To Market: Garden Fresh
BY KATY KELLEHER / PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PIAZZA
The Backyard Food Company
Warwick, Rhode Island
At 37 years old, the last thing Matt McClelland expected was cancer. “Three and a half years ago, I got sick one night and went to the hospital, thinking it was my appendix,” he says. “It turned out to be a cancerous tumor.”
McClelland spent eight weeks recovering from surgery, and during that time he became fascinated by the idea of growing his own food. Several months later, he realized his dream (with a little help from Backyard Food Company co-founder Louby Sukkar), and began eating tomatoes and cucumbers fresh from the vine. But there was a problem: McClelland and Sukkar had a surplus of product.
So they did what gardeners have been doing for hundreds of years and started canning their produce. They asked friends and relatives to send them old family recipes, which they taste-tested and tweaked until they had a lineup of pickles, vegetable jams and relishes.
While all of their heirloom recipes are worth a taste, a standout product is the Rhode Island Red Relish. Made from peppers, onions and spices, this sweet-and-sour relish can be eaten on hot dogs, mixed with mayonnaise and spread on sandwiches, served with oysters and plopped onto scrambled eggs. The do-anything relish was an instant hit. In December 2014, Whole Foods in Providence became the first store to stock The Backyard Food Company, and the homegrown enterprise has continued to flourish from there. You can now find their products in grocery stores throughout New England, including Roche Brothers and Star Markets.
The company has gotten so popular that they no longer source exclusively from the backyard garden, but they always buy as close to home as possible. “It’s so important to me to know where my food comes from,” McClelland says.