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Real Pickles in Greenfield, MA

Artisan Producer
USDA Certified Organic

We make our own...

"Nourishing food...authentic flavor...New England harvest."

311 Wells Street
Greenfield, MA 01301

the story behind Real Pickles

1 miles from Greenfield, MA 01301
A bit about Real Pickles
We are a worker-owned cooperative producing raw naturally fermented pickles from locally-grown vegetables. Our 100% organic products include dill pickles, sauerkraut, garlic kraut, red cabbage, kimchi, beets, ginger carrots, turmeric kraut, tomatillo hot sauce, garlic dill pickles and spicy dill pickles.Look for our ferments throughout the Pioneer Valley at natural food stores, independent grocers, and farm stands.

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Local Producer Profile: Real Pickles by Jonathan Ward
Published: October 01, 2015

Greenfield, MA - “We’re re-writing the standard storyline for a successful organic food business,” says Dan Rosenberg, founder of the twelve-year-old Greenfield, Massachusetts company Real Pickles, which makes naturally fermented and raw pickles from regionally-grown vegetables in a 100% solar-powered facility. Instead of selling their growing company to a large industrial food corporation, as happens so often with successful natural products businesses (think: Odwalla, Naked Juice, Tom’s of Maine, Stonyfield, and so on), Rosenberg and his wife Addie Rose Holland (who had joined him in running the business in 2004) went the other direction, deciding to keep Real Pickles small, locally owned, and mission-driven. In late 2012, Rosenberg and Holland formed a worker-owned cooperative with other staff members, and funded the co-op’s purchase of the business through a highly successful community investment campaign that raised a half-million dollars.

Transitioning to worker-ownership gave the company a way to protect its social mission. Since its founding, Real Pickles has been committed to promoting human and ecological health by providing people with delicious, nourishing food and by working toward a regional, organic food system. In order to help ensure that this mission would continue, the worker-owners inscribed these principles in the co-op’s organizing documents, and made them very difficult to change. Still, even after organizing the cooperative structure, the worker-owners needed to raise a half-million dollars to buy the business from Rosenberg and Holland. They considered a number of options for financing, from subordinated debt to equity. In making these decisions, the worker-owners drew from the experience that one of them had had working with Equal Exchange, a successful cooperative that has a long history of raising capital by selling non-voting preferred stock. Later, they sought the expertise of the PVGrows collaborative network in western Massachusetts. A financing expert in PVGrows also connected Real Pickles to Cutting Edge Capital, a pioneering law firm in the Bay Area that helped them navigate many legal hurdles. In the end, the worker-owners decided that the best way for them to raise $500,000 was to sell non-voting preferred stock through a direct public offering. Real Pickles officially launched a community investment campaign in March 2013. Astonishingly, in just two months, the campaign was over. Seventy-seven investors – a mix of individuals, customers and suppliers, even a number of other co-ops – together invested $500,000, which allowed Real Pickles to fully transition to worker-ownership.

With interest growing in scaling up local food systems, the story of Real Pickles’ co-op transition and community investment campaign offers important lessons. Communities need businesses that can model ways to stay small, vibrant, and locally owned. This story is both inspirational and rich in technical detail so that others can speak about it, replicate it, and, ultimately, build upon it to fit their own visions of resilient local economies.

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“I wanted to get people thinking,” says Dan Rosenberg, when asked why he founded Real Pickles in 2001. “What would a more localized food system really look like? People have to have options beyond just shopping at a local farmers’ market.” Ten years later, over 350 stores from Maine to New Jersey stock the Real Pickles line of raw, fermented products, made from vegetables all grown within 50 miles of the Real Pickles processing plant in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Despite a growing national reputation (including receiving a “2010 Good Food Award” presented by Alice Waters in California), Dan has also committed to not shipping Real Pickles anywhere outside of the Northeast.

That type of commitment to values has had an enormous impact on key business decisions, ranging from labor to facilities design to financing. The Real Pickles story demonstrates both the rewards of being a “Local Hero,” and the challenges of shifting away from global sourcing and seasonless production.

Sourcing Local

Real Pickles has six farm partners who provide the raw materials—cucumbers, beets, carrots, cabbage, garlic, and herbs—that will eventually be sold in Real Pickles jars. The crew must receive and process these crops during the short harvest season; 150,000 pounds of vegetables are harvested and brought to their door over a period of just a few months during the summer and fall. “Cucumber pickles are especially tough. We got 50,000 pounds of cucumbers this past year, and we had to get them fermenting within a week of harvest,” explains Dan. Adaptation to seasonal fluctuations in labor needs and workflow has been a key to survival. “It’s all about creative problem solving to minimize the impact of these challenges. We’ve adjusted recipes, stretched out the fermentation schedule, and designed the warehouse with a lot of cold storage— all because we source regionally. Other fermentation businesses our size purchase vegetables year-round from Mexico, Florida, California, which makes it a lot easier. But I know the vegetables we get from our farms are way better, they’re grown on diverse farms with healthy soil, and they aren’t bred to withstand long shipments and storage periods like most vegetables in the industrial food system.”

The short harvest season has financial repercussions, as well. Concentrated summer costs mean that expenses often peak beyond what the company has saved from sales. “In any given year, we have to borrow about a dollar for every two dollars we make back in sales. And that’s not counting real estate costs,” explains Dan.

A New Processing Facility

Real Pickles began operations in the Franklin County Community Development Corporation’s incubator kitchen, the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center (FPC), in Greenfield. After seven happy years there, Dan and his partner Addie Rose Holland had to face the truth: Real Pickles had outgrown the space. Real Pickles faced a three-year-long struggle to find and finance a suitable new space. They ended up buying a building right across the street from the FPC.


Loans from the Greenfield Savings Bank, Equity Trust, the Franklin County CDC, and the Four Town Loan Fund helped the couple finance the purchase of the building and the extensive renovations required to turn the space into a state-of-the-art fermentation factory. The commitment to sourcing locally significantly increased the cost of the renovations. “Everything had to be bigger,” says Dan. “Since we are processing in such large batches during the summer rather than in smaller batches throughout the year like other companies, we have to have more cold storage, more vegetable processing capacity, more barrels.” Energy-efficient coolers and lights represent a savings both in the financial and environmental sense, and Dan hopes to install roof-top solar roof panels in the near future.

Rather than bemoan the financial challenges, Dan is hopeful. “After ten years in business we’re starting to get to the point where we can envision a day when we are able to begin paying for materials and labor out of savings rather than having to take out more loans. Although this is a difficult financial model, it is the only way we can create a quality product in a socially and ecologically responsible manner, and keep the price customers pay at a reasonable level.”

What makes it worth the extra time, money, and effort? For Dan, it was never just about pickles. It’s about running a business that holds itself accountable to the community and the land. Satisfaction comes with the knowledge that what Real Pickles has become fits into a larger vision: a food system built on relationships and the well-being of people. “One of my very favorite parts of my job is talking to farmers, building those relationships,” says Dan. “I feel like I’m part of a community of people who share similar values, who want to change our food system, who do good work to bring good food to good people.”

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