Nearly 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 Candy 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 still “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.
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.