Founders of South River Miso, Christian and Gaella Elwell
By Gaella Elwell, Co-founder
Christian and I met in Boston in 1976 when we were students of the macrobiotic way of life as taught by Michio and Aveline Kushi. Macrobiotics promotes a diet of seasonal whole foods, freshly prepared, as well as physical and spiritual practices to enhance well being. Christian’s father had died of cancer at age 51 and my father at 45. We wanted to explore ways to create and maintain good health.
We were staying at the Kushi’s study house in Brookline, Massachusetts, and eating miso soup for breakfast every morning. At that time, miso was available only from Japan. We wondered; “What would it be like to make miso in this country, right here, in New England?”
One night the first inkling of South River Miso emerged from a rough sketch that Christian drew on a paper napkin at an Irish pub in Brookline Village. Soon after, we heard about Naboru Muramoto, author of Healing Ourselves, and Asunaro, his school of Oriental Medicine and Fermented Foods in Glen Ellen, California. We headed west in a vintage red Volkswagen van to meet him.
A diminutive man, Sensei Muramoto was a tireless teacher, healer, cook, and ditch digger on his rambling, rural property. Many small batches of homemade miso were bubbling away in a storeroom under his watchful eye. He liked to experiment with different varieties. Our favorite was his exotic and sumptuous peanut miso.
After making miso with Sensei Muramoto for the winter and spring we returned to Massachusetts. Within a few months we were married, had acquired sixty acres of farmland along the South River in Conway, and were expecting our first child!
Meanwhile, Thom Leonard, whom we had met at Asunaro, had teamed up with friends in Ohio to start the Ohio Miso Company in 1979. Eighteen months into their start-up, and running into problems of small business partnerships, Thom called to see if we wanted to take over the company. In a matter of days we said, “Yes.” A few months later, Christian went to Ohio with a friend and came back with a large truck crammed full with basic equipment and hauling thirteen tons of miso!
In the winter of 1980 we packed orders in an unheated barn and brought packaged miso across the shallow, icy waters of the South River by horse drawn wagon to meet the UPS truck at the road side of the farm. It was a natural choice to rename our enterprise: South River Miso Company.
In 1981, Jerry Sawma, a local timber framer, built our small production facility using all native wood. The sturdy masonry stove built by Albie Barden of Maine still cooks the grains and beans with wood fire and also heats the production building.
Many, many tons of miso have come from this small, cozy shop, tended by numerous willing workers over the past 30 years. Today we are producing over 60 tons of miso a year from this same production room, and still using much of the original equipment brought from Ohio. In the beginning we had adventurous apprentices who came to work in exchange for room and board. Some of them lived across the river before we had a foot bridge, when we had to wade through the river to work! Currently we have 14 employees, who give their good energy to all aspects of this small company.
In 2004, we were fortunate to engage again Jerry Sawma and Scott Wallace to build a much needed vat storage building. The new building houses all our fermentation vats and is heated by a wood-fired furnace. In the fall of 2011, we began supplying most of our company’s electrical needs with solar power!
We have been blessed in many ways by South River Miso Company and our many loyal customers. We hope our offerings will bless you as well.