Paige Shumate Short, the real blackberry person,
follows her heart and father’s legacy into the patch
By Judy Clabes
The blackberry doesn’t fall far from the vine, and the same can be said for Paige Shumate Short who lives for the legacy of her father, Wayne Shumate, who had a special affinity for the versatile blackberry.
Wayne didn’t know the half of it.
Theirs is a wonderful, Kentucky-special story about the love of a father for his only daughter, of the worshipfulness of a daughter for a bigger-than-life dad, and their shared love of Kentucky soil that can produce big, juicy multi-purpose blackberries that have not yet begun to fulfill their potential.
That’s where Paige Short re-enters the story and becomes its heroine.
But let’s start with the Once Upon a Time. . .
There was an enterprising young man who grew up in Bourbon County, Ky., was a sports enthusiast (golf, baseball and football) at Paris High School from which he graduated, took over the family’s Blue Grass Industries business – and made a mark early on in his career in the textile industry, establishing Kentucky Textiles in Paris. Kentucky Textiles produced Speedo swimwear, Sloppy Joes casual attire, and LAPS comfort clothing. It was sold to Jockey International and he served as a director. He was a successful entrepreneur and generous philanthropist. He was involved deeply with the University of Kentucky, the thoroughbred racing industry, state economic development issues, banking – and all manner of civic and non-profit service.
He left a legacy of innovation, service, forward-thinking – and fun. A cheerful fellow with a quick, easy smile and gentle manner, he was a friend to many – from powerbrokers to farm hands.
Back in 1985, he and his wife, Kay, started planting tame, tall blackberry plants on their beloved Windstone farm. He had a notion to make his grandma’s blackberry jam, and Kay, as always, was his strong, supportive partner. He lovingly cultivated his crop, and two years of sunshine, rain and tender care produced plump berries destined for homemade jam. There were actually too many for that – production was about 2000 pounds an acre – so Wayne began to imagine an alternative crop to Kentucky’s fading tobacco income. One thing led to another and Windstone Farm jam found its way to grocery, farmer’s market and boutique shelves – and to Wayne’s friends. The jam enterprise was sold after Wayne’s death in 2005 but the family continues to grow blackberries, selling them for the jam production – and more broadly.
His daughter, Paige, who was strategically involved in the family’s textile business, caught the blackberry fever from her daddy. But her economics degree from Georgetown College took her along a different path in the blackberry patch – to the science of the complex berry, to its medical uses, its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial properties, its natural healing qualities – and an untold potential for thousands of productive uses. All more potent than any of its berry competitors.
Skin cream. Chewing gum. Candy. Drinks. Sunscreen. Lip Balm. Dietary supplement – for both humans and animals. Fabric from blackberry stalks . . .Her active blackberry-focused brain is rich with possibilities and ideas – and dreams of honoring her father’s legacy in a very real blackberry way. One family entrepreneur paying tribute to another. The more she learned the more she wanted to learn – and do, another father-to-daughter trait passed along.
Eight years ago, Paige connected with then-UK researcher Russell Mumper and they co-founded Four Tigers LLC, a “Berryceutical” company, proceeded to secure research grants, and developed patents and processes with the University of Kentucky which will receive royalties from any commercialization of the blackberry extract they have developed. Dr. Mumper now holds an endowed professorship in the school of pharmacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he also directs the Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery. Together and with other researchers, their Four Tigers LLC aims to “engineer the perfect blackberry” – one that is even richer in anti-oxidant capacity.
Paige says – with a mirror version of her father’s famous smile – that Dr. Mumper, a renowned nanotechnologist, knows all the “big words.” She is focusing on the marketing, sales and business development and making the numbers work. They are potentially big numbers. They have created a separate enterprise, The Real Blackberry People LLC, to branch beyond pharmaceutical products to the myriad possibilities suggested by the research – and fertile minds rich in ideas, imagination and determination.
The powerful powdered extract is produced through their patented process: the juicy plump blackberries are emulsified, spun to throw off their heavy water content, and freeze-dried. It’s all natural – the blackberry reduced to its important, healthful elements – ready to be repurposed in innumerable ways.
Their first commercial product will be chewing gum, which is nearing production and launch, and a number of big-name chain stores are lusting for it, given its advanced stage of development, the deep scientific evidence building around it, and the truly healthful benefits of the natural, xylitol- and anthocyanin-rich bacteria-destroying properties. Kids will love it – and no one has to tell them how good it is for them. Their teeth will quietly know the difference.
The gum – under the BerryCare label – is manufactured by Mastix Medica of Maryland and will be widely distributed through drug and health food stores in the fall. Other versions for the “energy” market and kids are on the fast track.
Ms. Short hopes the gum will be part of the solution to the growing dental-care problem in her homestate, especially for children, and expects to create a philanthropic project through her family’s foundation to focus on children’s dental health.
The gum is the first of several “over-the-counter” products to be produced from the blackberry extract. Other products are in the pipeline. Meantime Ms. Short and Dr. Mumper are pursuing the FDA approval process for botanical drug products which will allow critical focus on medicinal products, and Dr. Mumper and his team of researchers are making new, exciting discoveries leading to new possibilities every day.
As for Ms. Short, she wants to spend as much time in the blackberry patch as possible, celebrating her Kentucky roots, promoting the state fruit of Kentucky, helping Kentucky farmers make a good living growing the crop, and dreaming up the next great use of it. Her father would be proud.
See other Kentucky-rich stories and features at www.kyforward.com