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Scott County Fast Track winners look to bring Switchel canning operations to Shakopee

Tucked in a corner across from an ice cream shop at Keg and Case Market in St. Paul is a wooden shop that looks like a dry bar in your rich uncle’s basement. Shelves are lined with bottled drinks called Switchel Fizz, and customers can walk up to a keg to pour themselves a bubbly sample of each of the three flavors.

It was around 10 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and already one customer had bought so many six-packs of Switchel she needed a large cardboard box to carry them out to her car.

“That was a nice sale,” Jeff Cerise, one of the owners of the company, Hobby Farmer Canning Co., said as she walked away.

Although none of the owners were particularly surprised. After tasting the first sample, they said, most customers keep coming back for more. Which raises a challenge, because as of right now, Switchel can’t be delivered easily when it’s packaged in bottles.

That’s why Hobby Farmer Canning Co., which also cans pickles (the owners say they’re to die for), is looking to partner with Badger Hill Brewing in Shakopee. The brewery would be able to can the drinks so Switchel can be more easily distributed, without taking up too much shelf space in retail stores or putting deliverers at risk of shattering the bottles.

And on Oct. 24, the Scott County Fast Track challenge, which is akin to the TV show “Shark Tank,” awarded Hobby Farmer Canning Co. with the first-place prize: $5,000 and connection to business services throughout the area. The award will help move along the company’s partnership with Badger Hill Brewing.

About Switchel Fizz

Switchel Fizz, the non-alcoholic brewed drink that seems to attract drinkers, non-drinkers, health fanatics, foodies, kombucha drinkers and ginger beer fans toward one $4 bottle, has signed a letter of intent to partner with Badger Hill Brewing in Shakopee to create canned drinks.

Canning Switchel will allow for more distribution and retail opportunities, Cerise said. They have already gained interest from several retailers, including the distributor who shelves Target’s adult beverages, all of Pizza Luce’s restaurants and several other taprooms and restaurants throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Switchel is different than kombucha because it’s not fermented. Instead, it’s a prebiotic that’s brewed, like beer.

“So it feeds the good bacteria that already exists,” Cerise said. “People who don’t love kombucha love Switchel, and people who love kombucha also love Switchel. So it’s kind of a win-win.”

Cerise said the thing people love most about Switchel is that it’s a great alternative for non-alcohol drinkers, and for those who do drink, it’s a great mixing ingredient for cocktail recipes.

“Switchel makes designated drivers or recovering addicts or non-drinkers still feel like they have something important in their hands,” Cerise said. “So they’re not standing there crinkling a plastic water bottle.”

The apple cider vinegar-based drinks have 90 calories per 12-ounce serving, and have no artificial ingredients, sweeteners, preservatives or gluten. The drinks are sweetened with natural honey and come in three flavors: turmeric, cinnamon and cayenne.

A fresh taste

from an old recipe

Cerise’s mother used to spoon him doses of Switchel. As a singer, he said, he loved drinking his mother’s old recipe, because it soothed his hoarse throat without all the added sugars found in alternative drinks such as ginger ale.

According to Farmer’s Almanac, before soda became popular, Switchel was the alternative to alcoholic drinks. All Switchel recipes have a few common ingredients: water, apple cider vinegar, ginger and a sweetener.

“Once you start drinking this and go back to a regular ginger beer or Coke, it’s like, wow. You can taste such a difference. This just feels so much cleaner,” Cerise said.

Cerise didn’t think of selling Switchel until years after he and his co-founders, Tod Novinska and Chuck Hermes, launched Hobby Farmer Foods in 2008, in which they sold Novinska’s grandmother’s pickle recipes. Those recipes are age-old, too, from Novinska’s hundred-year-old family farm in southern Wisconsin.

All the wood used to construct the Hobby Farmer shop at Keg and Case Market is from Novinska’s old family farmhouse.

“I’m the one who’s the hobby farmer,” Novinska said, laughing.

It wasn’t until late 2017 that Switchel joined the pickles on Hobby Farmer shelves. Now, there are about six part-time employees with the company, and in their first year, the three co-founders sold more than 75,000 carbonated bottles, and about 2,500 non-carbonated bottles.

“And that led us to Shakopee,” Cerise said. “We’ve had to turn down a lot of offers for e-commerce because the Switchel bottles are too hard to ship. And clubs and concerts and other outdoor venues don’t allow glass bottles on their grounds.”

Tim Johnson, the head brewer from Badger Hill Brewing, said partnering with Hobby Farmer Co. helps the brewery by diversifying its business model. He said the brewery has room to expand and partner with Hobby Farmer, so the partnership just seems to make sense.

Johnson said he’s not sure whether Badger Hill will sell Switchel on tap, adding that the business owners haven’t gotten around to that discussion just yet, but he said it’s definitely an option. Cerise said the next territory Hobby Farmer would like to infiltrate is the south metro, and Badger Hill seems like a great place to start.

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Fundraiser supports suicide prevention for Shakopee law enforcement officers, firefighters

Later this month, on Nov. 14, Turtle’s Bar and Grill in Shakopee will be hosting an event to raise awareness and prevent suicide among the community’s law enforcement officers and firefighters as part of a campaign called Wrestling for Life.

Michelle Starbeck, the owner of Stacked Consignment, which is across the street from Turtle’s, said her business is helping to sponsor the event because it’s an intersection of two things that hit close to home: her grandfather was a firefighter, and someone very close to her committed suicide 10 years ago.

“I’ve never put my business name on anything,” Starbeck said. “But this, I’m like, I will stand behind this 100%.”

The event will raise money to purchase lifeline coins, which are large, heavy coins engraved with a suicide prevention number, so each law enforcement officer in Shakopee can keep one in their pocket. The cause was started by Coon Rapids resident Carol Castle, who lost her son to suicide two years ago. He was a firefighter.

The foundation has only been up and running for six months, but Castle said she’s sold about 2,300 coins. What makes them different, the women say, is the lifeline number goes directly to an organization called Safe Call, which consists of law enforcement officers who are trained to deal with crisis situations.

“If you’re in crisis and you dial the number of a call center, they’re going to put you on hold and then it’s too late,” Starbeck said.

The lifeline coins come at a time of heightened awareness toward law enforcement suicide. Just this week, two Minnesota police officers died by suicide. In the U.S., 192 law enforcement officers have died by suicide in 2019, which is nearly double the number of officers who have died in the line of duty, according to the Minnesota Chiefs Police Association. New York City received national attention this summer following nine New York Police Department suicides in a span of a few months.

Castle began Wrestling for Life six months ago, just a year-and-a-half after her son died of suicide, and she said there are 2,300 law enforcement officers around the nation — in every state — with these coins in their pockets. She said she has already received an overwhelming amount of support and gratitude from law enforcement officers and their families.

Castle mentioned businesses, families or individuals can adopt an entire law enforcement department, which means they can purchase a life coin for every officer.

Starbeck talked about the importance of protecting the officers who consistently protect their community, and she remembered the times her grandfather left Christmas dinner to respond to a fire call.

“These are the people leaving their families to go help your family all the time,” Starbeck said.

Most of the 2,300 coins sold belong to officers and firefighters on the north side of the river, so Castle and Starbeck are excited to welcome the coins into Shakopee.

“I had a customer who said she wants to order coins for the 10 cops in her small town,” Starbeck said. “If there’s a spouse or child who doesn’t have to get that horrible phone call because their loved one has this coin, that’s the whole world to that family. I don’t think people realize how much (suicide) wrecks your whole world.”

Law enforcement is at particular risk of suicide because of the tragic scenes they witness and, oftentimes, their immediate access to firearms, the women said.

According to the latest available figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among police officers is about 16 per 100,000, and the suicide rate among the general population is about 14 per 100,000.

Starbeck said the Shakopee Police Department is backing the organization. Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate was out of the office and could not immediately respond to comment on the event.

The event at Turtle’s, 132 1st Ave. E., slated for 6-8 p.m., will be $20 for a ticket, which will cover the cost of two coins, and will also provide appetizers from Turtle’s and one drink from Shakopee Brewhall for each guest. There will also be $1 raffle tickets to win prizes, and for those who know law enforcement officers or firefighters outside of Shakopee, Wrestling for Life will also be selling coins.

Starbeck said if they sell enough coins, the additional coins will go to corrections officers and the sheriff’s department at Scott County.

“I feel like Shakopee is so different… a lot of towns as they get bigger lose their small town feel,” Starbeck said.