BY DEBBIE PAGE
Iredell-Statesville Schools Superintendent Jeff James recently toured 2020 graduate Carson Lester’s expanding pickle production operation, which started as a project for Carson’s FFA agriculture class in 2018.
His mom, Debra Lester, a science teacher at Troutman Elementary, gave away some of the pickles to friends, who fell in love with his recipes. “They said, ‘Those were really good. Does he have any more? Can he make some more?’ ”
Soon people were putting in requests for new flavors, and “Tasty Pickles by Carson” was born in his mom’s kitchen, later expanding to a small outbuilding, which his business soon outgrew.
“His best seller is Sweet Heat, which was an accident!” laughed Debra.
Others flavors include kosher dill, sweet dill, spicy deal, bread and butter, and sour dill, sold in pint or quart jars (available at https://tastypicklesbycarson.com).
A 2020 graduate of South Iredell High School, Carson recently ordered ghost peppers for a new spicy pickle recipe he developing for his “hot” pickle fans.
Carson, who has autism and is learning disabled, once feared his future after high school and worried that he would never be able to get a job, so he began to think about being his own boss.
Carson’s pickle adventure gives him a sense of pride and accomplishment and has helped him grow in confidence and improve both academically and socially, according to his mom.
James, a big fan of Carson’s product, said he “hoped more people would follow in Carson’s footsteps because that it what education is all about. We are equipping students with the skillset necessary to be entrepreneurs and leaders in our country.”
“Definitely with Carson I am just delighted that, with the challenges he’s had in school, he’s an entrepreneur and able to do it. I think Carson would probably tell you that if he can do it, anyone can,” the superintendent added.
“They just need the motivation and the will power to want to do something in life and make a difference. I would love to have 21,000 more students just like Carson.”
Carson gave James a case of pickles for Christmas, some of which James took to a church dinner event. “None of them came back home – that’s a lot of pickles that got eaten!”
James said he is partial to the bread and butter pickle, while his wife likes the kosher dill. “I tried one of the Sweet Heat. It was sweet at first, but then the heat grew on me. That is pretty ingenious!”
James presented Carson, a huge fan of the school system who serves as its honorary superintendent, with a new Iredell-Statesville Schools golf shirt to wear as he sells his pickles in the community.
“He’s a testament to a good school system. I think we are unfairly judged some times, but we have thousands of students every day that are being successful in our community.”
James described a conversation he had recently with Statesville High graduate Will Long, who was recently elected as a Superior Court judge. “He gave a lot of credit to what he learned in our schools.”
“I think Carson had a lot of people who believed in him and stood behind him and helped him get his business off the ground. That’s what we need – more adults to do that in our community.”
Carson’s new shell building, located on his parents’ property, is 14 by 40 feet. He is trying to raise money for more equipment and for finishing the inside and adding plumbing and electrical capability to get his expanded operation going.
Carson started a GoFundMe page last July and has so far raised $3,545 of his $7,000 goal to get his pickle facility up and running.
Debra said that they will do things like drywall and painting themselves, and local plumbers and electricians have offered free labor or discounted services to further cut their construction costs.
To donate to Carson’s effort, please visit his GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/pickle-factory-for-carson.
To contact Carson, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.