Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons from the cool crisp mornings of May to the hot, humid days of October, or until the corn dries up, the bays at the Hopkins County Farmers Market fill with farmers eager to sell and Kentucky residents happy to buy.
On a cemetery-grey sky kind of Saturday, just after 7 a.m. in mid-August, I drove 2 miles to HCFM to talk with Jeanne Marcum. Jeanne sells a line of natural skin care and culinary products called Park Bench Naturals.
A few weeks prior, I bought a tin of Chipotle Lime Salt from her. I sprinkled it on scrambled eggs, baked salmon, fresh sliced tomatoes, boiled sweet corn, roasted chicken and rubbed it on pork butt. The smoky, dusty flavor complemented everything! Prior to buying the salt from Jeanne I thought of her as “granola girl,” an endearing term I apply to women who wear hippy clothes, no makeup and sell handmade soaps and lotions.
Since Jeanne hadn’t arrived to the market yet, I wandered through the pavillion. Red, pink, yellow and green tomatoes were lined up like soldiers, or piled and sorted by flavors like Rutgers, black cherry, brandywine and green zebra. Cranberry beans, lima beans and crowder peas were sorted in baskets to be sold by the mess. Sweet corn, yellow corn and silver queen corn were piled high on the backs of truck lift gates. White pattypan squash, small globes of candy onions and baggies of fresh basil tempted sleepy-eyed customers. The air smelled sweet and light from citrusy French Orange Cantaloupes, fresh-shucked Peaches and Cream sweet corn, and the threat of a morning rainstorm.
I bought a twenty-pound box of tomatoes for $.50 a pound from George and Rita, middle-aged farmers as sweet as peach pie. I chatted with my favorite farmers, Chris Devoto and Elizabeth Ewing of Twin Maples Organics to see what they planted new this year (celery root and leeks). TMO is the only CSA certified organic farmer within two hundred miles of my home. Chris and Elizabeth are tall thirty-something energetic farmers with sun kissed skin and infectious easygoing smiles. They stage their heirloom tomatoes on blackboard-chalked tables. Oversized baskets showcase clumps of organic beets, jars of honey, purple and white stripped Sicilian eggplants, and mason jars of preserves and relishes.
Fresh cut zinnias and sunflowers were pimped out in tall tin vases. I bought a bag of basil and a few pounds of distressed Brandywine tomatoes for $1.50 per pound, normally $2.50 per pound, to bake a few Galettes later that day.
Scott Wells of Hanson Berry Farms, also a CSA farmer, was in the bay next to TMO. Scott sat quietly on the gate of his Ford pick-up. A squat white freezer was behind him, filled with two-pound packages of frozen mild and hot ground sausage from his own pigs I learned. His spit cup was within reach next to his hip. I peppered him with questions about his feed, ingredients, and how could I get on the bacon list. He talked and chewed while he answered my questions. His legs swung back and forth with a relaxed gait like a man with nothing but time on his side. Scott asked for my card and then asked me to be patient about the bacon. I bought a two-pound tube of hot sausage, a bargain to have local pork I reasoned despite the GMO feed. I turned to leave and saw Jeanne backing up in her gold Jeep Wrangler.
Jeanne has sold PBN products since 2012.
Prior to that time she “gave away” products, a common tactic for small startups. One this Saturday morning, Jeanne sported a tie-dye dress and batik print hair band. She is the type of woman when you look at her you might think hippy chick. With her freckled skin, blond hair, bright white smile, and sea blue eyes, she could sell PBN at the Straw Market in Nassau, or any number of markets in Florida or around the country.
Jeanne has embodied the natural, chemical free, holistic, medicinal lifestyle since the 1980s. Armed with a Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Exercise and Nutrition, she decided to develop products “made naturally 4 U” in her words when she moved to western Kentucky.
Jeanne’s lifestyle mirrors her products. She lives with her family in Manitou, KY where she grows chemical free and GMO free produce, raises grass-fed cattle and free range chickens and mills her own flour. She forages in her woods and pastures for herbs and plants to enhance her PBN product line. She researches extensively for base ingredients like solar dried flake sea salt and organic turbinado sugar for her gourmet finishing salts and sugars like Kentucky King of the Red, a merlot wine-based finishing salt, and Bourbon Vanilla Bean sugar, a local favorite.
Jeanne creates blends of loose leaf red and black herbal teas too. In addition to the artisanal salts and sugars, she sells herb-scented hand crafted soaps, 17 natural pure essential oils, mud scrubs and rubs, tooth powders and body lotions.
She develops all of her products on her 130-acres ranch-style homestead. The forward thinking marketing side of Jeanne coined her business Park Bench Naturals as a homage to the upcoming city park in Madisonville.
When I asked her for three uses for her sugars and salts, she beamed and said, “For sugar-coffee, chai tea and crème brule. For my finishing salt-farm fresh eggs,” (think deviled eggs with chipotle lime finishing salt–emphasis mine), “rub for pork, beef and chicken.” She nodded to a passerby and then added, “Oh, and my motto on the tin Keep a Tin on the Table.”
I chatted with a few of Jeanne’s customers, who seemed timid to buy from her diverse selection of salts and sugars, but eager to talk about cooking–the perfect reason to go to any farmers market. One fellow and his wife talked nonstop about a Bourbon-infused smoked Paprika they bought in Louisville. Apparently they sprinkle it on everything. “A little goes a long way,” the fellow leaned in to tell me.
Before I left the market, I stopped to buy a peck of white peaches from Miss Linda at Brumfield Farm Market. Chipotle Lime Salt seasoned salmon topped with a fresh peach salsa was on my mind.
When I got home, I realized I hadn’t bought a tin of Bourbon Vanilla Bean Sugar for my morning coffee. Then I remembered-Wednesday market is just a few days away.
Want to know more about Jeanne Marcum’s “Made for 4 U” Park Bench Naturals products?
Find Jeanne at the HCFM May through October. When she’s not at the market, her products can be found at the following Hopkins County, Kentucky locations: Brumfield Farm Market, Big City Coffee & Market, Barbie Hunts Studio, and most recently in the newly opened The Hub, an artisanal craft store and coffee shop in Hanson, KY.
Find Park Bench Naturals products at Guthrie Pantry in Guthrie, KY. “Like’ Park Bench Naturals on Facebook and find out about its full product list, shipping information and more. Park Bench Naturals is a registered Kentucky Proud product.