How a Mom of 4 Followed Her Passion & Started a Thriving ‘Seed-to-Table’ Family Business

I grew up in a tiny mountain town in Idaho, population 724. To this day it is the kind of town where most children of the community stick close to home, close to their roots. But, I had always dreamed of a bigger world, more to explore. So the minute high school graduation culminated, I found myself on a plane to Florence, Italy to study cooking. I was the first of my family to fly commercial, the first to have a passport.

After landing in Pisa, I was enchanted with the history that permeates the countryside and was anxious to immerse myself in the culture, language & food that is Italy. I thrived! I loved the open-air markets with fresh produce, the daily jaunts to the fishmonger, wandering through the herb garden – touching, feeling, smelling. It inspired me. The culinary school I attended was all about creating, exploring your talents as a Chef. I had none. I was eighteen. I was terrified. I faked it. I had the time of my life.

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Boarding the plane, heading back home after two glorious years of wonder, I knew that I could no longer fit into the confines of my small-town life. Ongoing wanderlust and exploration finally led me to Los Angeles and a job in the film industry. Every film set I worked on, I found myself cooking meals for the crew, having dinner parties weekly, inviting my nearest and dearest – 50 or so people over. At Christmas I would make hundreds of gift baskets, full of sauces, tapenades & pasta and deliver them to the doorsteps of co-workers, friends and my growing worldly family. Back home, my brothers and my friends insisted I should be selling the baskets. But I resisted every suggestion that I make a business out of it. I had been raised to share. Feeding those around me was my nature.

Eventually I became a wife and a mother of twins. My husband and I decided to move to a small mountain town in Colorado. I loved the slower pace, I adored being a mom, I had found my way right back to my roots. I cooked for my toddlers and their friends & classes. I would invite the entire kindergarten out and teach them how to clean, prep and cook little meals. Some of the children didn’t understand that French fries actually came from potatoes. They had no idea what Swiss chard or beets or real carrots (not the prepackaged nubs) were.

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A second set of twins & 12 years later, I began in earnest doing what my brothers and friends had urged me to do 20 years earlier. The difference was, now I had the experience of cooking under my belt. Farmers Markets –– reminiscent of the open-air markets in Italy from my first adventure away from home –– had popped up all over the country giving me a direct outlet for my products. I started jarring my soups, then one day I talked to my favorite farmer and asked if I could share some of his space at the market. I wanted to share my overabundance of food, and quite honestly, I just wanted to see how I would do. One Saturday in July, I crawled out of bed at 5 a.m., coerced one of my now thirteen-year old sons to come along, loaded up the car and went to market. In one hour –– we sold out! One hundred jars of soup, non-GMO, organic, local-handcrafted with love and goodness. The following week, I coerced my other thirteen-year boy to tackle the market with me. This time I came prepared –– 165 jars. We sold out in the first three hours. We were selling out of hot soup in JULY. I knew we were on to something.

Gina Cucina Seed to Table Farm Idaho

After the market on Saturdays, I would buy vegetables and fruit from all the organic vendors at the stands, take them to a friend’s commercial kitchen and create soups, gazpachos, tapenades & sauces for the following week, when I would take them back to the market in mason jars with beautiful slips of fabric explaining the ingredients. Each week we sold out. I was having a blast, I had found what I was meant to do it was in life, and I’d never felt more alive. I circled the wagons, and told my nearest and dearest of my plans and the wild ride began in earnest.

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The result from pushing up my shirt sleeves and pulling in all my family and friends to pitch in is turning out to be so much more far-reaching than just another soup from my stovetop. Everyone helps – labeling, branding, chopping, working the markets, driving delivery trucks, doing dishes. At home, my two youngest make boxes for Soup of the Month shipments. Back in Idaho, my older brother and my family have planted thousands of heirloom, Non-GMO, organic seeds and built a commercial kitchen to help me in that tiny little mountain town I was raised in. In turn, it’s brought a slew of jobs to a community in need. We have become a seed-to-shelf business. It has gone from a love of food to a family endeavor. We all have our jobs, and our community is growing.

Every step of the way has had its difficulties, every step of the way I have questioned my sanity, as has my brilliant & patient husband, and every step of the way I have sacrificed on some level. I have been challenged; told it was impossible; told NO; been asked if I knew what I was doing (answer: of course not); made countless missteps, but I have never given up. I am flying by the seat of my pants. I am exhilarated. I see a future I love and a world of possibilities. I am not afraid.

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Gina Cucina Soup

I’d love to share 2 of my recipes with you. Try them and tell me what you think!

Cucumber & Blackberry Gazpacho

  • 3 English cucumbers
  • 6 oz blackberries
  • ½ fresh pineapple
  • juice & zest of one lime
  • .25 oz fresh basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh habanero pepper

Puree 1 ½ of the cucumbers, the pineapple, basil & habanero. Add in the lime juice and zest. Dice the remaining cucumbers and slice the blackberries. Gently fold into the pureed mixture. Chill & serve. Garnish with fresh basil leaves

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Roasted Artichoke & Kale Pesto

  • 1 bunch lacinato kale (chopped)
  • 2 cans (13.75 oz)artichoke hearts
  • 1.5 cups roasted walnuts
  • 1.5 cups finely shredded asiago cheese
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ chopped sundried tomatoes
  • juice & zest of ½ lemon
  • dash cayenne pepper

Drain artichokes, toss lightly in teaspoon of olive oil, place on sheet pan in oven at 375 for 15 minutes. Add walnuts. Continue roasting. Chop kale & toss in olive oil, add to pan with artichokes & walnuts to roast. Roast for 7-10 minutes. Watch and constantly toss kale. Total roasting time for all three together should be 25 minutes.

Remove and let cool – while cooling shred asiago cheese, juice & zest the lemon.

Combine all in food processor & pulse. You can add salt to your taste.

About the Author

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Gina is Founder and Recipe Artist of Gina Cucina.Gina just loves feeding people. Coming from a long line of Italian chefs, she learned to cook at an early age and always knew that was her calling. At 17 she said goodbye to her family and her small Idaho hometown and headed off for culinary school in Italy. She spent years honing her skills, using all of life’s opportunities to perfect her particular culinary style. Early on she created sauces and soups for her own gift basket business in Los Angeles. Being a small town girl at heart, she married and moved to Carbondale, Colorado with her husband and twin boys. A second set of twins made their appearance, and she has been cooking for a crowd ever since! Her husband, a renowned Yogi, has trained yoga instructors and run yoga retreats for decades, so about 12 years ago Gina started catering for the retreats. Gina Cucina was born out of the culmination of cooking for 1000’s of yogis and 100’s of toddlers over the years. Both audiences — the most discerning of customers! Gina’s non-gmo and organic food line has the healthiest nutritionals on the market today. Make Gina Cucina a part of your family dinner, and taste the love in every bite!

Read more from Gina D’Orazio Stryker

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