Mary Risavi moved from Colorado to Santa Cruz in 2008 with the intention of staying in the area for “only a couple of years.” Thirteen years later, Risavi is still here, having settled in Hollister.
The owner of Wise Goat Organics, a small-food business that specializes in sauerkraut and dozens of gut healthy items, Risavi’s products are available at eight different farmers markets and speciality stores such as Bertuccio’s, Lolla in San Juan Bautista and the Smoke Point BBQ, which she co-owns with chef Jarad Gallagher. Bertuccio’s Manager Grant Hughes said the Wise Goat Organics products he carries are popular with customers.
“The (vegan) kimchi is probably our best seller,” he said, referring to the fermented Korean dish that is made up of cabbage, radish and spices.
While the term gut health only recently became a buzzword in food industry circles, Risavi saw the writing on the wall a while ago. Having grown up around horses, Risavi moved to Santa Cruz to continue her career as a natural horsemanship trainer. She met the wife of Grant Brians of Heirloom Organic Gardens in Hollister at a horse show, which eventually led her to helping out at their stand at farmers markets.
“I fell in love with farmers markets that way,” Risavi said.
Customers would routinely ask her about the nutritional value of certain foods, which motivated Risavi to take courses on the subject. After that, she supplemented her nutritionist credentials by taking classes in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, at which point a common theme started emerging with her clients—a number of them were suffering from gut issues. Risavi knew she was onto something.
“All health issues start with the gut,” she said.
And obtaining superior gut health requires eating a variety of vegetables, including kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir, which boost the number of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, found in the gut. Probiotics, or good bacteria, are thought to help a multitude of health issues, specifically digestive health. Risavi started making sauerkraut for her clients, and the demand became so great that Risavi launched Wise Goat Organics seven years ago.
Risavi’s product line goes beyond krauts and includes herbal tea, hot sauce, stoneground tahini, matcha powder, almond butter and kvass, a traditional fermented Slavic beverage commonly made from rye bread. Although Wise Goat Organics has a variety of products, the fact that all of them are fermented speaks volumes of Risavi’s deep belief—and those of her growing customer base—that fermented foods lead to great digestive health. Their motto? Taking care of your gut will help take care of you.
Risavi said her drive to make wholesome, quality products is a big reason why she focuses on sourcing from local, organic and sustainable farmers, including Coke, Pinnacle, Heirloom, Lakeside and Jade Coast.
“The cool part about that is I’m picking up something like cabbage and we’ll start processing it the same day or following day so everything is still fresh and the nutritional value is preserved,” Risavi said. “When you’re harvesting veggies—say broccoli or cabbage—the Vitamin C content starts dropping the second you harvest it. So by processing it on the same day you’re preserving the vitamins in it and they don’t degrade.”
Having raised horses for the better part of two decades, Risavi bought goats 12 years ago with the intention of milking them. As time went on, she noticed something rather remarkable about the animals, which is why she named her business Wise Goat Organics.
“I noticed they were very selective on what weeds, trees and grasses they would eat,” she said. “They would even be selective on the specific part of the plant they wanted. This seemed to vary with the time of day, season, age and any health problems they were facing. I thought this was very wise of them and felt as humans we should do our best to follow this approach.”
Hughes raves about the Wise Goat Organic products, which is ironic considering he is not a sauerkraut fan.
“It’s just not my deal, but people love it for the probiotic factor and all the amazing things it does for gut health,” he said. “There was a young lady who came in, a German exchange-student, who saw the kraut and bought it because she needed something from home. The next time she came into the store, she said the sauerkraut was amazing, that it was literally a slice of home for her.”
Risavi makes sauerkraut by shredding cabbage and depending on the product—she makes different flavors of kraut including purple cabbage, green garden, jalapeno, borscht, spicy garlic, golden and supergreen—combines it with garlic and salt before putting it in glass jars where it ferments for a month.
“We try to maximize the flavors and nutritional value without compromising anything,” she said. “The No. 1 goal is to keep the health value of the foods we sell and support local farmers. We’re trying to do everything right.”