Phyl Newbeck, Contributor
Caitlin and Jason Elberson knew they weren’t happy working desk jobs in Pennsylvania. They realized they needed a change.
The Elbersons were drawn to regenerative and sustainable agriculture before they even knew those terms.
“We had dreams of homesteading and finding something that could develop into a sustainable business model,” Jason said.
“We wanted a lifestyle more in line with our values,” Caitlin said. “We had only two days a week for what we were interested in doing.”
A friend suggested they would be happier in Vermont, and they enrolled in the University of Vermont farmer training program in 2014.
After weighing their options and talking to a variety of farmers, the pair decided to specialize in fermentation. Today, they operate Sobremesa at Wool Folk Homestead, their farm in Charlotte. Sobremesa is Spanish for relaxing at the table after a good meal.
“We’ve always been very passionate about local agriculture and supporting local farms,” Caitlin said. “We wanted to find a way to eat local food year-round.”
The couple experimented with canning, freezing and dehydrating but eventually decided that fermentation was the best way to keep the nutrients in food that needed the least amount of infrastructure.
“You don’t need much equipment,” Caitlin said. “You do need time, but it’s passive time.”
Jason explained that fermenting requires food to sit at approximately 70 degrees for three weeks after which it can be moved to a refrigerator or root cellar.
For Jason, one of the benefits of fermentation is the fact that it is used by various cultures across the globe. The couple’s products have roots from around the world including things like kimchi and sauerkraut.
During their first year, they grew all their produce themselves but later decided to purchase raw materials elsewhere, starting with Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg.
“It’s always been just us,” Jason said, “and we wanted to focus on our kitchen, doing added-value work and supporting other businesses by using their produce. We are their consumers, rather than competitors.”
The couple had a farm in Marshfield, but in 2019, they moved to 8 acres in Charlotte, in part because their business was mostly in Chittenden County but also because Caitlin, then a new mother, was feeling a little isolated. Jason loves that the family can bike to the local schools and attractions like Shelburne Museum and Shelburne Farms with their two children who are 1 ½ and 5 years old.
As one might expect from the name of their farm, the Elbersons do more than fermentation. They raise Icelandic sheep and chickens and grow perennials. They are happy their children can play outdoors, dig up beets, and watch lambs being born.
“We were very interested in sheep because I think wool is the best fiber to keep you warm,” Caitlin said. “It’s an incredible sustainable product and we felt called by the history of sheep in Vermont.”
The couple has 14 sheep which they use for fiber and meat and which could be milked if they decide to go that route. They share their knowledge by teaching fermentation classes and will be holding an upcoming class at the Middlebury Co-op on Oct. 19 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Before they moved to Vermont, Caitlin worked as director of development at a Waldorf School and Jason was a mechanical engineer.
“We have different backgrounds and skill sets,” Caitlin said. “Jason’s background in math and science is helpful for fermentation and building things, and I’m a lover of learning so we make a great team. I also like doing the marketing. It’s been a joy and pleasure to see who can play which roles on the farm.”
In 2015, the couple began to sell their products at Healthy Living and have since expanded to City Market, Hunger Mountain Co-op and a number of local farmstands. The couple also has a booth at the Burlington and Shelburne farmers markets and sell their products online.
“Every year we add one or two new accounts,” Jason said.
“I’m so grateful to be in this place with so much local support,” Caitlin said. “We truly have landed in the perfect spot and are part of a special community.”
Jason noted that the couple, who have been together for 15 years, probably moved 10 times in their attempt to find a place where they could raise children. They’re thrilled to have found their home in Charlotte.
“I feel very much at peace,” Caitlin said. “This is where we are meant to be.”