By Jonathan Connor
Have you met the Green Jam Man? Young and passionate about local food, Michael Fraley runs his Fairfax, VT, jam business with quality and innovation at the forefront.
After a quest for black currant jam turned up dry, Fraley learned how to make his own jam with black currants from a nearby farm. Fraley liked his black currant jam even better than the jam he found in stores. With encouragement from his friends, he began to sell jam at local farmers’ markets as the Green Jam Man, and customers loved it.As the business grew, his products began selling at stores around the area in addition to the local farmers’ markets.
Fraley’s products, including jams, jellies, and marmalades, stand out because every product he makes includes at least one local ingredient.
“I started using local fruits because [they] are just such a higher quality,” says Fraley. “As far as making jam goes, I want to use the best possible fruit.”
And his commitment to local ingredients extends further than that. If an ingredient can be found in Vermont, he will only source it from Vermont. This means that the many flavors of Green Jam Man change throughout the year as ingredients are available.
“I really do everything I can to make sure it’s local,” says Fraley.
As far as making the food goes, the Green Jam Man is still a one man show. Fraley makes all of his jams, jellies, and marmalades by himself in his commercial kitchen. Unlike most jam producers making their jams in steam kettles, Fraley makes all of his jams in a copper pot. He says the copper conducts heat well, so it heats up fast, and the shape of the pot allows for maximum evaporation. These and other factors are part of what he says makes his jam taste so good.
While the use of a copper pot is traditional, the Green Jam Man is no less innovative. Fraley combines the old process of cooking in a copper pot with the modern practice of using a pectin (in this case, an all-natural lemon pectin) as a gelling agent. This too contributes to the unique and, as Fraley would argue, more delicious flavor of his products.
Fraley enjoys adding new flavors to his product line. Some of his unique flavors include a cherry stone infused peach jam, maple cinnamon pear jam, and strawberry plum rosemary jam. Flavors mostly come about by experimenting and trial and error. But, “After a while, you just kind of know what works,” says Fraley.
Although a steady income is necessary, Fraley’s primary reasons for making jam is because it’s fun and he loves the taste of his products. “There are some jams that I make a lot of money on, there are some jams I don’t make any money on, but I do it because I think it’s important.”
He uses his favorite jam, the black currant jam that started it all, as an example of that point. “Black currant is super expensive, but I make it because it’s my favorite and why shouldn’t the jam man sell his favorite jam?”
The Green Jam Man will be at the Taste of Vermont Reception at the end of the UVM Food Systems Summit on Wednesday, June 18. Fraley is not sure what flavors he will be bringing yet, as it all depends on the weather and what fruit is available at the time. Whatever it is, you can expect it to be local and fresh!
Jonathan Conner graduated in May 2014 from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UVM. He wrote this piece for an internship during the spring 2014 semester. Photos provided by Michael Fraley and used with permission.