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All-natural products with a twist

Brenda Stanton said she buys her all-natural grains from a local farmer. (Bulletin photo by Amber Kispert)

During the day Brenda Stanton, of Woodbury, is a paraprofessional at Pine Hill Elementary School in Cottage Grove, but during her off time, Stanton can be found experimenting in her kitchen.

Stanton sells all-natural energy bars and gourmet popcorn with her business Driving Force Energy Co.

Stanton sells such flavors of popcorn as blueberry, chocolate, peanut butter, peppermint, jalapeno, strawberry, rhubarb, caramel and even spicy habanera.

For her energy bars, Stanton has three varieties -- "PB & J," a "cranberry almond," and "cashew cherry berry."

Stanton says she tries to use as many locally grown foods as possible.

"I've always cooked," she said. "I grew up cooking."

Stanton cooks all of her products at the Newport United Methodist Church kitchen and sells them at local farmers' markets.

Experimenting in the kitchen

Stanton first began dabbling in making energy bars about three years ago when she worked as a manager at Fresco Foods, which became Kowalski's.

In her job, Stanton would experiment with different foods to see what she could come up with for the company.

"I was trying to look at different ideas to expand what we could do there," she said.

During that process, Stanton began experimenting with energy bars after looking online.

Stanton said she wanted to use all-natural ingredients such as grains, fruit, honey, pure vanilla, molasses and no corn syrup.

"In a lot of energy bars there are things you can't even pronounce, so you have to wonder what they are," she said.

After Kowalski's purchased the company, Stanton pitched her recipe to the executive chef, however he wanted the recipe to market it himself.

"I said 'I'm not giving you the recipe, I came up with the recipe,'" she said. "I thought 'Why can't I market it.'"

Thus Driving Force Energy Co. was born.

Playing with popcorn

About a year and half ago, Stanton began dabbling in gourmet popcorn after hearing from a friend about gourmet popcorn that she received from out west.

"The popcorn was blueberry and all of these funny flavors," she said. "But they're not all-natural so I started to wonder if I could do it with natural ingredients.

"I wanted to make the popcorn more healthy, but it's still probably not that healthy for you," she said.

Stanton said her first popcorn was a plain caramel and then she experimented with other flavors such as blueberry, strawberry, peanut butter and rhubarb.

"I flubbed on several times," she said.

Stanton said the key to the sweet popcorn -- the blueberry, the strawberry and the rhubarb -- is to use dried ingredients.

Shortly after Stanton had mastered her sweet popcorn, she was approached by a friend of hers to experiment with some his peppers.

"So, that started the spicy popcorn," she said.

Stanton currently has three spicy popcorns -- jalapeno, sweet and spicy with cayenne pepper and the "sinfully hot" with habanera peppers.

Stanton warns buyers to not be deceived by the sweet caramel taste at the beginning; the after taste will get you.

Stanton is currently dabbling in creating pumpkin pie popcorn, caramel apple popcorn and cheese popcorn.

When Stanton is at the farmers' markets, she said she definitely gets some confused looks from customers over her unique popcorn flavors.

"Don't knock it until you try it," she said. "I get such self-gratification when my recipes turn out."

Where to buy it

Brenda Stanton sells her Driving Force Energy Co. energy bars and popcorns at the St. Paul Farmers' Market every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Golden Fig, located on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, at the Mississippi Market Food Co-op, on Selby Ave. in St. Paul and Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville.

For more information on Driving Force Energy Co., or to purchase, visit Products can also be purchased by calling (651) 955-2646.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

(651) 702-0976