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COURTESY: PORTLAND FERMENTATION FESTIVAL - Kicking off the Oct. 27 festival is an expert panel, including Tara Whitsitt of Fermentation on Wheels. Shell talk about her journey educating people around the country about the sustainable and health benefits of fermentation. Tara Whitsitt knows a thing or two about funky foods.


For the past two years she's driven a converted school bus around the country, bringing various fermented foods to both hardcore enthusiasts and beginners alike.

On Oct. 27, she'll come from Eugene to Portland to serve on the panel of experts at the 7th-annual Portland Fermentation Festival, the all-ages event that celebrates the art and science of fermentation.

As in past years, the event will showcase everything from pickles and kim chi to kraut, miso, chicha, cheeses, tsukemono, hard cider, kefir and mead through various tastings and demonstrations.

Last year the event brought out 600 people, eager to exchange cultures and recipes, talk to fellow fermenters, get advice and check out new products.

We chatted with Whitsitt — author of the forthcoming title "Fermentation on Wheels: Road Stories, Recipes, and other Fermentations" — to see what's so special about fermentation from a sustainability standpoint.

Tribune: Can you elaborate on its earth-friendly benefits?

Whitsitt: First and foremost, fermentation is sustainable because we utilize bacteria, yeast, and fungi that dwell everywhere. When we ferment foods, we often rely on the local micro-flora of the ingredients, and don't need much otherwise to encourage fermentation and prolong the food's lifespan. The process requires very little energy, given we provide a good environment for the organisms to flourish.

Sauerkraut, for example, was a staple winter food for American farming families in the early 1900s. ... Cheese, yogurt and kefir are cultured foods that prolong the life of milk. Cider prolongs the life of apples. All fruit, as a matter of fact, keeps much longer when transformed via fermentation. Miso is a very healing fermented food that can keep for decades. Though fermentation prolongs the shelf life of food, it most importantly presents a far more nourishing variety of sustenance, since it has undergone a transformation that increases microbial count, vitamins and minerals, and in turn makes these foods more bioavailable to our innards.

COURTESY: COLIN ANDREW - The annual celebration of fermentation at Northwest Portlands Ecotrust building includes tastings and demonstrations, as well as sharing and networking. Tribune: What gave you this crazy idea to preach the gospel of fermentation?

Whitsitt: I grew up in Texas and spent my early-20s in the Northeast. After moving to Oregon to practice fermentation full-time, I discovered there was greater need for food and fermentation education away from the West Coast, so I decided to take my passion for food activism and fermentation education on the road. My classes focus on access — I teach by-donation classes to communities of all ages and socioeconomic levels. Fermentation on Wheels is supported by donations from its many supporters as well as occasional grants and is fiscally sponsored by a non-profit. And yes, teaching fermentation and raising awareness about food is my full-time job!

Tribune: What types of people would you like to reach out to, who haven't yet sought you out?

Whitsitt: The people who will benefit most from learning about fermentation, in my opinion, are people who want to support small, local food growers or connect more with their kitchen practice. Fermentation brings food to life and reignites wonder. This process doesn't just connect us to our food and improve our health. Microbes are an underlying force between soil, plants, animals and humans. To understand and work with that connection, by encouraging microbial proliferation with a simple act in the kitchen, helps us appreciate the planet and its bounty on a deeper level. When we ferment we learn to consider the hidden life forces that keep us and the earth healthy and balanced.

@jenmomanderson

Find out more

Tickets are on sale for the Portland Fermentation Festival, Oct. 27 at Ecotrust, 721 N.W. Ninth Ave.

• For $10, attend the 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. Thursday tasting sessions and fermentation demonstrations.

• For $20, attend the above events plus the 6 p.m. panel of fermentation experts.

Tickets include rooftop live music, food and drink from Reverend Nat's Hard Cider, Bingo Sandwiches and others.

• For tickets and details: portlandfermentationfestival.com

• For more about Whitsitt's projects: fermentationonwheels.com

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