Saving the Season: Emily Vanlandingham of Locally Preserved
Saving the Season
Canning is a labor of love at Locally Preserved
I first meet Emily Vanlandingham on a recent Thursday at the home she shares with her husband, Tyson; her 3-year old son, Grayson; and their dog, Ernie. The plan is to ride along for a few hours as she goes about her day: an up-at-dawn, down-at-midnight blitz of a day full of meetings, drop-offs and pickups, all conducted at breakneck pace—the usual for her. When I arrive at 9am, she’s already been up for hours.
Her company, Locally Preserved, produces small-batch, all-natural syrups, “sweetless” jams, jellies and preserves made with five ingredients or less. Right now seasonal fruits and veggies come from farmers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and Locally Preserved products are only distributed in the region where the produce is grown.
Emily invites me into her home office and the first thing I notice are the columns of jars lining one wall, filled, labeled and ready to be delivered. She offers me a choice of preserves and for a moment I’m stumped. “Pick one.” She displays mayhaw jelly, mayhaw pepper jelly, peach syrup, sweet potato butter and other flavors. I choose sweet potato butter. “Sweet potatoes, sugar, lemon juice and spices, and people tell me they just eat it with a spoon,” she laughs. I immediately open the jar and dip my finger into it, hooking a lump of sweet potato into my mouth. I take a moment to close my eyes and attempt to decipher the spices. I take a second taste, wishing I felt comfortable enough to ask her for a second jar. She smiles and says, “Good, huh?”
She then busies herself emptying out her purse to make room for the items she’ll need for the day. Out go Grayson’s jelly beans, in goes her laptop, out goes the Frozen musical watch, in goes her charger. It’s all completed in a well-choreographed dance, that undoubtedly takes place daily, and soon she asks, “Are you ready to get dizzy?” and we’re out the door and in the “mom car,” as she calls it.
From Morning Call in City Park to meet with her branding and marketing team to the Irish Channel neighborhood to meet with her photographer to Metairie to see a lady about a forklift, and a side trip to the farmers market, our day moves quickly. Emily does it all with a smile, a quip, an anecdote here and there, coffee at regular intervals, and at times a wave of the hand as if to say “everything’s doable, let’s carry on.” As we drive from place to place, I pepper her with questions.
It was while growing up on a farm in Maryland that Emily began to make preserves with her grandmother, Dorothea, whose farm was located next door. Seasons were marked by the fruits they picked together. Summer meant blackberry-stained lips and fingers, as she and her grandmother would eat as many as they picked before heading home to put them up. Emily has always been fascinated by food in jars.
In fact, she hopes to change the way we think about those little glass vessels lining grocery store aisles and standing at attention in our cabinets and refrigerators. What exactly are we eating, where does it come from and are there other options? To that end, she founded Locally Preserved here in New Orleans in 2013.
“Everyone thinks that Louisiana is great for its food, and it certainly is. But I think it’s more than that. The people of Louisiana are in love with their food. People’s eyes light up when they talk about food because it’s more than just talking about food. Every dish here means something and brings up a food memory, whether it’s a crawfish boil or Jazz Fest.” Emily pauses and points to one of her jars, “It’s all connected ... This community is so personal and so rich with culture, and it already has this connection with food, and I just want to foster it.”
Back when she was working as a caterer, people began asking if she had any extras of the jams, jellies and syrups that she had made for the cocktails and salad dressings she served. Realizing that there might be something to this, Emily brought 28 jars of strawberry preserves to the Freret Street Farmers Market as an experiment. She sold out that day. With “$20 and a flat of strawberries,” Locally Preserved was born.
Many of the fruits come from the vendors at the farmers market and other local farms, and Emily very seriously jokes that she dreams her flavor combinations into life. Strawberry Jelly lived in her dreams for two years before becoming a reality. Blackberry Sage is her favorite, but the one she misses most when it’s not in season is Tomato Basil Jelly. Both sweet and savory, it’s a match made in heaven—a flavor that shouldn’t work but does.
In five years of existence, Locally Preserved has grown by leaps and bounds. It has outgrown the kitchen at Langlois Culinary Crossroads and Emily is raising capital to build out a 25,000-square-foot space that will encompass a kitchen, labeling, packing and shipping facility. Soon, Emily hopes to re-create this business model across the country under the Locally Preserved name, engaging with local farmers and producing region-specific syrups, jams and jellies.
Emily and I spend seven hours together, talking, laughing, sharing stories and hotly debating binge-worthy TV shows. Before we part, I ask her the question that I ask everyone: “What do you want people to know about you?”
“That this is the progression of my life, and that this is who I am and my contribution to the world. I want people to know I’m really trying to create a wonderful company that embodies not just this community, but all communities. It’s my heart in a jar and I hope that they can appreciate how much hard work it really does take and how much I care about what I’m doing. I want them to know that I’m trying to do some good through my products.”
We parted ways, shortly after, me to go pick up my dog Nola from doggie daycare, then head home and indulge in sweet potato butter, and she to put in eight more hours of work, and dream up more flavor combinations.