Food / Dining

Local chef’s products inspired by picky eaters

Wise Goat Organics products available from Hollister and San Juan Bautista retailers.

Hollister resident Mary Risavi has been raising horses outside the city for 20 years. A few years ago, she added goats with the intention of milking them.

“When you have animals you end up spending a lot of time watching them,” Risavi said. And in watching them she noticed changes in their habits.

“You would think that goats would eat anything,” Risavi said, “but I noticed when they were sick they became very picky eaters. They would eat certain parts of one plant but not others. It made me think humans should be more in tune with what they eat, just like goats. So I came up with the name Wise Goat Organics.”

Photo by Robert Eliason.
Photo by Robert Eliason.

Risavi said the journey began 13 years ago when she was selling produce at a farmers market.

“Customers would ask about the nutritional values of the vegetables so I started studying that. I became a nutritionist and started making sauerkraut for my clients. And it started there, spreading by word-of-mouth,” she said. 

Seven years ago, that word-of-mouth publicity led Risavi to create Wise Goat Organics, beginning simply with bone broths and five different types of sauerkraut.

“From there, it grew because I wanted to provide my clients with good, healthy products they needed,” she said. “And some of my ideas were just personal preference, like wanting to make really good clean nut butters. All of our nut butters are raw, organic, and sprouted.”

Today her product line has grown beyond sauerkraut to include vegan soups, fermented salsas, hot sauces, elderberry syrup, herbal elixirs and plant-based tonics, green teas, and several types of kvass, a fermented drink originating in Russia.

Risavi said Wise Goat Organics products are quite different from the mass-produced versions you would find in the grocery store.

“Everything I use is very, very locally sourced,” Risavi said. “I use organic produce from Coke Farms and Pinnacle Farms, Lakeside, and sometimes Coast Produce. Pretty much everything comes from places not further than about a 20-minute drive from the kitchen. We process it the same day or the next day at the latest, which preserves a lot of the nutrients in the vegetables.”

For her sauerkraut, Risavi shreds the cabbage, adds flavors such as kale, carrot, and garlic, then salt, and subsequently packs it into glass jars where it ferments for a month.  

“The bacterial cultures in the vegetables proliferate,” Risavi said. “They basically predigest the food. You get lactic acid as a by-product and you get probiotics as well. Fermented foods have a higher count of probiotics than most commercially made supplements, such as pills. And they are preserved, a lot of times, with probiotic supplements. If they are not handled correctly, they can lose their bacterial count. In fermented foods, that does not happen.”

Wise Goat Golden Kvass. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Wise Goat Golden Kvass. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Risavi had been doing all the work herself, but she recently hired an employee to help with the increased demand. She has her own commercial kitchen outside of Hollister and uses only glass or stainless steel in her processing, which she said is a big plus for the quality of the food.

“Most commercial kitchens use plastic barrels for their sauerkraut,” Risavi said. “I never use plastic. My understanding is that because sauerkraut is acidic it leeches plasticizers into the food.”

Wise Goat products are available at eight Farmers Markets around the Bay Area, as well as local retailers such as Bertuccio’s Market in Hollister, and Lolla and The Smoke Point BBQ in San Juan Bautista. (Risavi is co-owner of The Smoke Point with Chef Jarad Gallagher.)

“I have been a manager at Bertuccio’s for two and a half years,” said Grant Hughes, “but we were carrying it before that. I added the kimchi to our list and it has been flying out the door. People love the fact that they are all organic, non-GMO, and vegan friendly. It is also all locally sourced and that is something people are really looking for these days.”

The bottom line for Hughes is the customer response, which he said has been enthusiastic.

“We had one woman visiting from Germany,” Hughes said. “She was very surprised to see sauerkraut and she bought some. She came back the next day to buy more and she told us it was as good as the sauerkraut she could get back home in Germany.”


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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink approached me as a photographer by have since encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.