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Grant funds refresh Seely Mint

August 16, 2018
In The News

The mint business is growing in the Clatskanie area. To keep up with consumer needs, Seely Family Farm will take advantage of funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D) toured the Seely farm in the Clatskanie area on Aug. 14. Her office supported the securing of a USDA Rural Development Value Added Producer Grant of $250,000 to help staff to the mint operation. The funds will cover around five jobs at the company.

“There is tremendous potential here, and it’s clear that they need these resources to help them meet the demand because they make such a great unique product,” Bonamici said. “A lot of businesses want to buy it. They need to have that extra help to make sure they’re getting their product out the door and to consumers that want it.”

For three generations, the Seely family has lived and worked on the farm. As mint farmers, they use the same agricultural practices their family has used for generations.

According to the company’s website, The Seely family began raising mint in the early 1940s in Washington. They were among the first in Washington to plant peppermint for the production of essential oil. These early operations were very labor intensive: pitchforks were used to load the cut mint onto trailers for the trip back to the still. The first year they even used a wood-fired boiler.

Today, third-generation mint farmer Mike Seely and his wife Candy run the farm. They grow single-cut, premium-quality heirloom Black Mitcham Peppermint and Native Spearmint. The Seely family says the way they grow, the region’s climate, the rich soils along the Columbia River and their harvesting methods make their mint extraordinarily smooth and refreshing. The essential mint oils are steam distilled only once to retain a full flavor spectrum and bouquet.

In addition to mint oil, one of their most popular creations is the handcrafted Seely Mint Peppermint Patty, a combination of European dark chocolate and Seely heirloom mint. They also produce a complete line of mint confections, sun-dried mint leaf tea, mint soap, and a mint flea repellent for pets.

Seely says Clatskanie-area mint in Oregon began in the early 1900s on Puget Island and worked its way upriver to Clatskanie, Rainier and the Willamette Valley. The lower Columbia was once the largest mint producing area in Oregon. Most of the farms within dike lands along the river raised mint, and many of the young people in town held summer jobs in the mint fields hoeing weeds or working the harvest.

A common job available at harvest was stomping the mint as it was loaded into tubs. Three or four young men stomped the loose mint hay to pack it. If the mint was not packed tight, the steam would blow right through without changing the oil in the leaves to vapor. Not much has changed when it comes to growing and harvesting mint, although some of the more labor-intensive steps are now mechanized.

 

The grant funds are timely for Seely. With harvest time on the horizon, mint tea production needs more manpower. And with a 10-percent Canadian tariff recently slapped on its chocolate products – one the company is eating the cost of – the infusion of funds will relieve some budget pressure.

The mint industry itself is facing challenges, Seely said. He noted that the area had gone from the No. 1 mint producer in the world to third in the U.S., and he added that India and China were pushing down on American markets with their products.

After the farm tour, Bonamici mentioned that her office has been speaking up against tariffs that she said were hurting the economy, especially in farming and agriculture. She said Oregon was known for quality products and that businesses in the state would benefit from expanding market access rather than limiting it.

“Agriculture is a significant part of the Oregon economy, and when the tariffs hurt our farmers, that’s a problem,” she said. “So, we’ve been speaking out, talking about it, and hoping that this administration gets back to having a rational discussion about how we can open up markets for our great Oregon farmers.”

“We really appreciate the fact that you stepped in,” Seely told Bonamici. “We’re now looking for people.”

 
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