Two friends parlay a mutual affection for fermented foods into culture-changing business


With a company name like Counterculture Ferments and the slogan “The Revolution Will Not Be Pasteurized!,” you know the people behind the brand are change makers. Co-owners Ryan Koch, a longtime Lexington resident, and Lexington native Stephen Pavey founded the enterprise as a home-based business in 2018 based a mutual love for fermented foods.

In fermentation, microbial growth is manipulated so that, over time, it converts carbohydrates into organic acids, changing and preserving the food. And in an apt metaphor, the two friends’ shared vision for Counterculture Ferments is for it to evolve over time and to help fund their broader humanitarian interests.

Koch is the founder and former director of Seedleaf, a community gardening and composting organization. He now works full time at GreenHouse17, a nonprofit organization seeking to end intimate partner abuse that also has a therapeutic horticulture component.

Pavey, who has a doctorate in anthropology, is a self-described contemplative activist and artist. He immerses himself in marginalized communities and, with the help of those he meets and learns from, uses photography and writing to share their perspective with the wider world.

Their food prep kitchen is located at Embrace Church on North Limestone Street. Koch primarily focuses on sales and delivery, while Pavey develops recipes and makes the company’s small-batch products.

Current varieties include jalapeno kimchi, signature kraut, smoky garlic kraut, and seasonal offerings like curtido (a Salvadoran fermented cabbage relish) and red miso kimchi. They say their products can be used like a relish and are also great additions to beans, tuna or chicken salad, soups, sandwiches and dips.

Pavey said fermentation is an age-old preservation method that, while at times obscure, is making a cultural comeback.

He pointed to chocolate, wine, yogurt, ketchup and hot sauces as foodstuffs that incorporate elements of fermentation.

Counterculture Ferments’ items are vegan and gluten free, and are made using a lacto-fermentation method that make them rich in probiotics, as well as vitamins K and C.

Fermentation is equal parts art and science involving working with living bacteria, Pavey said. Although it’s time consuming, it isn’t complicated.

Most preparations involve shredding, pulverizing and squeezing the vegetables, adding salt solutions, spices and other ingredients, and monitoring pH levels as chemical reactions take place. The flavors continue to evolve over time, Pavey said.

Both men have separately attended a workshop shop offered by Sandor Katz, a highly regarded expert in fermentation techniques.

For their needs, Koch said the sweet spot for full fermentation is between 15 and 18 days. When they taste it, they know when it’s ready, he said.

“There’s variability, just because of the seasonality and what the room temperature is doing di.erent parts of the year,” he said.

Eating fermented foods is good for the digestive system, Pavey said, as good bacteria within the foods help fight o. bad bacteria. Probiotic pills for this purpose can be expensive, but simply eating fermented foods as often as you can is a natural, less-expensive option, he said.

Pavey said he’s talked with people who have been working with fermented food for decades, and like them, he’s found there’s always something new to learn. Lately he’s been experimenting with making kosho, which traditionally is a combination of fermented yuzu (similar to a grapefruit) zest and hot chilis.

Though the company isn’t yet profitable, Pavey said it’s been a worthy time investment that they’d like to grow to be self-sustaining and help support others. They’ve purchased property on York Street for a future small-scale commercial kitchen. They hope to also include affordable housing units for domestic violence survivors.

Counterculture Ferments’ products are currently available by ordering o. its website, countercultureky.com, at Good Foods Co- Op, Thrive Kombucha, Wilson’s Grocery at Greyline Station, at Kenwick and Lexington Farmers Market, and Truly Local in Morehead, Kentucky. Koch said what he enjoys most, aside from having a meaningful venture between friends, is meeting new people and having them “appreciate our art.” “It still feels like a hobby that kind of pays for itself,” he said.





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