Jammin’ the Flavors
Mary and Morgan Bean Find Success at Farmers Market with Small Batch Jams and Jellies
By Peggy Bair
If something helps define The Bean Patch, it is how Mary and Morgan Bean of Leavenworth, KS, have embraced diverse cultures and cuisines they have studied throughout their lives – and used these experiences as springboards for flavor creations.
Though originally from Kansas, Mary spent over a decade in Los Angeles earlier in her life and Morgan was an Army brat who lived in various parts of the world and the Southwest United States. Through their combined experiences – and love for flavorful cuisines – they struck success in producing boutique varieties of jams, jellies, butters, chutneys and marmalades. Their creations are available in limited quantities in only a few select places in the Kansas City area.
A look back at where this passion started may need to go as far as when the two of them were kids growing up in families that embraced a love of gardening, fresh foods and canning. Through the diverse cultures they experienced, they were able to experience a world of flavors and how to explore those flavors – from the delicate touch of lavender to a blueberry jelly to heat of chili pepper infused jams.
“Morgan is the go-to person for developing our jams and products that have chile peppers in them as he is a definite chile-head and is knowledgeable about the heat level, country of origin of the chiles,” said Mary.
Their small batch offerings are a far-cry from your generic grape jelly and strawberry jams found in grocery store shelves. Some of the flavorings are personal family recipes, their own experimentations, or recipes gathered from friends over years.
“My family always had gardens, canned products from our gardens and fruit jams, particularly Fig Jam, Muscadine grape jelly and Cactus Pear Jelly from Texas,“ said Morgan.
The Beans have had long careers in other fields unrelated to farming or canning – Mary a medical transcriptionist and Morgan’s Army stint followed by 36 years with the Department of Corrections in Alabama and Kansas. The canning and gardening was a hobby pursuit.
“We have always had gardens of various sizes since our marriage, and continued to can products from our garden for ourselves and our extended family and friends,” Mary said. “Our interest in pursuing being a vendor at farmers markets was a natural evolution for us to sell both our surplus, and with an eye towards retirement from our respective careers, doing something we enjoyed doing, and for income during retirement.”
Morgan retired three years ago and Mary retired in March, 2020 – so The Bean Patch is now a full time pursuit.
“Morgan likes to joke that he traded in a 5 day work week from corrections to a 7 day work week in retirement!! It’s a pretty apt description, particularly during market season,” Mary said. “Whenever we are not actually at the markets selling we are shopping for supplies, producing product, and doing other aspects of the business. Even after the farmers markets close, we continue to sell year round.”
Mary and Morgan Bean have been bringing their delectable jams, jellies and preserves to the Leavenworth Farmers Market for the past seven years. They also sell online, at three small store locations and at the Lenexa Farmers Market. Additionally, Morgan has been the Leavenworth Farmers Market manager, although he’s cut back to only managing the Saturday market. Leavenworth holds two markets per week – Wednesday and Saturday – at Haymarket Square in Leavenworth.
“The original purpose behind jams and jellies was an effort to preserve summer’s bounty for the winter months when nothing would be growing and available to families,” Mary said, offering a little historical perspective on the craft.
In 2020, there were some tense times that resulted in a delay of the Farmers Market openings. If that weren’t enough, there were also other hidden closures the Beans had to navigate, such as where to produce the products. Mary explained:
Some of our products are required to be produced in a commercial kitchen. Fortunately, we had started to ramp up production back in January of this year and had a fairly good inventory on hand when the pandemic really hit.
When the panic and short supplies started hitting the stores and places were being locked down, our retail locations were able to operate as they were considered offering essential services, and our products as well as theirs had a huge increase in demand. When our primary commercial kitchen was closed down during the lockdown, we were scrambling to find another location, and were very fortunate in that a café here in town agreed to let us rent their facility after hours and produce our product there.
We had our secondary licensing inspection via Zoom with the KDA representative, and that kept us going without interruption. This was advantageous of course for us, as well as perhaps helping out that business owner as well, and we continue to utilize both sites.
Our supplies were also impacted by the shortages. For instance, sugar was hard to come by – we would make several trips to places trying to find enough sugar to produce product. Fortunately, starting out we had a pretty good amount on hand, but later it was tough going. Friends would actually drop us off a big bag of sugar whenever they’d come across one. We buy fruit throughout the year and freeze it so initially we had a good supply of it, but that also became scarce later. Fortunately for us, about the time it might have become an issue is when the supply chain started to recover.
As the pandemic policies were relaxed – after the delay of two farmers market days – Mary said there were more adjustments that were made. They made their products tax-inclusive so that they wouldn’t have to handle change. They had a simpler display of products, removing the fabric tablecloths, making sure there was hand sanitizer on the table for customers and themselves. All the products that didn’t sell at market were sanitized again when they were taken back into inventory after market.
“Our main concern was whether or not the markets would be allowed to open at all, then later working out the logistics of social distancing for the vendors and our customers to do our part in trying to comply with state and local regulations,” Mary said. “At the markets this year we are no longer offering samples, and even our table set-ups are different – no tablecloths as we did in the past, and our product display is much simpler than in the past among other things.”
The commercial kitchen access was re-opened for the Beans, although the parameters for that are more rigid. Only one operation at a time can take place in that building so scheduling is exacting and tightly regulated. The operation of making the products is carefully controlled for sterility. Clean up is meticulous.
The process for each product is different. Small batches are made to control the quality.
“Jellies are made from the juice of the fruit used for the flavor,” Mary explained. “That juice has been strained and will not have pulp in it. A jam has both the juice and pulp from the fruit in it. Chutneys are combinations of fruit, sometimes also with things like raisins, onion, garlic in them and are typically found in Indian food. One jam that is definitely a Midwest flavor is Gooseberry – they are mainly found in the Midwest, and their flavor is unique. We get a lot of questions of what it tastes like by our customers who are not from this area.”
Being a Farmers Market vendor isn’t a matter of just showing up with a basket of vegetables or products to sell, Mary noted. There are pretty strict standards.
“The commercial kitchen facilities we utilize initially must be inspected by the state to assure they meet with all the regulations required by the state,” Mary explained. “When we apply to use a commercial kitchen facility, we must then meet with a state representative and are licensed to use that facility to produce our products. The regulations are extensive for both parties, and licensing fees.”
The quality of products at Farmers Markets has become better and better over the years.
“As farmers markets are changing, the requirements they ask of their vendors are also changing and becoming more regulated,” she added. “To be a vendor at a farmers market, one does not simply just pay a vendor fee and show up – each market is different as to their regulations and operational by-laws.”
Mary said even though it’s been a stressful year, she feels a lot of gratitude for how things are working out.
“We would like to say we feel very privileged that our customers continue to hang in there with us during what has been a very stressful year for all,” Mary said. “We admire our fellow vendors who have persevered during adverse weather and growing conditions for their crops, taking care of their animals and doing their part to help keep people fed and safe this year. We feel very fortunate and thankful.”
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