In a Pickle

By Melanie Mowry Etters

From its beginning three years ago, the Pickle Baron of Key West has had its community in mind. The owners, Dustan Carpenter and John Nutting, approached Monroe ARC (MARC) about creating a vocational program to teach people with disabilities how to work in a professional kitchen. Two people, Tony Maynard and Ben Neff, have been hired at the small business and have found success at the Pickle Baron.

Carpenter said, “Ben and Tony are two of our remarkable employees. They’ve both been with us two years. We usually work in fast and furious 2- to 4-hour spurts to get the produce pickled as quickly as possible for freshness. Both Ben and Tony help in almost every aspect of the production process. They wash and prepare produce—their knife skills have dramatically improved—they help sanitize, fill, and weigh jars. And they help with labeling the product, as well as cleanup.”

The two men are responsible for selecting the crisp produce, like cucumbers or green beans, for pickling. Soft or mushy vegetables are discarded. The items are washed and cut. Cucumbers sliced lengthwise are called spears, and those cut in rounds are called chips and are used for bread & butter style pickles, as well as other varieties. The items are packed into glass jars, brine is poured over them, and then they are sealed. The glass jars are put in boiling water for 10 minutes. The jars are then put in a cool room for two weeks before being labeled and offered for sale.

Neff and Maynard receive services funded by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD).

Neff said, “I want to work to make money and feel independent. By working I can afford to pay my bills and buy my girlfriend nice things—she likes jewelry. I have learned to manage my money and not waste it on things I do not need.”

Maynard said, “Dustan and John are good bosses. They treat me really good. One day I cut myself cutting cucumbers, and they were so concerned they called my job coach and the nurse who were there in five minutes. I am part of the team working with the Pickle Baron of Key West. I like to talk and they listen to everything I say. Sometimes they tell me focus on my work.”

The Pickle Baron uses commercial equipment, so anyone coming through the MARC training program is learning skills that can be transferred to future work opportunities in any professional kitchen.

Carpenter said, “We love having Ben and Tony as employees. They adapt quickly, they are hard workers, and they can face challenges and solve those problems on their own. They are funny and kind and excited to be a part of Pickle Baron. We truly appreciate the pride and hard work.”

Tony Maynard working in the kitchen of The Pickle Baron of Key West.

Tony Maynard and Ben Neff.