Three years ago, Candy Seely whipped up some peppermint patties to sell at the Portland Farmers Market to demonstrate how to use the peppermint oil she and her husband Mike were selling.
The Seely mint farm, the last in Columbia County, was struggling as gum, toothpaste, candy and breath mint manufacturers turned to synthetic flavoring. They decided to sell mint tea and oil at the farmers market to boost business.
Customers were more interested in buying the peppermint patties, though. After a few iterations, and with some help of the Oregon State University-affiliated Food Innovation Center in Portland, the Seelys were selling their patties across the country.
Now, their distributor is struggling to keep up with demand after the patties were included in gift guides for O, the Oprah Magazine, and Real Simple.
"I told her (that would happen), she didn't listen," Seely said laughing.
The national media exposure came from the Seely's relationship with Whole Foods. Denise Breyley tried one of the patties at the farmers market three years ago and helped the Seelys mold it into a product they now stock across the country.
New Seasons, specialty and natural food stores throughout the U.S. stock the patties as well -- more than 400 now.
And while business is pretty steady year-round, they work hard to expand. Mike Seely said they are still investing in their long-term goal of 10,000 stores.
"It's not an easy business to be in. You have to have a lot of willpower to stay in this," he said Wednesday, on the phone from a trip to fix farm equipment in eastern Oregon.
The Seelys are hold-outs from when mint farms populated the Willamette Valley, central Oregon and the lower Columbia region. Seely grew up on the Clatskanie mint farm, which has been in the family since his grandparents. He is excited to hand the farm down to one of his daughters and son, who have worked on the farm their whole life and are soon graduated college.
"We've been raising mint forever. We raise it the same way my parents and grandparents did," Seely said. "We are a family farm and we want to keep it that way."
The Oregonian wrote about the Seelys three years ago in a profile of one of the remaining mint farmers in the state: Powerful peppermint oil, an Oregon specialty crop, flavors the family that makes it
Again, when Whole Foods picked up the patties: Company Camera: Seely family mint farm
Being around the smells of the oil his whole life, Mike Seely's lost most of the ability to smell anything but pure mint oil. So, even though he can't taste anything but the chocolate of the peppermint patties, he raves about how addictive they are from getting calls from fans and desperate buyers from Kansas and Ohio.
-- Molly Harbarger