Witches throughout history have been in tune with the natural world, making magic and medicine with plants. Mint for easing muscle stress. Marigold compresses to treat burns. Marjoram to soothe frayed nerves and sore throats.
Today, in south Minneapolis, one witch in particular is carrying on that tradition, though their craft deals specifically with vegetables.
The Pickle Witch.
In a kitchen not far from Powderhorn Park, the Pickle Witch preserves and ferments, concocting fire cider and flavored vinegars, hot sauce and mustard. You might see them riding around to different farmers markets on a Saturday, loading up their cargo bike with whatever’s fresh—pounds upon pounds of cabbage or radishes or asparagus or okra—before returning home to spend the weekend filling canning jars.
When they started pickling and preserving about a decade ago, the plan wasn’t to start a business. They simply loved food, and vegetables, and spending time in the kitchen. “The reason I started trading pickles to my friends is that I really wanted to have a skill I could participate in a trade economy with,” the witch says. “Not always giving people money for things like cat sitting or ‘Can I use your bike trailer?’ or whatever. I would just have a thing that I could say: ‘This is my skill, and I would like to contribute this.’” That was about three years ago, and after spending some time trading, they registered as a business so they could sell their ferments at local markets.
The transition seems like it should’ve been a positive one—but the Pickle Witch has something else in common with the conjurers who came before. A sense of isolation. A tendency to be treated as an outcast by the community.
At markets, they’re often the only queer or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) vendor selling that day. “As a queer person who is brown, it is very hard to be at some markets, because it’s a very isolating experience,” they explain. “I got tired of people aggressively gendering me at farmers markets... I got tired of people asking me if I was Korean or Japanese or Chinese or where I’m from. That happens every day.”
Sometimes there’s no one to talk to if a problem arises. Market managers can be sympathetic, but either they can’t do anything in the moment, or they don’t see an opportunity to do anything because they’re not brown or queer themselves.
There are systemic reasons markets are less than diverse. Opening a registered business is a huge financial risk, and if you’re starting with only a few thousand dollars, you need to stretch every last one of them. You don’t have the luxury of barely breaking even or taking a loss in your first year, “and that’s why a lot of businesses that are BIPOC or QT owned aren’t going to be there a second year.” When you don’t come from a place of privilege, you don’t have access to the resources that people with more privilege have. When there’s no safety net, you don’t get to try again.
“There’s so many talented people that don’t have an outlet,” the witch says. “Where is the place for people to present what they’re good at and care about, without having those things?”
It’s a question they’ve taken upon themselves to answer. The witch helped the Midtown Farmers Market start “Try It!”, a business mentorship program that gives new sellers a toe-dip into farmers markets. The initiative prioritizes low-income, BIPOC entrepreneurs who identify as women, trans, femme, or gender non-binary, taking them through the complicated licensure and certification process to see if becoming a registered business is the right move.
But it isn’t right for everyone. And here, too, the witch has conjured a solution.
In 2017, around the same time that they were making plans for their pickling project, they started a pop-up series called Support Local Hustle. It’s different from the traditional farmers-market circuit because it’s specifically and exclusively for BIPOC vendors—and because the goal isn’t to make anyone formalize their business.
“I have this idea with Support Local Hustle where I’m specifically talking about hustle, I’m not talking about small businesses,” the witch says. “That’s really important to me, because before I was a business, I had a hustle.”
At Support Local Hustle, roughly 50 percent of vendors are selling for the first time. Many are queer, trans, disabled, or chronically ill. The pop-up takes place in BIPOC-owned and -operated spaces when possible, and they always collect donations for a cause within the community, whether that’s supporting queer trans youth or missing indigenous women. There’s music and food and crafts and snacks. And everyone is handed a safer spaces statement upon entering that explains this is a BIPOC-first event.
“It also says: ‘No snobs, no snitches.’ Don’t look down on the producers here because they don’t have the packaging or display of somebody who has a lot of time and resources.”
The witch continues: “I think the language of ‘shop local’ is just not that motivating, and it’s getting a little tired. Where I think, like, if we can talk about interdependence and community care, and talk about a dollar of cash money staying in this neighborhood and getting spent within the BIPOC community, that’s worth so much more.” It’s why Pickle Witch and Support Local Hustle are cash-only operations: “As much as possible, I don’t want a percentage from someone who wants to come and support me to go to something that I have no control over.”
Though they’ve registered their business, the witch is still hustling. Everything is hand-washed and sterilized. They pick up and transport all produce by bike—always from local farmers, and almost exclusively from the Midtown market. Every jar of pickled okra or kimchi purchased probably has at least three hours of labor in it.
That, too, is part of the witch’s magic.
“I feel like it’s one of the talents of the queer and the brown: If you don’t give us shit, we’re going to do it anyway.”
Find the Pickle Witch at the Midtown Farmers Market (Moon Palace Books’ parking lot, 3032 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis) on July 6 and 20; August 3, 17, and 31; and October 5.