Anyone who has been reading this blog for more than five minutes knows that cooking is not exactly my favorite activity. For me, it’s sort of a necessary evil. I hate to use that word, but more often than not, I’m cooking because I have to feed my family rather than because I enjoy it. I keep promising myself that I’ll start cooking from scratch and making meal plans and find a local CSA to order from, but none of that has happened. Still, I am very concerned about feeding my family organic, whole foods when I can, and for that reason, I am absolutely in love with Amy’s Kitchen.
If you’re not aware of this company, you definitely want to get acquainted. They make organic frozen meals that defy every expectation of frozen food. No joke.
When Walmart offered me an opportunity to fly out to California to Amy’s headquarters to meet the owners and learn the story behind the food, Baby Juliza and I couldn’t pack our bags fast enough.
I, along with Denise Sawyer of WholesomeMommy.com and Caryn Bailey of RockinMama.net, started the trip with an afternoon in San Francisco, taking in the sights and sounds of a local farmer’s market and eating fresh local food right on the bay. We even got a chance to stop at the Golden Gate Bridge for a quick photo opp.
The cultural experience of the Bay Area is unique, to say the least. It was amazing to be in a place where organic is relatively easy to find, and good food is a way of life rather than a treat to enjoy once in a while. It’s easy to see how Amy’s could have been born in such a place.
Still, I was not quite prepared for how much I would fall in love with this company. Or how much Amy’s owner and founder Andy Berliner would fall in love with baby Juliza.
But I digress…
Andy and his wife Rachel started Amy’s in 1987 — the same year their daughter Amy, the company’s namesake, was born.
As new parents, Andy and Rachel found themselves wanting to eat good, organic food, but not really having the time to prepare it. After trying some frozen meals that were less than stellar (ie. horrible), they thought someone had to be making organic frozen meals that actually tasted good. No one was, so they did it themselves. It really was that simple.
But how, exactly, do you change the perception that frozen meals are convenient, but don’t taste so great? Well, by making meals from great recipes, just as we would at home. Every single recipe Amy’s makes was developed with care, and Rachel is the company’s official taster.
When the other moms and I met them, within minutes, it was obvious how much they really care about what they’re doing. The family is involved in every decision, from sourcing the best organic ingredients to making sure that the recipes maintain integrity at every level of development and production to designing the packaging. Rachel even picks flowers from her own garden to use in the product photography.
After breakfast, the ladies and I donned our white coats and hairnets to take a walk through the company’s plant. But first, we stopped for a selfie with Amy, looking all lunch lady glam.
While I’ve never been in a food production plant before, my expectation was that it would have a cold, industrial feel. Well, the only thing industrial about the Amy’s kitchen is the size of the pots and containers. While machines do some of the heavy lifting, there are quite literally dozens of hands working on every product on every line. Even their onions are chopped by hand, and there is a team that inspects thousands of olives to make sure that no pits get into their products. There are teams assigned to make the sauces in huge pots that are watched over with care. Their food bowls are hand assembled, and even their burritos are rolled by hand.
I got to try my hand at rolling a few burritos, and lets just say I need a lot more practice.
Amy’s really feels like a huge kitchen with tons of helpers rather than a faceless factory.
That is completely by design. The Berliners want to make sure that the values that the company started with — quality food and handmade goodness — are kept up no matter how big they get. The company, even with more than 1000 employees, operates much like a family. The fact that baby Juliza was more than welcome to attend once they learned I am breastfeeding told me a lot about that family atmosphere, but seeing it in person solidified that idea.
As we walked through the plant with Andy and Amy, it’s clear that they know their employees by name. Three of the company’s first four employees still work there, and there are many who’ve worked for Amy’s for 15+ years. Plus, all employees can get on-site healthcare for themselves and their families for — get this — $5. Just $5, and they can see a doctor and nurse who are both bilingual and work for Amy’s full time. I was floored by this revelation.
The best part? All of those values show in the finished product.
We ate lunch at Amy’s, and the entire menu was made up of their food. If I didn’t know it, I never would’ve guessed that these could be the same meals that I could get in Walmart’s freezer section.
My family had eaten Amy’s pizzas, and my husband had tried some of their burritos, but that was it. However, Amy’s sent us some food to try before I headed out to California, and my family devoured it. Their meals come out of the microwave smelling like something I made on my own stove, with all the herbs, spices and flavors fully present and accounted for.
For lunch, we tried a bunch of the dishes that we had not received prior to the trip, and on serving trays, they could easily be mistaken for restaurant food. Or even better, for homemade food. I am a notoriously picky eater, and I hate trying new things. Seriously. However, everything looked and smelled SO GOOD that I couldn’t help but try a little bit of everything. And I kid you not when I say there’s not a single thing I ate that day that I did not fully enjoy. It was all delicious!
My only “complaint” — if you can even call it that — is that Amy’s meals, with the exception of their pizzas, come in single servings. Which means that it takes a while to warm meals for the whole family.
When I brought this up, Rachel shared that they are planning to offer some recipes in family-size portions. I genuinely can’t wait! The idea that I can give my family healthy, organic food that rivals anything homemade in a fraction of the time makes me want to do cartwheels!
But in even bigger news, Amy’s is planning to open their first fast food restaurant near their headquarters. So local residents will be able to enjoy delicious, homemade food literally any time. I pray the restaurant takes off and expands, because it would be amazing to pull away from a drive-thru with food I can be proud to feed my family rather than food that makes me feel like a horrible parent.
Our time spent at Amy’s headquarters was an amazing learning experience, and that was enough to cement my respect and admiration.But after lunch, we got to visit two organic farms: One a community farm to which Amy’s contributes that is smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood, and the other a large farm that provides produce for the company.
The community farm actually serves as a teaching tool for local kids. They get to put their hands in the dirt and learn all about growing organically.
The latter, Bloomfield Organics, is run by Mike Collins, a farmer who has been working the soil for nearly 40 years and who, quite frankly, just knows his stuff. I can’t tell you how awesome it was, with baby Juliza in tow, to eat fruit and veggies straight out of the ground. Farmer Mike quite literally pulled leaves off plants as we walked by and give them to use to smell and taste. It was an experience I will never forget. I can’t imagine any of that happening at a conventional, industrial farm.
More than anything else, our farm visits brought the idea of what Amy’s is doing full circle. They’re taking the concept of farm to table and scaling it up so that everyone — even picky eaters like me who also don’t like to cook — can enjoy great, wholesome, organic food. I hope Walmart will soon expand to carry even more Amy’s products and that they will continue to support companies that prove organic is not only desirable, but doable and affordable.
I am now an Amy’s fangirl for life. And their Spinach and Margherita pizzas? If I had a lifetime supply, I could never have too much. I’m just saying…
Disclosure: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Affiliate links may have been used.