From software to farm to table: Jackie Gennett of Bushel & Peck's
Jackie Gennett of Bushel & Peck’s just might be superwoman. Farmer, chef, restaurateur, business-owner, entrepreneur, member of Green City Market’s Board of Directors, and self-proclaimed “Plant Lady,” she really does it all. While most GCM shoppers are very familiar with Jackie’s jars of creative homemade sauces, jams, pickles, relishes, and syrups, some may not know the full extent of Bushel & Peck’s operations. In addition to her Preservation Kitchen where she preserves local and organic foods, Jackie and her spouse own and operate 130 acres of USDA Certified Organic farmland in Monroe, Wisconsin, known as Grass is Greener Gardens where they raise organic vegetables, sheep, goats, chickens, and turkeys, which they rotate seasonally. And that’s not all—Bushel & Peck’s also operates a restaurant and retail store in Beloit, Wisconsin where they “bring food and community together.”
Jackie has created something out of every step of her business—literally from farm to table and everywhere in between. You might think that this level of expertise and success in the food industry could only be learned from a lifetime of experience, but Jackie’s career was originally in software. “But I was an early adopter of being a Plant Lady,” Jackie explained that her enormous career switch did not come completely out of nowhere. “I had always wanted to be in something horticultural, agricultural” but instead found herself in the automotive software industry, “which was pretty boring,” she said. She began cultivating her dream in 2001 with a 20 by 30 square foot garden in the South Loop, gardening part-time, but pulled the plug on her software job in 2006 to commit to full-time farming. She bought the 130 acres she still operates today and opened all three branches of Bushel & Peck’s: “The business has always been a farm, a preservation kitchen, and a restaurant with a retail store where we decided to be one of the first farm to table retailers in the Midwest,” she explained of her pioneering business.
Ever since, Jackie has spent her days making preserves from fresh foods. Bushel & Peck’s product superiority comes from their local ingredients and the care and time they put into making something truly homemade, not from a factory. But she doesn’t stop at classic sauces or jams, soups or pickles; instead she will make ketchup from beets, red velvet and three different types of ghost pepper hot sauces, cherry lavender and peach jalapeño jams. “I like making new products,” Jackie reflected on her avant-garde creations, “the creative part is in making new things.”
Jackie is all about “serendipitous success.” Serendipitously, the first year Bushel & Peck’s became Certified Organic coincided with Green City Market’s transition toward requiring third-party certifications for vendors’ products, and in 2011, Jackie began selling her exciting preserves at the market. And some of her best products were created by chance: her bestselling cherry bomb hot sauce came as a result of having way too many cherry peppers and garlic, and one of her favorite fermented creations, “immunichi,” made from cabbage, carrot, apple, ginger, turmeric and onion, came out of a pile of leftover produce from Nichols Farm and Orchard. “It’s fun when something good comes by accident!” Jackie expressed.
Though her preservation kitchen is one branch of her business triumvirate, it is really her passion. Because of the pandemic, Bushel & Peck’s unfortunately was forced to strip their restaurant down to a minimalistic part of the business, but this allowed her to focus almost exclusively on the preservation kitchen, farm, and retail store. Now, with more time to grow and can, she has been able to focus on her passion. “The pandemic gave us an opportunity to stop and look closely at the restaurant and make changes that will allow us to do it more sustainably in the future,” Jackie reflected. “Every restaurant’s goal is to be crazy busy, but that’s not our goal now.”
In the meantime, Jackie has been concocting more jars of delicious, locally-sourced, unique products. She introduced a classic pasta sauce in 2018 and is working to perfect the recipes for two new sauces--tomato basil and puttanesca, as well as a line of sandwich sauces, including sloppy-joe, pulled pork, teriyaki, “and some other secrets.” She has also been hard at work on Green City Market’s Board of Directors, Farmer Advisory Committee, and Vendor Applications Committee. “GCM is one of a couple of places that transformed my business, and this was my opportunity to give back,” she explained. “I like working with like-minded people. They are enthusiastic about the mission of GCM and so am I.”
From her nonlinear background to her current position in the thick of the local food movement, Jackie can reflect on her career and her industry. “It’s rare that I think about my gender in this industry,” she admitted of being a female farmer and business-owner. “It’s always been that way for me—I was always taught and never thought my gender would inhibit my success in whatever I wanted to do.” With such a powerful outlook and attitude towards the future of food, farming, and females, Jackie is excited by the rise in young farmers and chefs, especially young woman farmers and chefs, participating in the local food movement.
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