Fruits of Her Labor
If we were to create a picture of the perfect confluence of local entrepreneur and farmer it would look an awful lot like Lee Davenport.
From a background as a baker at Sunroom on State Street, a driver for Homegrown Wisconsin and a chef at Harmony Valley Farm, with a stint at L'Etoile thrown in for good measure, Davenport has launched Pamplemousse Preserves, her business to "create appealingly intriguing flavor fusions in ... sweet and savory preserves, jams, marmalades, syrups and ice cream sauces."
Her roots are deep. "I have always worked in the food business since I was sixteen," says Davenport. "It was just a passion at an early age. I wish someone had pushed me toward cooking school." Instead she watched her mom make preserves from the fruit in the woods behind their house. Nothing fancy, she says, just jars of strawberry freezer jam. But it was her inspiration.
That inspiration bloomed at Harmony Valley during the summer she spent there as farm cook. She was preserving some of the produce on the farm "and they wanted me to leave them with some stuff to get them through the winter. I probably took it too seriously," she says, "and I left them with enough to get the whole village through the winter!"
Davenport says the epiphany for her own business came one night that summer as she was having dinner on the farm. "When I finished dinner I said I was going back in to the kitchen to work on a preserves project and the others said, 'Are you crazy? You've been cooking all day,' and I thought, 'Yeah, maybe I do love cooking that much.'"
Enough to devote the next three years to a food cart operation that put preserving on hold for awhile. The cart demanded nearly all of Davenport's time.
But Lee Davenport is nothing if not persistent. After three years on the waiting list she landed a spot at the Dane County Farmers' Market. "I got in so I thought, 'I guess I'm going to make preserves.'" She eventually found a commercial kitchen for lease with the Underground Food Collective. Not that it's helped her at the Farmers' Market. Davenport is only able to sell there once a year due to market rules requiring preserves makers to grow their own ingredients.
"I'm afraid to grow my own fruit," says Davenport. "My business would work better if I could sell at the market, but I'd have to invest a lot to grow the fruit and I'm afraid the business wouldn't last the three to five years it'd take. I'm more interested in perennial fruit."
Davenport knew the key for her was to "find the jam lovers and get the jam to them instead of waiting at a market for them to come to me." And so Community Supported Preserves and Bakery was born.
CSP&B is operated like a CSA, or community supported agriculture. With three contributing producers--Mary White's Honey Bee Bakery and Andy Hansen's Kindly Kraut are the other two--CSP&B offers shares in three-month seasonal blocks and delivers boxes with varying types of preserves, breads, krauts and kimchees produced as much as possible from sustainably grown ingredients from local farmers.
Boxes can be picked up at three delivery sites. Pamplemousse products are available at four stores locally and all can be found on the recently launched website pamplemoussepreserves.com. Davenport knows, instinctively it seems, this business won't be easy and she can't do it alone. In addition to her energy and determination Davenport has a feisty side.
"If you want local to survive," she says, "you have to support us year round. This is a CSA!" And it's three genuine articles--the idea, the product and the person.
Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband. Comments? Questions? Please write to email@example.com.