The Rapidian

Bloom Ferments embraces growth, raises kombucha awareness in community

After a year of tremendous growth and change, local kombucha brewer Emily Helmus is setting her sights on expansion, and giving back to the community.
The newest flavor of kombucha added to Bloom's repertoire.

The newest flavor of kombucha added to Bloom's repertoire. /Caitlin Hoop

Where to find Bloom Ferments Kombucha in your neighborhood:

Ada:

Saburba

 

Battle Creek:

Apple Valley Natural Foods

 

Grand Rapids: 

Bartertown Diner
Cakabakery
Cult Pizza*
Doorganics Grocery Delivery
Elder & Sage
Funky Buddha Hot House (Eastown)
Furniture City Creamery
Global Infusion
Grand Central Market
Harvest Health
Have Company
Kangaroo Kitchen
Lantern Coffee Bar
Marie Catrib's
Martha's Vineyard
Nourish Organic Market 
Relish at Downtown Market
Seva Yoga
Siciliano's Market
Sip {Organic Juice Bar}
The Sparrows Coffee Tea & Newsstand
UICA: Film Concessions
Under the Vines
YMCA Veggie Van

 

Hastings:

Anne's Health Foods

 

Hudsonville:

Harvest Health

 

Kalamazoo:

People's Food Co-op
Sawall Health Foods*

 

Muskegon:
Masterpeace Yoga 

 

*available on tap

 

Grand Rapidians are no strangers to fermentation. Often the end product of fermentation is beer, something for which this city is highly regarded. But beer is not the only product created as a by-product of fermentation. Popular fermented foods are sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi and miso. For the past two years Emily Helmus has been fermenting something totally different at Bloom Ferments: kombucha.

Kombucha is an effervescent beverage consisting of fermented teas. The tea is fermented using a culture of bacteria and yeast known scientifically as a SCOBY, or symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast.

“They are often called mothers instead of SCOBY, which I prefer,” says Helmus. “We [take care of] the cultures in what we call our nursery, growing and taking care of the mothers and daughters.” For Helmus, she uses one mother per six gallon batch of kombucha, and the daughters, smaller SCOBYs, are used in smaller scale test batches. The community of probiotics and yeast contained within cellulose are what ferment the tea and are key to making successful kombucha. If taken care of properly, Helmus says that mothers can live anywhere from several months to a year. When hearing Helmus talk about the mothers, one gets the feeling they are essentially part of the family.

“I like to take care of things,” explains Helmus. “ I talk to [the mothers] and tend to them as though they were my pets. Taking care of them makes me feel good.”

Just as the kombucha is produced in a harmonious environment of bacteria and yeast, the small business community in Grand Rapids worked together to help Bloom Ferments become what it is. Through encouragement and initial support from local business such as CVLT Pizza, Nourish Organic Market & Deli and Bartertown Diner, Bloom Ferments was able to gain a customer base fairly quickly.

“Anytime I asked for help or guidance from the local community, it was always returned back to me 10 fold. The positive reinforcement and encouragement  was overflowing,” says Helmus.  “Grand Rapids has always been a city which supports local businesses and wants them to succeed and grow.”

Not only was awareness of kombucha spread through local businesses, but also through the incubator kitchen community in which Bloom Ferments resides. The business calls the incubator kitchen within Downtown Market home after they outgrew their first home within the Uptown Kitchen back in December.

“The [Downtown] Market has given me so many amazing opportunities,” explains Helmus. “The ability to bounce ideas and collaborate with other small businesses in the kitchen is awesome. The people who run incubators are always supportive of your business and putting your product out in the community.”

Incubator kitchens are integral to the success of small businesses in places such as Grand Rapids. These kitchens often foster multiple small businesses in their infancy, allowing them to rent kitchen space and storage. By being a part of an incubator, tenants are able to grow without being prohibited by costs that often hinder small wholesale food-based businesses.

Ever since its inception in 2012, Bloom Ferments has seen major growth, especially since becoming licensed in 2013. Currently they sell to approximately 40 local businesses as far as Kalamazoo. This is not only due to the influx of community support but also because they are the forerunner in Grand Rapids producing kombucha.

“No one else is doing kombucha in Grand Rapids,” says Helmus. “People are fascinated and drawn to it because of the unknown.” Helmus is constantly learning more about kombucha, and wants to share her knowledge with Bloom Ferments’ audience and help demystify this ancient tea beverage. By transitioning from kegs of kombucha to bottles in the last year, Helmus was able to reach a wider audience. Her next hope is to be able to use Bloom Ferments as a means to give back to the community. Helmus already has started to do so by sourcing only from local businesses.

“Tea and sugar, the two ingredients within kombucha, are not produced in the United States,” she says. “By purchasing all my teas and herbs from Global Infusion, a local fair trade marketplace, I am able to support small businesses and farms who practice transparency in their practices and have amazing social initiatives.”

As the company grows, so does Helmus’s vision for the future. Not only does she want to become more involved in the local community, but she also envisions a more permanent home for Bloom Ferments.

“It is the dream to have a storefront.” says Helmus. “I want to also incorporate a community space for people. I want more people to not only experience kombucha, but also to have a space for ideas and creativity to cultivate.”

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