As part of our In Depth student group series, Keren Reichler ’16 and Miriam Kudler-Flam ’16 were nice enough to sit down with me and talk about their new Zymurgy Collective. After being dormant for a couple years, this club has come back to handle all of your fermentation needs. Read on to learn more about fermentation, how to get involved, and the many possible synonyms for the word ferment that you have not thought of before.
What is ZyCo?
Miriam Kudler-Flam: ZyCo is the fond abbreviation for Zymurgy Collective. Zymurgy is the art of fermentation, a word that I learned from a friend of mine.
How was it founded?
Keren Reichler: So Miriam was the original founder with some other students in 2011 and then it went dormant after a while. Then I wanted to start a collective to ferment stuff and found out that it had already existed in some kind of form a few years ago and so we basically just reactivated the ZyCo club.
MKF: We’re also housemates and good friends
So what happened the first time? Why did it fall apart?
MKF: When we started it, it was a very loose collective. One person would organize an event, we would host it, we’d have the supplies for it, and then the next person would host an event. There wasn’t any particular organizational structure that was solidified so when I took a year off two years ago, a lot of the students who had been part of ZyCo were in the midst of theses and other sorts of projects and I think the combination of all of us doing different work either on or off campus left ZyCo kind of under the radar.
How have you been received so far? Have you already started having meetings?
KR: We’ve had one meeting so far. We had about 15 students show up and more people who emailed us either before or after saying that they were interested in being part of the club. We’ve just gotten so much positive feedback since we’ve put out the first ad on Facebook and Wesleying. We’ve talked to people about it, and people just are like instantly intrigued and compelled by fermenting. Maybe for a lot of different reasons for each person, but its really exciting to generally get this immediate excitement when you start talking to people about making your own ferments. Both with people that have never heard of fermentation or know just basic info about it, to people that have been doing it for years and have their great grandmother’s recipes that they want to share.
So what actually goes into this process of fermentation? Is it hard? (I know nothing about fermentation)
MKF: It’s just time and love! Depending on the recipe you’re using, what you’re basically doing is trying to influence the micro organisms and yeast present in the ferment, either through salt or through different cultures. So the idea is that your making an environment in which the good bacteria are able to thrive and the “bad” bacteria that are either unhelpful or aren’t good for you cant survive. What fermenting basically is is setting up those circumstances so that through time the good bacteria will win out and you’ll end up with a well-fermented food.
What are your goals for ZyCo?
KR: So when we met for the first meeting we came up with a collective set of goals that I can read to you. It’s exciting because we drafted them together which is a good way to start out collective mission.
“To learn, eat, share, experiment and educate about fermentation.”
As we go we’ll have a more extended mission and vision statement that we can share but we want to go through it as a collective process.
Another part of our goal or vision for this is to expand how we think about fermenting. I think part of what’s exciting about fermentation as a practice is that it doesn’t just stop at making the ferment. It includes a broader set of values about local knowledge and exchange and local food, valuing ancient recipes and wisdom, and being able to heal your own body.
MKF: Also, taking ownership over food, feeling empowered to do something for ourselves rather than relying on external businesses and processed recipes that are basically diluted versions of what humanity already has.
Can you talk a little bit about the ZyCo online platform you’re trying to create?
KR: So part of this is to respond to the issues that the first round of ZyCo had. An online platform would help us keep in touch with each other and keep up the interest of fermentation, even when we aren’t able to meet, or we go on break, or there’s a lot of turnover with students each semester. The platform can help us have that institutional memory that we didn’t have the first time. We also want to have people post pictures of their ferments, so that you can share it with your family at home or other students on campus.
Another part of it is troubleshooting, so if you’re having trouble and have a really nasty smelling something in your jar and you don’t know what to do with it you can take a picture, describe it and someone else can tell you how to fix it. We also want to have a recipe book and just a general space to share info about it. The last component for the online platform is to have art and music that’s inspired by fermenting. We’re looking for anyone who’s interested, whether or not they’re in the organizing part of zyco to contribute to the zyco platform through any artistic inspiration or expression. So that’s currently in the works.
And now… how many synonyms can you come up with for the word ferment?
MKF: Okay, ferment…
KR: Pickle? Pickle is like a different thing tho…
MKF: Alright, synonyms or closely related?
Me: Closely related.
MKF: Okay ferment, pickle,
KR: Life juice?
MKF: Wait ferment like the adjective or the verb?
Me: Whatever you want.
MKF: Okay, brine..
KR: Maybe we should have an association map like Sandor Katz.
MKF: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
KR: He’s a ferment god in the movement of fermentation these days.
MKF: Bacteria enriched!
KR: Healthy gut flora.
MKF: Old school..
KR: Yeah we can also list like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso… yeast, beer, brewing. I think there are more but we’ll keep thinking; this is fun.
On my recommendation that they get together with the beer brewing club:
MKF: They have us! They came!
KR: So what’s cool about the first meeting is that people from like WesHeal, Middletown Urban Garden, Wes Brewers Association, local co-op, Farm House, Bread Culture, and more were represented at our first meeting. It’s a cool collective.
MKF: They bring a bunch of knowledge, resources, and enthusiasm.
How can people get involved?
KR: We’re reactivating our OrgSync. They can also email us (kreichler(at)wesleyan(dot)edu / mkudlerflam(at)wesleyan(dot)edu) or anyone else in the collective. And then, we’re having an event most likely Sunday, November 22nd at noon in ALB311, so watch out for the event and come to our first workshop. We’re going to be making sauerkraut! Anyone’s invited, you don’t have to have any experience, you just need to be excited about it.
MKF: And you’ll have your very own jar of sauerkraut!