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It's a bountiful life: Hearts across the nation

January/February 2019 California Bountiful magazine

Entrepreneur creates a new way to enjoy California-grown artichokes




Jane Shaffer built a business out of reclaiming rejected artichokes. Monterey Farms ready-to-eat artichoke hearts are now available around the country. Photo: © 2019 Richard Green

Jane Shaffer is founder and president of specialty food company Monterey Farms. ArtiHearts, the company's flagship product, are ready-to-eat artichoke hearts that offer a California-grown alternative to imported products.

Where did the idea for your product come from? With over 25 years of working in commercial kitchens, I understood the time-consuming process to prepare fresh artichoke hearts. I also understood that the alternatives to preparing the fresh artichokes were the imported canned or frozen artichoke products. My goal was to provide both the home and restaurant chef with a freshly prepared artichoke heart.

How did reclaiming imperfect artichokes become part of your business model? I came to realize there were many tons of artichokes that, for one reason or another, never made it into a carton. These "culls" were set aside for cattle feed. I asked (a farmer) for a few pounds to experiment with and, in 2000, Monterey Farms was established. It was a wonderful synergy.

How did you grow your kitchen experiments into a brand available at major retailers? With a handful of faithful friends, lots of long hours and hard work, and wearing many hats—including being a single mother of three beautiful daughters—I was able to slowly grow the business. Has it always been easy? Not at all! But Monterey Farms now employs 20 people who work extremely hard to provide our artichoke hearts to consumers across the nation.


All Monterey Farms artichoke hearts are hand-trimmed, then seasoned, lightly cooked and vacuum-packed. Photo: © 2019 Richard Green

How are ArtiHearts made? All of the artichokes we use are sourced from several growers here on the Central Coast. They are hand-sorted as they daily come in from the fields. After washing, we hand-trim the artichokes down to only their hearts, no leaves. We then lightly steam and season them before packing them in our vacuum-sealed pouches. We pack four flavors: Natural, Herbal, Grilled and Buffalo.

And the cows are still doing their part to eat unwanted artichoke waste. How does that work? With continued growth, I needed to find a better way to discard our artichoke trimmings. I put an ad on Craigslist for free cow food. It did not take long to find a local rancher who came by daily. I love how we are able to take a product that is deemed "unfit" for the raw market, turn it into a quality product, then in turn give our trimmings to local ranchers.

What are some of your favorite ways to use ArtiHearts? I like warming up the grilled ones in a hot dish; a pasta sauce is one of my favorites. I love incorporating them into a vegetarian lasagna. The Natural and Herbal flavors, I can just eat those right out of the bag or put them on a salad. I'm from Buffalo, New York, so I had to have a Buffalo artichoke heart. And I like heating those up right in the pouch and then putting them on a plate with a blue cheese dip or hummus. are so healthy for us in so many ways, and it was also one of my goals to preserve the healthy vegetable that it is without overprocessing it.

We understand you have an interesting perk for your employees. I'm only as good as the people who work for me. They're how I make this business successful. If I didn't have these beautiful hands in there, hand-trimming these artichokes, I wouldn't have a business, so I'm always very grateful and appreciative of those who work very hard for me and I try to take care of them. I have a masseuse who comes in once a week to give them little 15-minute massages on their arms or neck—because it's repetitive work, and I understand that it's not easy, so it's just an appreciation.

Recipes

Monterey Bay salmon with sweet potatoes and grilled ArtiHearts

Monterey Farms artichoke chicken curry


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