I met up with Chris this fall during apple season. I called to see if I could follow her around and take her photo while she harvested apples. I was picturing hauling off to the country, picturesque images of an apple orchard, my fingers were crossed for horses -- but when the call came the apple tree was just a couple blocks from my house behind a church.
The apple tree was beautiful and hanging heavy with fruit. Chris was visibly excited. She had come across the tree on a dog walk through the neighborhood and went through all of the proper channels of asking permission to pick the fruit. After calls to the parish and finding out who exactly to talk to and waiting to see -- finally she had been granted permission and the apples were perfectly ready. Then as she picked, she talked about the way the tree had been espaliered and how someone must have really loved it. She filled her baskets up with apples, skillfully inspecting them as she pulled them down and giggled and made jokes as she did it.
I loved that she found that tree. Being able to utilize what goes unacknowledged is a great skill many people lack. Or are completely skeptical about it - If the apples sit and rot every year, there must be something wrong with them, right? Actually, the answer is probably not.
"I'm making a direct statement as to how we prepare and consume foods. When I pick a neglected apple tree that looks 'pretty' and make apple butter, apple pie jam, etc; I've given that tree a value where the owners find no value at all. Hopefully, these small acts of making and teaching will help people connect with their own place, history, and sense of what their neighborhood is," explains Chris.
I find constant inspiration from Chris Ward. I find that her experience is deep in aspects of the creative community where I am just scratching the surface. She is a source of information, encouragement and I love that she shares her knowledge with others. Basically, I could write a book on all that she has taught me and if she wrote a book on everything she knows, I would be first in line to buy it.
Her business, Kick Out the Jams, is an extension of all of this. When you see her at Hover Craft, you will find a woman up on her feet offering samples of her jams and jellies while explaining exactly what you are tasting, how she made it, where she found the fruit and any other little interesting tidbit she encountered while finding, harvesting, cleaning, cooking and finally putting up the preserves she makes. You might think that she is talkative, but more than that she is conscious of her craft and the story of her food is much different than what you will find on your supermarket shelf. The best way for Chris to communicate this, is to tell you why it is all so unique.
Kick Out the Jams is Chris' full time business and her market season is more diversified than anyone else I know. I asked her what her answer was to being able to make money through her craft - the main reason why many makers hesitate before leaving their full time jobs, and sometimes never do - and she candidly answered:
"Making money is totally separate from my thinking. Money becomes a currency of criticism; if people get value from what I make...they'll pay for it. My goal is to create real and tangible value. To create something that either they can't conceive/execute themselves or something so unique as to be a product of my own self. I think as a maker, we all struggle on the 'getting paid' portion of the program. I do think that accessibility is critically important. How can we ask people to support creative works with their hard earned money if we put up barriers? Those barriers can be simple access to viewing art/craft/handmade to high prices. Its my job to communicate the value, more importantly, its my job to create the value."It is in that value I am in awe of her business. You really won't be able to find what she makes anywhere else.
Chris was originally taught to put up food by her grandmother on a farm outside of Black River Falls, Wisconsin. She went on to further her knowledge through training at the UW-Agriculture Extension. She uses a combination of American and European techniques. "Because I've studied the chemistry and food biology of preservation, I can take these historic techniques and update them for modern food safety practices. I work with local and seasonal fruits and vegetables. This often means that if I make a jam and it produces 12 jars; that's it. I can't make more until next year's harvest."