSU and Bozeman community, Farmented Foods was launched and the first jar was sold in December, 2017.
Today, Farmented Foods can be found all across Western Montana in both stores and used in restaurants. Their partner farmers network stretches just as far and is growing. With four products, Farmented Foods is constantly working on developing the next product for their line of locally cultured vegetables. With over 6,000 pounds and counting of imperfect produce saved, Farmented Foods and the Vanessa’s are committed to #savetheveggies one ugly vegetable at a time.