"We do a great business with our kettle corn," he added.
The kettle corn crunch
In fact, kettle corn is becoming its own thriving niche industry in the state, even for those who don't grow their own kernels.
For Dale Scragg and his wife, who opened Scragglepop Kettle Corn in Huntington in 2008, it's been an answer to prayer.
"We were looking for a way to make some extra money, and we stumbled onto this business and we thought to ourselves, 'Well, this might make some extra money.' So we started doing this and next thing you know, it just got crazy busy," he said.
So much so that they've added partners and expanded the business, serving up bags of caramel-colored corn at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena and Marshall University sporting events.
"It's like the Starbucks of Huntington," he laughed. They're serving in Charleston for the very first time this weekend, at the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show at the Charleston Civic Center.
To the east, Grant Coleman and his wife launched Wheeling Feeling Kettle Korn two years ago.
The business has taken off, he said, even though he's been popped, so to speak, with some tough lessons along the way.
"We do have things popping out of the kettle. Most of the corn stays in, but you do have molten sugar popping out and, you know, it's really hot," he said with a voice of experience.
His 80-quart stainless-steel kettle has 100,000 Btu -- most home stoves have around 7,000 per burner. It cooks at roughly 500 degrees.
"I should mention, you have to stir the popcorn really vigorously. You almost have to go crazy stirring it around and making sure all the sugar coats it, so I've had burns on my arms, my face, I've even had burns on my eyeballs," he said.
These days, Coleman wears long sleeves, welding gloves and safety glasses, even during the heat of summer.
A way of life
Traditionally, popcorn has been thought of as a treat reserved for kids and carnivals.
Today it's all grown up and sophisticated, with the addition of gourmet flavors and the kind of nutrition data most snack foods would kill for.
But its real value may lie in something farmers and entrepreneurs alike are looking for in West Virginia: opportunity, right here at home, in bite-size pieces.
"Popcorn is one of those things we can do on [a smaller] scale, and that's what a lot of the entrepreneurs, part-time farmers and people that have maybe 5 to 10 acres of tillable land can do," said Tabb.
"People are looking to generate more revenue per acre, and this is a way to do that."
It's also a way, says Spangler, to preserve a cherished but challenged trade.
"Small family farms are vanishing from Monroe County, but I want this way of life to continue, and small farms to flourish," he said. "And this protects our way of life somehow."
Reach Maria Young at maria.yo...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.