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My name is Amy Bergey. Gary Koen (my husband) and I meet in 2010 and fell head over heals in love almost instantly (and we fall more in love every day). We find that we both share a dream of someday moving away from the city, the traffic, and our desks, to live and work on a farm. We decided that someday, somehow we WILL have a farm together.... This is the beginning of the story of Gan Eden Farms and Falling Star Ranch.
2011 - Knowing that someday we want to move to a farm, we decide to look for land. The real estate market won't be depressed forever! After a year and a half, we settle on Live Oak, Florida. It's far enough away from the hustle and bustle of Fort Lauderdale and Miami (where we currently live and work), but close enough to large cities. Big cities like Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Valdosta, Lake City, and Gainesville are all under an hour and a half from Live Oak, assuring that we will have a market for our farm products. Live Oak also has everything we need: grocery stores, hardware stores, farm equipment and feed stores, doctors, dentists, and even restaurants and beauty parlors.
At the same time, the idea for infused vinegars is born: Gary grows lots of herbs, and I had to figure out what to do with all the extras because I hate to waste anything. I though of making infused olive oils as gifts for our friends and family, but when I looked into the process, I found out that infused oils have to be kept in the refrigerator, they spoil, and good olive oil is expensive. I kept hearing about how good apple cider vinegar is for health, and my son Rob loves vinegar on everything he eats. One day I was thinking about ways to save money on Rob's expensive balsamic vinegar, and how to use the left over herbs, and I suddenly came up with the idea for infusing the herbs into vinegar instead of oil. I experimented with flavors, and came up with some Rob approved recipes. I gave the herb infused vinegars out as gifts to my friends and family. Everyone liked them so much, we decided that we should sell them.
Gary and I had so much fun learning as we went along at the Pompano Beach Green Market. It was a great starting point for us since it was large enough to earn us some money (or at least break even) but small enough so that it felt like family. Our hot and spicy infused organic apple cider vinegars are getting extremely popular, but we keep hearing, "it's just not hot enough". People find that they are great on veggies, wings, and just about anything where you want a little spice. Also, being gluten free is a bonus we never thought about, but are very glad is helpful.
In an effort to satisfy our spicier customers, Gary came across some articles about the Ghost pepper, Bhut jolokia. It tops a whopping one million on the scoville scale, while a habanero, more than hot enough for most people, is only 200-350,000 on the same scale. We searched high and low for someone selling the plants. Back in those days, the Ghost pepper was just about unheard of and extremely hard to find. Finally we found someone in West Palm who sold the plants, as well as something called an Everglades tomato (which I love and will tell you about another time). We bought some plants, even after being warned that they are very hard to grow. Turns out, the Ghost pepper's scrappy reputation is no match for Gary's green thumb, and we had hundreds of Ghost peppers in no time.
The heat from a ghost pepper is fun to experience, and even more fun to watch someone else experience. When you eat something made with ghost pepper, the first taste is mild, so you think, “Oh, this isn't so hot.” Then when you swallow, once it hits the back of your throat the heat starts to build. How high the heat builds depends on how much ghost pepper is used in the product, how much you eat, and your individual spiciness tolerance. I like to say, “The heat sneaks up on you… that’s why they call it ghost pepper.” Well, we made our Ghost Pepper infused Apple Cider Vinegar, and our spicy customers love it as an addition to sauces, stews, wings, drinks, and anywhere they want some heat. We knew that ghost peppers have to be used quite sparingly or someone might get hurt (as seen in all the ghost pepper challenge videos on youtube). Through trial and error we found out some more things… 1. If you don’t wear gloves when preparing ghost peppers, you have to spend about 12 hours with your hands in ice water to ease the pain! 2. If you happen to touch your eyes, or any other part of your body while you are working with ghost peppers, you will be very sorry for a very long time.
So now I needed to find another way to use ghost peppers, since thanks to Gary’s wonderful green thumb, we had enough of them to make more vinegar than we could sell in around 100 years. I love cooking shows, and was watching one day when someone made jalapeño jam. I was inspired to use this recipe to make ghost pepper jam and OMG is it delicious! People went crazy for it. We have a mango tree and I decided to try making mango ghost pepper jam. It is awesome too. Our sales continue to grow and people keep coming up with all kinds of creative uses for the jams, like glazing meats on the grill, serving it over cream cheese, dipping fried shrimp, etc. Some of their wonderful and ideas are listed on our Delicious Recipes page.
2011-2013 - We visit Live Oak several times and look at lots and lots of properties. After finding a 28 acre farm we absolutely adore, our dreams are crushed when we find out that banks want to treat anything over 10 acres as land, not a residence (even though you can live on it), and demand 30% down at least. We spend months trying to figure out a way to come up with the down payment getting more and more frustrated. Finally our real estate agent finds a married couple who is offering private mortgage loans. We nervously go through an interview process with them and are ecstatic when they approve us wholeheartedly. Turns out they really liked us and and we really like them too. We will be forever grateful to them and now consider them a part of our family. We even celebrate the holidays together now. Thanks to them, we are able to take the first step towards fulfilling our dream of farming.
2013- We buy our 28 acre dream farm. The name Falling Star Ranch was born when we saw several meteors shoot across the sky, welcoming us to the farm on our very first night there. We can't leave South Florida permanently for a few more years, but we can get to work improving the farm and making plans until then. The Business Plan - I have an MBA, so I know very well that every business undertaking needs a business plan. Gary and I developed a business plan by first coming up with a name for our farm and products. Gan Eden means Garden of Eden in Hebrew. It is a symbolic nod to my heritage, and to the fact that living on this farm is definitely our idea of living in the Garden of Eden. Originally we thought about making Kosher products, but found out that the requirements for doing so would cost too much to start. Instead we will produce our products in the Kosher or Halal "style".
We want to focus on goats, since goats are very popular with many niche markets. Many of the people in this type of market even like to slaughter their own animals, so we would be able to sell the animals on the hoof, rather than deal with processing them ourselves. Our animals will always be raised naturally, with no artificial chemicals or antibiotics. They will be grass-fed and we will concentrate on intensive rotational grazing. Our business plan includes a market garden with unusual varieties of popular vegetables, and mushrooms to sell at farmer's markets. We will also raise goats, sheep, chickens, guinea hens, and ducks for meat, milk, and eggs. We will begin with meat and eggs and work our way slowly into the dairy products, since they take more time to develop.
Gary is very interested in cheese making, but many cheeses need time to age (and there is so much more to learn). We will continue making our vinegars and jams, and expand into mustard, sauces, and rubs. The front of our property faces a relatively well traveled road, so we would like to eventually build a country store where we can sell our products and veggies. We can install a commercial kitchen in the back of this store, and sell the awesome smoked meats and sausages Gary makes from scratch.
2014 - We love olives and use olive oil all the time, so when we heard about a conference advocating growing Olive Trees in Florida, we had to go check it out. Thanks to all of the great advice from the Florida Olive Growers Association and Georgia Olive Farms we found out that not only are olive trees pest resistant and can live a thousand years, but growing them in our Florida climate means that we can beat other olive growing regions to market by about three weeks. Olives can be used to make soap and cosmetics, they can be incorporated into a huge variety of food products, and made into the most delicious oil you ever tasted. Did you know that most of the olive oil you have ever tasted is low quality and over a year old (no matter what it's labeled according to multiple studies)? Tasting freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil is an absolute revelation! It is so thick and deliciously and sharply flavored. I highly recommend the experience. We decided we will plant five of our acres in olive trees of several varieties (probably Arbequina, Mission, and Koroneiki). We firmly believe that growing olives can be a lucrative addition to our business plan, and can also add to the value of the our farm by creating new opportunities for agro-tourism. U-pick olives, olive curing classes, and weddings in the grove are all ideas we will exploring. We will have to install drip irrigation before we plant, and it will take 3-5 years after that for our first harvest. So for now, it is all still just a dream, but Gary and I are going to make all of our dreams come true very soon.
2015 - We have been selling our Herb Infused Vinegars and Jams under something called Cottage Law for a very long time now. Cottage law products are only allowed to be sold directly to the consumer and have to carry a notice that states, "Made in a cottage food operation that is not subject to Florida's food safety regulations. They cannot be sold on the shelves in a retail store, or used in a restaurant. In the past, we have had stores that were willing to carry our vinegar, and restaurants that were willing to buy it and even put it on their tables as a condiment. Unfortunately we were not able to take advantage of these exciting opportunities until we could produce our product commercially. The first obstacle in producing a commercial product, is that it has to be produced in a commercial kitchen. Home kitchens are not allowed to be permitted as commercial kitchens. We looked into renting space in a co-op kitchen and the cost was just too much for us to handle. What we really needed was to find a restaurant or commercial food operation that would allow us to use their kitchen after hours for a reasonable hourly rate. We had leads, recommendations from friends, and many broken promises... all leading to dead ends. We searched for a solution to this issue for two years to no avail, until finally, as if by fate, I met Jamie at Two Girls and a Grill restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. I was eating in the restaurant with my mom, and got such a great vibe from the place (and loved their food) that I went out on a limb and just told her about our product and struggles and asked if she would be willing to rent to us. She talked about it with her partner and they said YES!!! But it still wasn't easy. Our product had to go through something called process approval with the Florida Department of Agriculture, which took several weeks and many late nights and lots of paperwork. Then I had to pass the Food Safety Manager's Exam. Then came the highly dreaded inspection (in person) of our process and labels by the Department of Agriculture's representative, which I passed on 8/6/15. At last, this means that as soon as my permit comes in the mail... We can sell our products commercially!!!! I am so excited I can't even describe the feeling. Very soon now, our delicious jams and vinegars may be showing up at a restaurant or store near you. I will keep you posted as to the locations where our product is available.
2016 - Our move the the farm is getting closer! We had a wonderful meeting with our local NRCS official. He was so encouraging and loved our farm plans. The NRCS gives grants for farmers to use the land in ways that conserve the land, the water, and in general the health of planet earth... practices we already intended to use! So excited to be working with this organization. http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/national/home/ #TheCityMouseDreamsOfTheCountry
2017 - We Did it!!! We pulled up stakes in South Florida, sold the house, and moved to Live Oak. The city mouse doesn't need to dream of the country anymore. I post our progress and pictures on regularly so come by often to see the updates.
2019 - We have our very own commercial kitchen now!