by Kristina Fortini
When Matt McClelland was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his digestive tract, he decided he needed to make some healthy changes and stop ingesting the chemicals and unnecessary fillers he knew had become so prevalent in our modern diets. He dreamed about growing organic fruit and vegetables for his family, providing nutritious food with a known provenance. His good friend Louby Sukkar, who had also lost friends and family to cancer, joined him and together they built garden beds and grew organic plants in their backyards. They enjoyed eating the fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables and the peace and comfort they felt when reconnecting with nature. Their efforts were so successful that a new problem arose: surplus produce. So they started experimenting with old canning and preserving recipes, which grew into a passion; hence the Backyard Food Company was formed.
They now produce 21 different condiments, dips and spreads; each one is natural and wholesome, made from products you would find in an average home kitchen and pantry, made just how you would at home yourself. “We don’t take shortcuts to save money, or produce higher yields by substituting lesser ingredients.” For instance, the acidity in their pickles comes from real vinegar rather than using a chemical shortcut, and the natural yellow hue comes from turmeric, not an artificial dye. And when the local orchard that supplies their prepared apples asked if they wanted them “dipped,” they were shocked to learn that the FDA would not require them to list the chemical dip on their ingredients label. Their concern about the food industry and FDA regulations guides their ethos: “Our highest profit is putting out food that is responsible.”
The Backyard Food Company has teamed up with Hope & Main — a full-service culinary business incubator in Warren — to produce their products in a commercial kitchen. I visited them on a production day, and was greeted by a small but cheerful team of Matt and Louby plus three colleagues. The experience reminded me of when I’ve joined a friend in her kitchen for a canning party at the end of her growing season: jovial atmosphere, passion for good quality ingredients, encouraging leadership and simple but effective techniques (plus gloves and hair caps!). Do happy producers make more delicious products? I don’t know, but I like to think that what I consume is joyfully created.
This small team is able to produce enough stock for the over 500 stores that now carry their products. Their success isn’t surprising, given the many accolades they have received: RIFDA Spirit of RI award, Best of RI editor’s award for best gourmet condiments, and three years running Best of RI reader’s choice for best locally made food product. As they continue to expand their business, they have recently built an office, test kitchen, and studio in Cranston where they can develop new products and recipes. In addition to sourcing local produce, they will be growing test ingredients in a new hydroponic garden. In the studio, Matt and Louby will film and share their demonstrations online, hopefully providing their customers with endless ideas and recipes in which to use up their open jars. Online content will include segments involving the local community: currently they join up with local restaurants to collaborate on recipes, and they plan on expanding on this by meeting with chefs, restaurants and farmers to showcase the exciting food and farm scene across RI.
With hard work, dedication and passion Matt and Louby have created a successful, national food business right here in RI, all while upholding their simple and admirable goal: maintain a low price point while providing high food standards because everyone deserves quality food at “non-quality” prices. One of they ways Louby helps give back to the Rhode Island community is by his involvement with Sandwich Party Sundays, donating products used to feed people in Rhode Island living on the street.
Backyard Food Company reaches wholesale buyers across Rhode Island and the Boston-metro area with help from our Market Mobile wholesale distribution service. They can also be found online, in retail stores, and at farmers markets including some Saturdays at the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market — their next visit with us is Saturday, December 8!
Photos at top courtesy thebackyardfoodcompany.com.