Ask about the beginning of Fairywood Thicket, and Kimberly Conner will explain how clearing some land led to a family business of homemade jams, jellies and chutneys.
Thirteen years ago, Conner was a purchasing manager for a medical manufacturing company. She was clearing land to make more space for horses on her Chattahoochee Hills/Fairburn property. The bushes she was clearing were elderberries, and friends helping with the work told her to leave the plants long enough to bear fruit.
So, the berries were saved — temporarily, she thought.
“That year, my second grader needed a sustainable science project,” she said. “We did some research. Jelly making could be a science project. You can make jelly from elderberries. There was our science project. The kids dug up a plant, wrote up how they harvested the berries, and we made jelly, then took samples to the science fair.”
She took the remaining jelly to the Fairburn Farmers Market, where she sold out in 45 minutes.
“It was such a surprise. We were asked to come back the next week. The kids took buckets out to the pasture and picked more elderberries. We made more jelly. When we got to the market the next week, people were waiting for us. ‘Are y’all the people with the elderberry jelly?’ And, they bought everything we had.”
A business was born. And, the elderberry bushes remain to this day.
Elderberry jelly led to pepper jelly, apple butter and dozens of other jams, jellies and marmalades.
Today, Conner has about 170 recipes, and she is a purchasing manager no longer. Conner and her children, Savannah, Heather and Bradley, use fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers harvested from their land, from their neighbors, and from local farmers.
Visit their booth at a local farmers market, and you can expect to find at least two dozen types of preserves for sale, divided between the strictly sweet and the ones that have some heat. What’s available will depend on the season, and the supply of the featured fruit or vegetable.
“We get inspired by what’s around or available. Once a year, we get red plums from an aunt, just enough to make about 90 jars of jam. Once those are gone, there will be no more until next year. There’s a two-and-a-half to three-week period when we can pick wild violets, and we make between 120 and 150 4-ounce jars of wild violet jelly.”
Not everything is a limited edition. “We have about 30 flavors that we pretty much always have on hand,” Conner said.
But, for the ones that are hyper-seasonal, there’s a waiting list. “Folks know, and they sign up ahead of time to get a jar. We make a white peach jam, and that one is always in short supply. We have to keep a waiting list for it,” she said.
The Conners also have commercial customers, and they produce jelly on demand for businesses like Souper Jenny and the Whitley, formerly the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead. Their products also are available as part of the Ellis Jaxon Farms social experiment, offering food to everyone, including those who cannot pay.
How do they keep up with all that production?
“Bradley, 23, is our facility manager and general go-fer,” Conner said. “Heather, 21, has become my right hand. I’ll say, ‘I want to do a flavor like this …’ and she can interpret that and translate it into a jam. Savannah, 16, is our quality control manager, keeping the records, doing the pH testing and the Brix testing, making sure we’re doing things right.”
Fairywood Thicket’s jams, jellies and preserves are sold on PeachDish, at Cheeses and Mary in Alpharetta, at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, and at Honeywood Farms in Barnesville. You’ll also find the family selling their products at farmers markets: Pinewood Studios, Chattanooga, Peachtree Road, Sandy Springs, Peachtree City and Farmers Market in the Bubble.
Serendipity has been a part of every aspect of Fairywood Thicket. “Like the elderberries, everything has seemed to come when we needed it,” Conner said. “A gentleman who owned rent-to-own sheds showed up at one of our markets and said, ‘I bet you need a storage building.’ The next thing you know, we had a building to turn into a commercial kitchen. My first commercial customer was the (former) Ritz Carlton in Buckhead. I’m a little nobody from a farm who made something out of a weed, and the Ritz Carlton designed their Easter brunch around my jelly. How amazing is that?”
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