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Malcomb: Discovering passion in peanuts

Mark Byrum told News-Chronicle reporter Jamey Malcomb all about the peanuts his church men's group makes to raise money for projects. (Jamey Malcomb/News-Chronicle)

I was vacationing in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago when I had an epiphany.

Jamey MalcombI was with my family at a — how do I describe this — Pleasant Grove Campmeeting. It's like a mixture of a family reunion, except it's not just family, and a yearly revival with my parents' church.

I'm not trying to be snarky here, but it's a lot of church. A lot. Two services a day for eight straight days.

Anyway, I was sitting on the porch of my parents' tent — well it's not a tent, it's a house, but this campmeeting started in 1829 and 190-year-old vocabulary is tough to change — and I see Mark Byrum walk by while carrying a cardboard box. I don't know Mark too well, about the only things I know for sure about Mark is that he sings in the Campground choir and he can tell a heck of a story.

Let me tell you something: If Mark's got a story to tell, I am here for it.

I asked Mom what he was carrying.

"He sells these peanuts as a fundraiser for his church," she said. "I've never had them, but I've heard they're really good."

Consider me curious.

"Mr. Byrum," I hollered when he walked back by, "Tell me about your peanuts."

"What do you want to know," he asked.

"Everything."

Mark and I sit down on a picnic table in front of the tent. He starts telling me about how first, the United Methodist Men at his church in Madison, N.C., gets 600 pounds of peanuts. They start by blanching them in the industrial sink at the church. Then they dry the peanuts and toss them in the deep fryer.

You heard that right. These people are deep-frying peanuts.

So, they are deep-frying peanuts in peanut oil. When they're done, they take them out of the fryer and toss them around with a Bounty paper towel.

"Not just any paper tow-uhhl — a Bow-nty paper tow-uhhl," Mark said. "Them others just don't soak up the extra oil as good."

It's unclear if Mark has an advertising contract with the "quicker picker upper," but at this point, he's already moved on to salt, meaning you can get your peanuts with no salt, light salt or regular salt.

Glad we got that settled.

The group has raised thousands of dollars for the church, some of which was recently put to use installing a new playground for kids at the church.

"You know what we call it?" Mark asked.

"The peanut farm," I responded.

"No, we call it 'Peanut Park.'"

There you have it. Peanut Park — that's a tasty playground.

I spent the majority of my vacation thinking about how I was going to write about Mark — even though he has probably never even heard of Lake County, Minn. Over the course of the week, I realized I can't turn this thing off. I love telling the stories of people who are passionate about their causes, hobbies or whatever.

Mark is absolutely passionate about peanuts. It was an absolute joy to listen to him tell me about the process. There are plenty of folks just as passionate and just as charming about their own projects in Lake County — and let me tell you something else, I am here for that, too.

The point is, today, Aug. 3, is my third anniversary here at the News-Chronicle. My favorite part of this job is the opportunity to tell the passionate, funny and heartwarming stories of the people who live here.

To the people who have already let me into their lives in a unique opportunity to see the lesser seen sides of Lake County, please accept my most heartfelt thanks.

Jamey Malcomb is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Silver Bay City Council and high school sports in Lake County. 

(218) 834-2141
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