The smell of peanuts was in the air.

“We can’t meet the demand,” said Peg Storrs. She’s talking of course about the demand for fresh roasted salty peanuts cooked in a church basement. After each session, held on the first and third Wednesday of the month at 7:30 a.m., only about 40 bags are available for purchase at the Lake Mills Market courtesy of the Peanut Project and they go fast.

“People used to buy 15 bags at a time,” said Ken Stetson. “At Sentry they started limiting them to three bags. People would buy the three, take them out to their car and buy three more.”

Despite the popularity the 30 or so community members blanching, skinning, cooking and packaging peanuts say they are a well-kept secret.

“We are a well-hidden secret down here in the basement,” said Stetson, who has been involved in the project since 1998. Stetson cooks the peanuts. Bill Edwards fries the nuts after volunteers peel the skin off.

The Peanut Project began in 1955 when the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 307 W. Madison St., decided to raise money for the Sunday School addition. Cindy Netzow, church school superintendent and Ann Wakeman, teacher, began the project modeling it after one at the Fort Atkinson United Congregational Church. The project began in the basement of the Cottage Hotel. After the addition was completed in 1959 the project continued.

The Peanut Project volunteers enjoy the conversation and as they peel, they talk.

Mostly they come for the peanuts though. Volunteers are able to purchase bags of peanuts at a reduced cost. The most volunteers are needed for the skinning at the long tables where the conversation flows with friends new and old.

“The more volunteers we have the more peanuts we make,” Stetson said.

He says he’s never tasted a peanut better than these.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said.

Perhaps it’s the conversation or maybe the heart and hands of those spending a little time connecting with fellow community members that make them taste so good.

Peanuts cost $4 a bag for volunteers and $5 a bag at the Lake Mills Market or when they are sold at the Winter Market.

The funds are used to support church projects, activities and community outreach.

The volunteers get there early on those Wednesdays but want to give others the opportunity to help too and of course get some peanuts.

The Peanut Project will be holding an evening work session Oct. 29 from 4:30-7 p.m. with a free dinner for those who help.

If one puts a bag of peanuts up to their nose and inhales they can almost see the caring hands in the basement who made it.

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