Project Best Life | Preserving the Harvest

Pickled and fermented foods, once relegated to the fringes of cuisine, or thought of as an old world delicacy, are gaining recognition as nutritional powerhouses. Beyond their tangy flavors and crunchy textures, these foods offer a treasure trove of purported health benefits that have been cherished by cultures for centuries. From sauerkraut to kimchi and miso, pickled and fermented foods have been employed as methods of food preservation and flavor enhancement for generations. These age-old techniques not only elevate the taste of ingredients but also promote a diverse array of benefits that can help Buffalonians lead their best lives. 

Consuming fermented foods offers numerous health benefits, including improved gut health, enhanced digestion, and increased nutrient absorption. Fermentation partially breaks down food components, making them easier to digest. This can be particularly helpful for people with digestive issues. Fermentation can enhance the bioavailability of nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, making them easier for the body to absorb.  It’s important to note that individual reactions to fermented foods may vary, so it’s advisable to introduce them gradually into your diet and consult with a healthcare provider if you have specific health concerns or dietary restrictions.  If someone is planning on starting canning, fermenting, or food preservation, obtaining a trusted recipe, and proper supplies is crucial to the process.  

Project Best Life spoke to RJ Marvin, co-owner of Barrel + Brine, and Michele Conner, Master Food Preserver, about fermented foods and their benefits.   

Barrel and Brine

RJ Marvin is the co-owner of Barrel + Brine, located at 155 Chandler Street, and makes high quality fermented and pickled food for Buffalonians. And although Western New York’s growing season is short, Barrel + Brine tries to use as much local produce as possible.  They create delicious pickled and fermented food that really are local and unique to Buffalo. 

Marvin shared a very interesting theory around pickling and fermented foods.  He believes that the need to preserve food finds its roots in ancient humanity.  “It’s in our genetic code. It’s in our DNA to preserve food.  It’s something that people had to do back before modern refrigeration and things like that were invented…If you didn’t know how to preserve food, or if you didn’t know somebody who knew how to preserve food, your family tree just kind of wouldn’t exist….  It’s important to your gut health. It’s important for wellbeing and to help rid or at least protect yourself from viruses and things like that, just helping you maintain a healthy immune system.”

Gut health is so important to one’s well-being.  Many discoveries are being made about the connection of the gut to one’s overall health.  “80 plus percent of our immune systems reside in our intestinal tract,” shared Marvin. “Once we help boost up the beneficial bacteria that’s inside of our immune system it helps protect yourself against the bad bacteria that might enter the immune system.”

Pickled and preserved foods can also aide in gut health by allowing more nutrients to be absorbed by the body.  “It’s also predigesting a lot of these foods. [The fermenting] process helps break it down so when you consume these foods, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to break it down. It’s able to absorb the nutrients more efficiently, and higher amount of the nutrients [rather than], let’s say a raw cucumber, because your stomach now has to work, work, work, in order to break that down, so you are losing a lot of those nutrients.”

If people haven’t ever had a fresh pickle, Marvin encourages them to try one. “We get plenty of people that love to tell me that they hate Pickles, which is totally fine. I like when people tell me they don’t like Pickles because, the first thing that I might do is, have them try our New York deli dill pickle. … The reason why a lot of people don’t like pickles or they don’t like sauerkraut is because they’re used to just eating the stuff out of jars and cans that are heavily processed. They’re basically pressure cooked inside of a can or a jar. So, they’re mushy, and if they’re not mushy, then that means that they’re going to have sodium benzoate. They’re going to have calcium chloride. They’re gonna have all these other additives. A lot of the dill flavor, if not all “dill flavor” that you’re getting from a standard commercial dill pickle is artificial flavorings. There’s a good reason why people don’t like a lot of that stuff, because they just don’t know what a real fresh pickle tastes like. Our product is never heat processed, so it’s always cold. That’s why people have to find it in the refrigerated section in their grocery store. That crunch that is still there is authentic.”

Barrel + Brine
155 Chandler Street, Suite #3
Buffalo, NY 14207
Friday and Saturday 12 PM – 8 PM
Sunday: 11 AM – 4 PM

Michele Conners

Michele Conners is a volunteer educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension, in Monroe County. She works with different organizations to educate people on proper food preservation.  Home food preservation is a smart and economical way to lead one’s best life, and can definitely extend the freshness of one’s own garden, or local produce.  

A master food preserver’s job is an educational one. But those who might meet Conners might suddenly realize they have a lot to learn about food preservation.  “One of the things that’s really important that a master food preserver teaches is to use a recipe from a trusted source. This is key to what we teach and put out into the community,” shared Conners.  “Everyone has their own favorite tomato recipe that they’re going to can, and it’s typically one that their mother, grandmother, or aunt canned. And no one in the family died ever from using that recipe, so they’re going to use that recipe. [But] a couple of things have changed over the years from when our grandmothers and mothers and aunts were canning. Number one, is the variety of produce. Back in the day, tomatoes were typically high acid, so that would fall under a high acid and was going to go under a water bath. Now you can buy low acid tomatoes. But that’s low acid that needs to be pressure canned… unless you’re going to add an acid, you’re going to add your lemon juice to it, but those old recipes don’t [add lemon juice]. They’re passed down and they may not have an acid in there, so it’s not no longer considered safe. So when I teach, I always say I love hearing about your family’s recipes, but I can’t advocate for them. And then when you start to add a vegetable like peppers, onion, or garlic, [they are] all low acid, you’ve now taken that out of a high acid in that method of home food preservation.”

Not only does Conner urge people to consult a master food preserver for trusted recipes, but also the proper materials, and the correct methods for home food preservation.  She feels that home food preservation can help people live their best lives because “Many people find personal happiness and joy and in extending the summer produce, extending that flavor, buying local and using it in non wasteful ways…I’m contributing to the planet and with reducing waste….I really enjoy putting up food and doing home food preservation because I find it’s very relaxing. You have to stay very focused and in the moment and you can’t have distractions and then you end up with this beautiful product.”

Michele Conners
Volunteer Educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension
To contact Michele please email her at

This series is sponsored by Project Best Life. Buffalo Rising and Project Best Life have teamed up to produce a series on wellness inspiration and advice to direct readers to the people, places, and experiences in Buffalo and beyond that will help them fulfill their health, nutrition, and wellness goals. For more information on how you can live your best life, subscribe to the Project Best Life newsletter.

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