Baltimore-based HEX Ferments was the star of the PBS show START UP. The series highlights small American business owners, chronicling what it takes to start a successful business.
During the episode, HEX Ferments co-founder Maegan Carpenter schooled START UP host Gary Bredow on ferments and gut health. She explained how the modern gut microbiome has been eroded by antibiotics, but fermented foods help to populate and repopulate the digestive system with good bacteria.
“What you’re getting essentially is a vegetable that’s been fermented in a blanket of bacteria that’s indigenious to our bodies: lactobacillus,” Carpenter explained, while Bredow sampled HEX’s seasonal Spirit Berry kombucha and Pizza Kraut sauerkraut.
A former art professor, Carpenter and her co-founder husband Shane, a former wedding photographer, never planned to start a fermentation business. Carpenter began teaching people how to use produce from their local community garden, offering tastings of the vegetables she fermented. Orders for her ferments started showing up in her mailbox. Carpenter said she thinks the demand came from “being open with people and showing people something that has been taken out of our culture for so long.”
Bredow added about modern food convenience: “It’s scary to think about if that convenience goes away, are we going to have a society of people incapable of watching food rot right in front of them.” Carpenter responded: “I think we already do.”
HEX Ferments will be expanding into a new, larger retail space later this year, HEX Superette. The space includes a kombucha taproom, small restaurant area to serve small plates, space to teach education classes and a local food marketplace. HEX Superette, Carpenter said, will “answer the question, ‘How do I eat this?’ because after 10 years of making fermented foods, we often get that question.”
Bredow concluding the episode noting that fermentation was born out of food scarcity, something today’s generation did not understand until the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our ancestors planned for the future knowing that self sufficiency can mean the difference between life and death. Maybe it’s time to revisit the skills that allowed past generations to live with less fear and reliance on a system that always seems to be on the brink of collapse,” Bredow said. “I love what Meghan and Shane are doing. They’re not only offering up tasty and healthy foods, they’re reminding us how important it is to learn this lost craft before it’s too late…they’re offering fermentation classes. To me, this really is purpose. A focus on doing well and doing good for the world around them.”