Sunday afternoon, Wheat and I pulled up to an unassuming metal warehouse in downtown Quincy, Florida. The only indication it wasn’t abandoned was a mailbox labeled “VENTRY,” and a box fan in an open sliding door. Marc Ventry met us at the steps and led us to his “office:” a 2500 Chevy truck.
Marc pulled from the back of his “office” what we had come here for: a custom-made cutting board just for me, painstakingly built out of heart pine tobacco slats from his family farm.
24″ by 24″ inches of gorgeous heart pine, steeped in history.
In case you’re wondering what tobacco slats are, or even what heart pine is, let’s have a quick lesson.
Heart pine is the center of a pine tree, which is prized for its hardness, strength, longevity, resistance to rot, and beautiful coloration. Old heart pine is most often from the center of the enormous long leaf pine trees that once blanketed the South. Long leaf is a slow growing pine, and once the century old stands were felled for timber, the trees were most often replaced with slash pine, which is quick growing. Between their short-lived replacements and lack of controlled burning, long leaf pines are pretty hard to find these days, especially in the numbers they once were. The Nature Conservancy and some private landowners have made a big effort to restore the long leaf and wiregrass ecosystem, especially in my hometown of Bristol, Florida… But that’s another story for another day.
Back to the boards. This part of North West Florida and South West Georgia was prime shade tobacco farming land back in the day (and some of it still goes on – our good friends at Hopkins Farms still farm tobacco). Shade tobacco from the area was used as the outer wrapper on cigars. When the tobacco was harvested, it was strung up on tobacco slats and hung in barns to dry. Those hundred year old long leaf pines were turned into tobacco slats about eighty years ago, making this wood easily a couple hundred years old today.
Tobacco farming around these parts essentially went the way of the dinosaur by the 1970s, and many farmers turned to tomatoes. The tobacco slats were repurposed for tomato stakes (or fire kindling), and the tobacco barns were repurposed into furniture and wedding venues.
But fortunately, some farmers just piled the slats up and shut the barn door. Thus some of these slats are still around, and folks like Marc Ventry are turning these vestiges of farms past into present works of art.
Marc generously allowed us to poke around his workshop, and he even showed us how he makes his cutting boards, step by step.
First, Marc planes each slat down and glues them together with food-grade glue, clamping them together until the glue is dry.
Once the glue is dry, Marc has the bare bones of a cutting board.
Beautiful, beautiful bones.
Even at this stage, you can tell this is going to be something special.
Next he runs the entire thing through his planer and cuts it in half crossways. This way, the finished sides will match up perfectly. He places more planed tobacco slats perpendicularly between the two sides for reinforcement and to keep it from bowing. This, in turn, makes the edges the very prettiest part of the boards.
On the edge, you can see how the tobacco slats match up on both sides of the board, the wide color and pattern variation between the slats, and the care with which each slat was chosen and placed.
This attention to detail is what sets these cutting boards apart and makes them true works of art, rife with Southern history and family heirloom potential.
Finally, Marc rubs the finished boards down with a homemade mixture of oil and beeswax… from his own bee hives.
He even has his own line of beeswax products called Nunya Beeswax, which is completely awesome, and includes scented hand balm and chapstick.
Fortunately for me, he brought me these to sample. I have since retired my Burt’s Bees chapstick, and I’ve been carrying one of each of these around with me at all times. I love that the hand balm is lighter in my purse than a bottle of lotion and poses no risk of spillage. And the lavender smells divine.
To top it all off, this renaissance man, who is even an organic farmer, builds furniture. In addition to custom pieces for local furniture haven H&H Furniture in Havana, Florida and private clients, he also builds shabby chic furniture out of his collection of odds and ends and a plethora of old doors.
This door is destined to be a glass-covered table, and will eventually be available for sale, along with Nunya Beeswax products and his tobacco slat picture frames at Miss Mandy’s Cottage Living in Tallahassee, Florida.
This is a custom tobacco slat frame built for a customer that Marc happened to have on hand to show us. A frame (or two, or ten) is next on my list of things to acquire from the Marc Ventry inventory.
There has been a slow tip-toeing back to shopping local, back to caring about where our food comes from, back to purchasing high-quality, handmade goods.
Marc is a living, breathing testament to all of the above. We call products like his cutting boards “artisanal” these days because you can’t buy them at a mall.
I’d rather visit a saw-dusty warehouse and have a beer with an “artisan” any day.
You can find Marc Ventry’s “artisanal” work at these fine local retailers:
Native Nurseries, Tallahassee, Florida
The Honey Tree, Tallahassee, Florida
Sew Woodstock, Bearsville, New York
Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop, Thomasville, Georgia
The Queen Bee, Havana, Florida
Shine Jewelry Boutique, Tallahassee, Florida
You can follow along with Marc’s many adventures on Instagram @marcventure
This is not a sponsored post. I am simply smitten with these uniquely Southern and “artisanal” local goods.