Tortilla business is a flat out success for Gitto family
WATERTOWN – Farm families have always worked together, sharing jobs and helping out as needed, whether in the fields, caring for livestock or repairing equipment.
In other industries it would be called “cross training.” On the Gitto Family Farm and Kitchen, pitching in to help as needed is not something that was questioned. The philosophy of the entire family has been “just do it.”
Greg and Carol Gitto started their organic dairy, beef and produce farm as a way to involve their ten children in a family venture. The combination suited them well for quite a few years.
As their business developed and some of the grown children moved on to other ventures, they have found a special niche that has replaced raising the labor intensive garden produce.
When pay prices for organic milk dropped they were happy they had other aspects of the business to carry them, like the licensed commercial kitchen that the Gitto family uses to make organic tortillas right on the farm.
In 2009 they started making tortillas to sell at farmers markets along with their produce after meeting an entrepreneur in Canada who was doing it. They started small, making them in a licensed kitchen in Lake Mills. Business soon took off when stores like Metcalfe’s, Willie Street Coop and Whole Foods began ordering the tortillas sold under the brand Gitto Farm n Kitchen.
They now make many thousands of them every week, selling them in southern Wisconsin and Chicago markets. They also continue to market their Jersey meat and the hot sticks and sausages they have made from it.
“Jersey calves don’t bring much at a sale barn but raise them and sell the meat and they are the most popular meat at the farmers’ markets,” said Greg Gitto.
He advises others thinking about ways to supplement traditional farm income to cultivate a good, personal relationship with the stores. Knowing the rules regarding labeling and food safety is also critical.
“If you are ever going to get into anything like this, find a mentor to work with,
Gitto said. "You never finish learning. I was never much of a reader but I am now because I want to learn.”
Like any venture, they started the tortilla business small.
The couple began using older equipment in a rented kitchen and now have built their own kitchen with more modern equipment that is run like an assembly line. The room is located inside a machine shed on the farm and is air conditioned to keep the product consistent.
Every batch of their tortillas is measured, mixed, weighed out, divided, rounded into dough balls, put into the proofing cabinet (to get the baking soda and vinegar to work), sent through a press to be flattened, baked, cooled, bagged, sealed, weighed again and then put into the cooler.
The tortillas are only in the oven for a very short time and once they pass through the flat discs should blow up like a balloon and not have any holes burned in them. Any defective tortillas are promptly discarded.
The family makes both 8-inch and 10-inch tortillas in three varieties: whole wheat, white, and spelt. The tortillas move through 400 degree oven on an assembly line, devised to ensure that the shells are baked evenly - thanks to the 9 burners inside.
Between 5:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. the family is able to turn out 6000 tortillas, packaged and ready to deliver.
Like any venture, the equipment they purchased needed some tweaking to make sure it suited their needs.
For example, an important part of the process is getting the air out of the bags before sealing. Gitto’s son, Tim – the maintenance man on the farm – designed a simple roller system at the end of the line, made out of PVC pipe, that rolled each bag just before sealing.
“Whether you are running a farm or making tortillas you need to be able to modify and repair equipment for the job you need to get done," Gitto says. "Each of our grown children has a special talent that they are able to put to good use.”
When the Gitto family was marketing their vegetables, they needed the entire family to make it possible. Today labor is still an issue and the family has almost completely cut out their veggie business because of the time it takes to make and market the tortillas.
The greatest demand for tortillas has always been during the months when fresh veggies are available to go with them.
"Customers like them because they have a distinct wheat flavor but it is not overwhelming," Gitto said. "Others like them because while they are very thin, they still hold together when loaded down with ingredients."
To learn more about the Gitto family's business and products, visit https://gittofarm.com/