Some say the best roads are ones with no paint. Sunflower Sundries is on top of a hill in Mt. Olivet, KY, on a narrow ribbon of a road. It is late April. The long vista from the farm includes brown ridged squares ready for corn, dense thickets of wild blackberries with their first leaves and small gardens pushing up asparagus and rhubarb. The air is thick with Spring. Spicy black currant flowers. Apple blossoms. Bees. And the persistent sounds of chickens.
"We looked for the right place for about 5 years. I still remember turning the corner and driving up the hill. We saw the house, the view."
Jennifer Gleason moved to Mt. Olivet twenty-three years ago with a couple of ideas in mind. She wanted to create jobs for her neighbors. She didn't want to make stuff you can buy just anywhere. And, if she was going to go through the trouble of making something, it had to be the best.
"I didn't grow up on a farm. It was a small town outside of Cincinnati. But, I couldn't live without a garden."
She started with soap. When her business grew, overtaking her living room, hallway, and finally her sewing room, she moved her whole operation to a small building on the farm. She hired local women to package her goods in their free time.
"I wanted to give folks the opportunity to do hand work at their own pace in their own home. We had neighbors who were caring for children or elderly parents who needed a little flexibility."
The cottage industry model proved successful. She moved on to jams and pickles-buying from local farmers what she couldn't produce herself. She started growing heirloom hickory king corn on the farm, a variety grown in that part of the state for over 300 years, well before GMO was an issue. From this corn, she milled grits and cornmeal. The response was overwhelming. People loved the flavor, the butteriness.
But, you have to cook grits. You have to bake cornmeal. The reality is many people don't know how to cook. Jennifer hated the thought of those people not being able to enjoy her corn. She wanted something easy to grab, a snack. Everyone loves chips. So she decided to make them, and to make them her way.