Worth a Mint

An Ore­gon farmer keeps tra­di­tion alive with fresh hol­i­day treats.

Farm & Ranch Living - - GRASSROOT VENTURES - BY MICHELE WO­J­CIECHOWSKI

early a decade ago, a Christ­mas con­fec­tion as sweet as her name saved Candy Seely’s fam­ily farm in Clatskanie, Ore­gon. Third-gen­er­a­tion mint farm­ers, she and her hus­band,

Mike, thought about leav­ing the fam­ily busi­ness as prices for the mint oil they pro­duced fell and costs rose. Then Candy whipped up the an­swer to their prob­lems: home­made mint pat­ties.

Now, ev­ery hol­i­day sea­son, Candy’s candies—Seely Mint

Pat­ties, Mint Bark, Mint Melts and Candy Canes—are avail­able at Whole Foods lo­ca­tions across the coun­try, as well as smaller stores. “What’s most ex­cit­ing for me is the look on peo­ple’s faces when they taste the mints. Many of them will say, ‘I’m not a mint per­son.’ Then they’ll try one, and their eyes get wide, and they’ll say, ‘Oh my, I’ve never tasted any­thing like this,’” Candy says. “Food is such a per­sonal way to con­nect with peo­ple. I re­ally en­joy that.”

When Candy first took sam­ples to a Port­land farm­ers mar­ket in 2007, she thought peo­ple would taste the treats and then buy mint oil to make their own. But peo­ple just wanted to buy her candy, so she kept mak­ing it. Soon co-ops and farm stands were car­ry­ing her con­fec­tions, and three days af­ter she sent sam­ples to the lo­cal Whole Foods, a store rep­re­sen­ta­tive emailed a re­sponse: “I want these in my store.”

Af­ter first mak­ing their candies in a neigh­bor’s cer­ti­fied kitchen, then in two dif­fer­ent bor­rowed restau­rant kitchens, the Seelys moved the op­er­a­tion to their farm, where it is now housed in a mod­u­lar trailer about 100 feet away from the still where they pro­duce the mint oil. The fa­cil­ity is “pretty low-tech,” Candy says.

While two em­ploy­ees work year-round, the Seelys add up to eight more tem­po­rary work­ers dur­ing the hol­i­days. “Right now, we do pretty much every­thing by hand,” Candy says.

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Our fam­ily is close be­cause we’ve all had to work to­gether and solve prob­lems to­gether.

It’s never go­ing to be quite like the I Love Lucy con­veyor belt scene, but Candy says, “Let me tell you, right be­fore Christ­mas it feels that way, be­cause we’re try­ing to get so much candy out of here as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

Candy­mak­ing aside, not much has changed on the Seelys’ 700-plus acres. They still raise heir­loom black Mitcham pep­per­mint and na­tive spearmint, and Candy and Mike dis­till the oil and sell it, just as they al­ways have. They also pro­duce and sell mint tea leaves un­der their own la­bel.

It’s a great life­style, Candy says. While their four chil­dren—War­ren, Caryn, Robyn and Alayna, all now in their 20s—were grow­ing up, she home-schooled them in the morn­ing, and then they’d all work on the farm in the af­ter­noon. “Our fam­ily is close be­cause we’ve all had to work to­gether and solve prob­lems to­gether,” Candy says. War­ren is tak­ing over the ac­tive farm­ing from his par­ents. Alayna also has an in­ter­est in the farm and may help af­ter col­lege. “For our kids to want to con­tinue in this work, it means a lot,” Candy says. “At the end of the day, the pur­pose of our life is to make life bet­ter for other peo­ple.”

Bet­ter, and now, even sweeter.

Mint from the farm is used to fla­vor prod­ucts like Seely Candy Canes, Mint Pat­ties and Ivory Mint Melts.

Candy Seely and daugh­ter Alayna walk a na­tive spearmint field with Nip­per and Chip.

Candy and Mike Seely’s Ore­gon farm glows with hol­i­day spirit.

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