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Southern Secrets: Young Baker Shares Her Sweet Success

By Angela Oliver Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) After sharpening her skills in an American Culinary Institute course over the winter, 14 year old Mackenzie Mahlinger has joined a local farmers market where she is selling her "Southern Secrets Pastries & Desserts." Three days a week, she wakes up at 5 a.m. to bake the goods.

Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.

Among produce booths, mostly run by seasoned farmers or gardeners and longtime vendors of the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market, is a first-timer who reaps the harvest in a different way.

Lemon-blueberry cakes, zucchini bread loaves and strawberry scones fill the decorative baskets and cake stands on Mackenzie Mahlinger's tables. The 14-year-old brought her Southern Secrets Pastries & Desserts to the market this season.

"I've always loved cooking because, well -- I like food," she said with a laugh. "And especially baking. It's something I've been doing since I was a little girl."

After sharpening her skills in an American Culinary Institute course over the winter, Mackenzie, who is homeschooled, started the process for joining the market.

"She had a few hurdles to get over, like getting a permit and an insurance policy," said Mackenzie's mother, Heather Mahlinger. "A couple of times, she was unsure if the next hurdle would be the thing to block her because of her age. But she's persistent and she's taken her idea from start to finish.

"I think kids sometimes have fears about what they can do, until they jump right into it and realize they don't have to limit themselves because of their age," Mahlinger said. "I'm very happy for her and I know she feels accomplished."

Mackenzie said working at the market has taught her how to better manage time, as well as how to budget and reinvest. Interacting with customers has also helped her peek out of her bashful nature.

"There are a lot of interesting people who stop by to talk," she said.

Three days a week, she wakes up at 5 a.m. to bake the goods.

She typically offers about 12 varieties of pastries and desserts during a day at the market, with fruit hand pies, strawberry scones and her signature dessert -- the everything cookie -- as top sellers. She keeps the prices moderate, many items being $1 or $2, since they're personal serving sized.

"It's rewarding to have customers come back and say they enjoyed something I made," she said. "The little kids always want the cookies and brownies."

The goods are made with local ingredients, from the eggs and pecans she buys from other market vendors, to the blueberries she's been recently picking from her family garden. Her parents and her 19-year-old sister Taylor help with the picking and baking, and manning Mackenzie's booth when she's out of town.

The Mahlingers home is on 1 acre, part of family's former farm that dates back to the 1800s. Earlier Mahlingers also owned a hardware store and a sporting goods store, and Mackenzie's father is a commercial photographer with his own studio.

"For her, the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree," Heather Mahlinger said. "My husband's family has always done their own thing. She has that entrepreneur spirit and she's had great role models for it."

Mackenzie's mother also added to that entrepreneurial spirit. The baker revived Southern Secrets from her mother's former business of the same name. She used to sell Kentucky-crafted items, such as birdhouses made from old barn wood, with some orders being shipped overseas.

Mackenzie isn't aiming for international orders just yet, but "maybe one day. You never know how it could go," she said.

In the meantime, she'll stay busy in her craft with such things as the kitchen safety and other food-related classes she took last week during the 4-H teen retreat at the University of Kentucky. Or for leisure, such hobbies as an upcoming regional event with the Daviess County Extension Marksmen Club.

She plans to continue to sell at the market during the rest of her school years, and she sees culinary arts in her professional future, though she's not sure exactly how she wants to pursue it.

"I'm just glad to be part of the farmers market," she said. "Everyone supports each other and I think it's good to be there because a lot of the vendors are older. (With younger vendors involved), people can see that there's a next generation interested and we'll keep it going."

Southern Secrets Desserts & Pastries are available from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market, 1205 Triplett St. For more information, email [email protected], or see the Southern Secrets Pastries & Desserts page on

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