Slow Food Santa Cruz Interviews Bradley Allen of Copper Pan Jams

This interview was first published by Slow Food Santa Cruz in the Snail Mail newsletter for June 2014.

Slow Food Santa Cruz (SFSC) recently sat down with owner of Santa Cruz-based Copper Pan Jams, Bradley Allen. A 14-year resident of Santa Cruz, Allen not only produces jam, but also is a website developer, photographer, social justice activist, on the steering committee for the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project and a production partner for Half Moon Bay-based Beeta Ganoush. Allen shares his inspiration for starting a jam business and also his perspective on agriculture in and around the region.

SFSC: Can you tell us about how you became interested in food, especially in this region?

Allen: I moved to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC’s environmental studies program and started becoming aware of agricultural activities in the region and agriculture’s intersection with environmental and social concerns. All around us we see agribusiness growing and operating, and truthfully, dominating. While at UCSC, I focused my thesis research on corn production in the U.S. and how domestic corn was flooding Mexican markets, precipitating a forced migration into the U.S. of farm laborers, many of whom wound up working here and in the Central Valley.

A flat of fresh strawberries, organically grown in the heart of Monterey Bay; Moss Landing, California. These beautiful berries, cultivated with love and sweat, will become Strawberry Jam.
A flat of fresh strawberries, organically grown in the heart of Monterey Bay; Moss Landing, California. These beautiful berries, cultivated with love and sweat, will become Strawberry Jam.

SFSC: You seem aware of what’s going on in this region agriculturally, both good and bad, so why does Slow Food as a message or an organization appeal to you?

Allen: I appreciate local and sustainable agriculture. I’ve been a vegetarian for half my life and stand against GMOs and monoculture, which we see a lot in this region. So, when you have all this fast-moving agribusiness on one side, to me Slow Food represents the antithesis of all of that, celebrating the beauty of slowing it down and taking the time to forge connections around when and where we eat. SFSC honors Santa Cruz’s rich and diverse agricultural heritage, all the while reminding consumers to choose wisely, or even that there is a choice when it comes to building connections through food and fostering sustainable farming. Slow Food Santa Cruz also had an event last year to celebrate the passing of the Cottage Food Law [California Assembly Bill (AB) 1616], which was part of the inspiration to launch my jam business.

SFSC: Are you saying that it was all thanks to SFSC’s Cottage Food Celebration in 2013 that you launched your jam business?

Allen: Not entirely, but it was a good event. I wrote about it on my website at the time. Around the same time [February 2013] the City of Santa Cruz held an information session about developing a cottage food business and navigating the guidelines. I had also just started going on forages with the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project as a journalist, interviewing the fruit tree owners and foragers in the group who harvest fruit to minimize food waste and teach about preservation methods. Each time I went I would be offered a bag of citrus, but had no use for so much fruit. Then one time I decided I would make jam. So with all of these ideas in my head, I attend the SFSC Cottage Food Celebration and sampled Savanna Susnow’s [Seaside Wagon Cart] plum jam; she held the first Cottage Food License in Santa Cruz County. It was also important to hear from local people with successful small businesses, like Tabitha Stroup [Friend in Cheeses Jam Co.] and Kathryn Lukas [Farmhouse Culture]. It was all of these factors coming together, plus the fact that I was interested in more experience with e-commerce website development and having a portfolio piece that I controlled, so I decided to start Copper Pan Jams.

Strawberries have been hulled, chopped, and weighed.
Strawberries have been hulled, chopped, and weighed.

SFSC: What do you think of the Cottage Food Law and the process of starting a cottage business?

Allen: I’m a fan of the Cottage Food Law, not just for my own business, but it helps level the playing field for more people to be able to sell food they create in their kitchen. It doesn’t cost that much, versus a commercial kitchen which is more cost-prohibitive to the small producer who is just trying to get her or his feet wet, but willing to do all the right things [health and safety-wise] to ensure a high quality product. I was able to get all of my business licenses and register my business name in just a few hours. I completed a food certification class and initially operated with a Class A Cottage Food License, which allows for direct sales and have since upgraded to a Class B License a year later, as my business has expanded, permitting indirect sales. The Class B License included a health and safety inspection of my kitchen. It wasn’t too hard for me to get the business started, and I hope to inspire anyone thinking about it.

SFSC: What flavors of jam are you currently making? I am sure there are a lot of berry flavors, what with so many berries grown in the region.

Allen: My current jam varieties include apple, kiwi, pear, plum, strawberry and orange marmalade. Environmentally I prefer to use tree fruits, which flourish here with so many established trees and orchards, and can be grown without irrigation. I am selective with the ingredients I use and try to find a healthy balance between my ideals and practices. I recently made a batch of strawberry jam, as I love the taste of berries, yet recognize they require tremendous inputs: from labor to plastics to water to land usage. The berries in my jam were organically grown, and cultivated with love and sweat, on the Vasquez family’s small farm in the heart of the Monterey Bay; Moss Landing.

A fresh batch of Strawberry Jam.
A fresh batch of Strawberry Jam.

SFSC: Now that everyone wants a jar of jam, handcrafted from local fruits in a traditional French copper pan, please tell us where we can get them.

Allen: My jams are available with free delivery locally from CopperPanJams.com, at Queen Bee Flowers (Soquel), Kresge Food Co-op (UCSC), and at pop-up events, such as the upcoming Anorak Assembly 2014 at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz on Saturday, July 26 from 12-7pm. My pear jam is currently featured on a brie and prosciutto sandwich at Cafe Ivéta (Westside), but I haven’t tried it since I’m vegetarian, so please let me know how it tastes!

[Update for July: Copper Pan Jams are currently featured at Nut Kreations, located at 104 Lincoln St. in downtown Santa Cruz!]


About Slow Food

Slow Food International is a global, grassroots organization linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to local communities and the environment.

Slow Food was founded to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and peoples dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.

Carlo Petrini, Slow Food founder and president, explains, “Slow Food unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability and harmony with nature.”

Slow Food Santa Cruz is a chapter of Slow Food USA. “We strive to be accessible to our community, relevant in our work and to encourage innovative solutions to food injustice. The members of Slow Food Santa Cruz are a diverse group of food enthusiasts with a curiosity about food traditions and heritage and local artisanal products.”

Author: Bradley Allen

Bradley Allen is a reporter and photographer in the Monterey Bay Area, and a collective member of the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center (Indybay). Follow him on social media: @BradleySA.