Josh Bruns estimates he could make 15 to 20 gallons of kombucha with 65 pounds of rhubarb. After a decade of homebrewing, Bruns thinks he’s approaching perfection in his “booch.”
The hard part? Getting his hands on that much rhubarb.
Bruns grows rhubarb in his Minneapolis garden, which takes up the entirety of both his front and back yards. But because he plans for every square inch of his garden to be covered in plant life, Bruns can’t grow a lot of one plant at a time.
So Bruns outsources his produce from neighbors, inviting them to exchange rhubarb for wine, kombucha, or vinegar that he brews himself. His sign posted in the Dowling Community Garden in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis asking for 65 pounds of rhubarb was recently featured in a tweet that had more than 16,000 views.
In the comfort of his cold basement, Bruns lines his walls with jugs on jugs of slowly fermenting fruit and veggie concoctions. Bruns barters brewskis with his neighbors; in exchange for letting him pick produce, he’ll give back some organically made, all sugar-free, fermented mixtures.
Bruns intends for this to turn into a local business called Minneapolis Kombucha, dedicated to locally sourced ingredients and delivering his drinks on bike. But the goal isn’t profit, it’s sustainability.
“It’s the way of the future!” Bruns said. “This keeps money in local Minnesota instead of a big corporation.”
As of right now, Bruns is finishing up bottling his rhubarb kombucha. And with the summer kicking off, he’s not the only local business chasing the rhubarb high.
A nine-minute bike ride north of Bruns, Laune Bread on East Lake Street also put out a trade request for rhubarb, gathering over 500 pounds worth. Chris MacLeod co-owns Laune Bread with Tiffany Singh, and all that rhubarb came not from big farms, but Minneapolis gardens.
MacLeod explains that in exchange for rhubarb, customers receive in-store credit or an equal value treat.
“Rhubarbs seem special in Minnesota,” said the California native. “It has such a brief window to harvest but everyone seems to have [them] in their backyard.”
Laune Bread transforms local rhubarb into hand pies, danishes, jams and more. MacLeod said that during their peak, Laune Bread sells as many rhubarb danishes as all their other products in a day.
“It’ll be really hot for a few weeks and then nobody wants it,” said MacLeod, “so we try to ride that rhubarb train.”
Laune Bread will no longer accept more rhubarb due to an overstock but is expected to have jam and other rhubarb treats in stock for the rest of the summer.
Rhubarb season typically begins in spring and can be harvested until the end of June. Being one of the first produce items available, some Minnesota farmers allocate a smaller section for it, said Natalie Hoidal, a vegetable crops educator with University of Minnesota Extension.
“While people may like to buy a bundle of it,” she said, “it doesn’t quite have the draw of strawberries.”
According to Hoidal, there aren’t many dedicated rhubarb farmers due to its weaker agritourism appeal when compared to those summer berries or fall apples.
When Minnesota experiences wetter, colder springs or more extreme winters, rhubarb’s persistence against harsher and colder climates make it an easier plant to grow, Hoidal said.
While other crops may experience delays, rhubarb’s resistance to diseases, insects, and weather fluctuations allow it to remain a reliable product for farmers to sell at markets, she said. While there may not be many dedicated rhubarb growers, Hoidal often recommends farmers set aside some space for rhubarb.
“It’s a big deal for fresh market farmers to have something interesting right away,” she said. “Even if everything else is delayed, farmers can count on rhubarb.”