AP NEWS

Jammin’ with you

July 15, 2018

Like gems, they’ll shine, early on a summer Saturday morning, under a canopy and lay across a table, with paper labels stuck onto each one.

Grape, strawberry and apricot, they’ll read; blueberry, grapefruit and peach mango; bacon, piña colada and carrot cake — every jar shimmering in separate colors, each holding some of the 60 different flavors of jams and jellies and more that could hit that booth on a given farmers’ market weekend.

The only thing Lesli Kizer might like better than seeing that wash of colors, all out on display together in those jars, is watching all of it disappear.

It’s then, as crowds pour through the market, in seeing those cheerful eyes and flashing smiles every time another jar finds a home, that Kizer finds a certain peace.

“The payment that I get — beyond that $5 bill for a jar of jam — is huge,” she said. “I get that grin, or I get that ‘I’m so glad to see you,’ ‘I’m glad you’re here.’

“It’s so much more.”

Kizer started selling jams and jellies in 2013 to help pay her medical bills after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It began with a few Facebook posts, as she offered to bottle up some familiar family recipes she learned from her grandmother and her mother, for anyone who might want to buy a jar or two as she started treatment.

Five years later, that’s ballooned into a business that has succeeded in helping to pay those bills — and offered even more to her, she says, in a supportive community surrounding her, and a drive to keep battling through two cancer returns.

“It’s worth so much more,” Kizer continued, with a nod, thinking about her business and what it’s done for her.

“You can’t put a price tag on it.”

Kizer, who lives between Midland and Odessa, sells jams, jellies, condiments and other items through her store ‘We Be Jammin,’ taking orders through Facebook or by phone while staging booths at local farmers’ markets and other vendor events.

She was a divorced mother of two in October 2013 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She started selling jams and jellies to friends in her free time a month later in November. By the next summer, she still didn’t have an actual business name when the farmers’ market at Medical Center Hospital asked for a name for her booth. She and a friend offered up ‘We Be Jammin’ as a joke, referencing Bob Marley. “Of course, any time I’m cooking I’ve got the music going,” she said.

The name stuck. And the business continued to grow, as did the support around her, even as more battles with cancer came up.

She was first told she was cancer-free in February 2014 after treatment. After that first farmers market that summer, in June 2014, the cancer re-surfaced. That November, she was cancer-free again.

But in April 2015, the cancer returned again, and with it came new challenges, more aggressive treatment and longer procedures.

Kizer admits she was ready to quit. She thought about passing up treatment.

But that’s when the support around her stepped in. Vicky Fitzpatrick is a family friend who helps Kizer stage her booth on vendor days, along with another friend, Sherrie Holmes.

Back then, Kizer said, when she was thinking of giving up, it was Fitzpatrick who reminded her about her daughters, her grandchild — and her business.

“She said, ‘People want your jam,’” Kizer recounted.

Kizer hunkered down. She left her day job, book-keeping for a company in the oil industry, to jump into We Be Jammin with both feet.

By December 2016, the business was still growing, and Kizer was cancer-free again.

“It’s been awesome to watch,” Fitzpatrick said.

“She continues to fight and we’re going to be right there with her to help her through — and she beat it again,” she added.

It might not have happened without friends, family, and a few thousand jars of jam — and the relationships, community and support that’s come with them.

“People will say, ‘Oh, that tastes like Nana’s’; ‘that tastes like mom’s’; ‘that tastes like so-and-so’s’ — and it brings a smile,” Kizer said. “And that’s the biggest thing for me.

“My business has grown, but so has my circle,” she said later. “My friends, my family, my circle has grown, and that’s huge for me.”

And the wheel keeps spinning.

Saturday, Kizer and the rest set up for another day at the market, this time at the Parks Legado Farmers Market in Odessa.

Fitzpatrick’s mother is presently fighting her own battle with cancer; kidney cancer.

So the group is doing what it can — together, like always.

“My mom even asked, ‘how did she continue going through the treatments?’” Fitzpatrick said, agreeing that Kizer’s journey is something she and her mother can at least point to. “She’s asked a few times, ‘Was she this tired?’ — kind of trying to compare it.

“A lot of people have said that (Kizer) inspires them because she just kept going and kept building her business and working her way through,” Fitzpatrick said.

It started as a way to help pay some bills — but it’s grown to be even more.

“More than I ever dreamed,” Kizer said.

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