Chris Chaisson has had a passion for farming and food since an early age. It all started at the age of 3 when he lived in Western MA and helped his family raise bees and grow vegetables, which they sold at a tiny farm stand. His first job was with his father’s catering company at age 12, and he worked as a cook all through high school. During his formative years his grandmother helped to start Smartfood popcorn, which instilled an interest in the farm-to-manufacturing process. After high school he apprenticed with herbalists and studied landscape design while sometimes working on farms. Those experiences led him to be the entrepreneur he is today, and his current work as the owner and Operations Manager of Wild Branch Foods.
Wild Branch Foods is both a long term career plan and a labor of love: it allows Chris to expand his role in the Vermont and regional farm/food system, and spread delicious and nourishing products to all areas of New England and beyond. Whether it be creating traditional oxymel preparations (more to come about this later) or experimenting with new herbal food offerings, he is passionately devoted to his craft.
The roots of Wild Branch Foods date back to Chris’ time working simultaneously with Wild Branch Farm in Craftsbury, VT and Honey Gardens, another herbal/medicinal company that was founded in Vermont. Through his work there he was inspired to form “Wild Branch Botanicals,” a farmer collective with the owners of Wild Branch Farm. Their first offerings included maple syrup infused with tulsi, ginger, and chaga. After a failed attempt to build a food and botanical hub in Burlington in 2013, Chris found himself the sole owner of the business, and changed the name of the company to “Wild Branch Foods.” As he began to expand the product line, he worked hard on building relationships with local farmers, as he knew that sources for great ingredients would be the key to his success. At the same time he also created the quality standards for his products, like only buying local, wild-crafted or organic. These standards have set him apart from other companies that make similar products, and have made Wild Branch Foods the success it is today.
Currently many of Wild Branch’s raw ingredients come from Eleven Acre Farm in Charlotte, VT, which is also the product development headquarters, and Chris’ home and farm. Chris explained that it often takes him 3-5 years to create a new product due to the extensive time he spends on sourcing ingredients, testing recipes, and ensuring that he can maintain a long-term supply with his quality standards intact. Thus Wild Branch focuses on a simple collection of mediums for infusing —raw honey, apple cider and apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup—all sourced locally. Infusing these ingredients with botanicals allows him to deliver excellent products with many nourishing properties. Their top products are elderberry syrup, Elixir of Fire, chaga extract and ginger maple infusions.
Chris is currently working on growing his own elderberries, but at this time he is 1-2 years away from an ample crop, so he currently obtains them from small certified organic farms in Vermont, and during his busy season other certified organic farms in the Midwest. The elderberry syrup and fire cider were specifically developed to include almost 100% of the ingredients from local sources. The chaga for the extract is ethically sourced and is slated for growing at Eleven Acre Farm; all other mushrooms are wild-harvested from the woods of Vermont by foragers who have a deep understanding of mycology and choice edible mushrooms. The ginger is certified organic and one day Chris hopes to grow and source more exclusively from locally-grown ginger.
Wild Branch produces the products just over the border from Charlotte, VT, across Lake Champlain in Essex, NY at a privately owned, small-scale food production facility called Hub of the Hill. Chris has a deep love for this shared production space as it has allowed him to produce his high quality products and keeps him in touch with budding local farms of the Champlain Valley.
Wild Branch Foods utilizes an age old recipe called oxymel, which literally means “acid and honey.” Chris takes local honey and apple cider vinegar and infuses them with extracts of herbs, mushrooms and berries. This recipe makes bitter and less delicious herbs palatable. One of the most famous oxymels is fire cider or, as they call it at Wild Branch Foods, the Elixir of Fire. It allows one to infuse many bitter herbs and foods with honey and apple cider vinegar to make a nourishing tonic that can support immune health. All of the Wild Branch products are intended to be added to water, mocktails, cocktails, smoothies, and even dishes like pancakes or roast veggies.
Chris has many goals and dreams for Wild Branch Foods that encompass three missions and a vision. First a social mission to support cancer related non-profits with donations of products and proceeds from events to help raise revenues to support research, care, and hospice relief. Second is an environmental mission to develop and implement regenerative manufacturing and agricultural practices that build soil, increase nutrient density, and reduce waste and loss. Third is a financial mission to provide healthy returns on investment for stakeholders in regards to money, time, equipment, and intellectual property in the operation. Lastly is the vision: to be a majority woman-owned company that reflects the diversity of the world’s farmers and food purveyors. The future is bright for Chris and the team at Wild Branch Foods.
Come meet Chris & the team on Wednesday, January 17 from 11am-1pm, and try the Wild Branch offerings.
By Jon Megas-Russell