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Tait Farm Foods celebrates 30 years of shrub

Kim Tait of Tait Farm Foods in Boalsburg makes a wild blueberry shrub in 2015.
Kim Tait of Tait Farm Foods in Boalsburg makes a wild blueberry shrub in 2015. Centre Daily Times, file

The answer wasn’t obvious to the late David Tait 30 years ago.

He had planned to freeze raspberries and sell them in the winter of 1987, but there weren’t any buyers. It begged the question — what does one do with thousands of pounds of a summer crop?

His first wife, Cindy Tait Law, had the solution.

“She reminded David of something she had made many, many years ago called raspberry shrub,” said Kim Tait, David Tait’s widow. “She had found it in a (cookbook). David was sort of an artist, dreamer, entrepreneur, and he thought ‘OK, I’m going to turn this all into raspberry shrub.’ ”

Thirty years later, the idea is responsible for more than 60 products at Tait Food Farms.

It might have been difficult to imagine such an operation when his parents Marian and Elton Tait bought the farm in 1950.

“This was sort of their hobby family farm,” Kim Tait said.

Tait Farm Foods will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its shrub business from 2 to 4 p.m. June 17 at 179 Tait Road in Boalsburg. Samplings of 15 flavors of shrub will be available, among other activities.

Below, Kim Tait talks about shrubs and the longtime family business.

Q: Was anyone else doing shrubs in 1987?

A: No one else was doing shrubs. We used to talk blue in the face about what it was. People didn’t quite understand that it’s sweet and tart. It’s actually very refreshing and pallet cleansing. It’s like a natural Gatorade.

Q: How do you maintain production?

A: The number of products has developed over the past 30 years. Once you know how to make one kind of shrub you have the idea to make other shrubs. It has grown as interest and sales grow. We have a facility in Boalsburg, and we’ve had it for three years there. It just helped us keep up our ability to produce, though we still do everything by hand. We always maintain a certain level of fruit vinegar and have 100 to 200 gallons at any time to produce it.

Q: What’s your favorite?

A: It probably ebbs and flows. The three I like most — raspberry, the original, ginger and the orange — are all very good. I like them all.

Q: What did the family do before shrubs?

A: Well it was a pick-your-own business. We had asparagus, apples, Christmas trees and my brother-in-law John Tait was doing breeding of basset hounds. It had been a family hobby for a number of years. We did a lot of direct-to-consumer (business).

Q: When did you become owner of Tait Farm Foods?

A: I will say I always feel like I’m in a vertical learning curve. I was a teacher, an educator by training. After David passed away, and that will be 20 years this December, it was mine to take forward or not. We had just built this harvest shop, which will be 20 years old this fall. At that point I felt like I lived here, I’d been a part of the business for a while and it was in my heart to keep it going and keep the tradition and vision alive.

Q: Do you have a favorite part of Tait Farm Foods?

A: What used to be a team of two or three people that did everything is now a team of 20 people that do everything. As the business has grown, so have the number of people that make it happen, so this isn’t in any way a solo venture. It takes a village. I think the pieces I love are the creative parts, envisioning what’s next at the shop, in the greenhouse and working collaboratively to figure out what that is.

Q: What’s in season now?

A: We are just out of late winter, early spring things and moving into early summer. We are harvesting lots of greens, lettuce mixes, arugula, spinach, mescalin mix, kale varieties, radishes, rhubarb, asparagus. It’s a sort of slow growing evolution. We have garlic, basil, herbs, parsley. We’ve taken off a little broccoli, too.

In the summer we’ll move into peas, cucumbers, snap peas, summer squashes. It just keeps building with heartaches. We’ll grow a lot greens, beans, beats and carrots. A little later we’ll get into more tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, the hardier, true summer produce.

Q: There’s the farm, basset hound and Christmas tree business. Is there anything you don’t have here?

A: I’m sure, I’m sure. I don’t know what, but I’m sure. We’re a unique business that’s grown out of many years and iterations. The truth is that finding the right mix of enterprise for any agricultural operation is a challenge. You’re at the mercy of weather, what is in, what isn’t in. Do you have anything new? We try to keep expanding in the ways we can, and that’s how we became diversified.

Q: Do you ever think about leaving?

A: No. This is what I’ve been called to do. I felt like I was left to be the stewardess, to do the best I can and have good people. I’m very proud of my young farmers who all went to school with my daughter. They are the next generation of farmers. That’s a beautiful thing. It’s the young people that bring the energy and creative ideas. I feel fortunate.

If you go

What: 30th Anniversary Celebration of Shrub

When: 2-4 p.m. June 17

Where: Tait Farm Foods, 179 Tait Road, Boalsburg

Info: www.taitfarmfoods.com

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