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Alcohol made from sunflower seeds?! A tour of a new distillery and educational center in Kane

A sign outside of the Wilds Sonshine Factory. Underneath the factory's name on the left, there is a logo of the Pennsylvania Wilds. On the right, text reads "Fresh Harvest."
Sydney Roach
A sign outside of the Wilds Sonshine Factory in Kane, PA. The grand opening is Friday, Aug. 25 through Sunday, Aug. 27.

Alcohol made from sunflower seeds, an environmental educational center, and the world’s longest bar made from one continuous piece of wood will all be featured at the grand opening of a new business in Kane in McKean County.

When you first walk into The Wilds Sonshine Factory, you’ll see murals of sunflowers and informational signs about logging and agriculture in Pennsylvania.

There are interactive exhibits along the walls of the factory’s entrance. A fake tree trunk with two shelves you can pull out holds leaf identification guides.

Taylor McConnell, the general manager of the Wilds Sonshine Factory, showed off a well with a working crank. She said it seems like you can see the whole way down the well.

“It'll have a mirror film that you can see down and it looks like it's 100, hundreds of feet down. But in all reality, it's just a mirror illusion," McConnell said.

McConnell said she wants to inspire people in the region to stay in Pennsylvania to work in lumber, farming, and water conservancy. She also wants people to have a greater appreciation for where their food comes from.

Interactive exhibit at the Wilds Sonshine Factory explaining where food comes from, such as bread and pork.
Sydney Roach

“The main message that we want to get across is that food doesn't come from a grocery store or lumber doesn't come from a hardware store or water doesn't come from a spigot. It takes a water conservationist, a farmer, a logger, a truck driver, and everybody like that behind the scenes to get all of those resources that we kind of take for granted every day to us," McConnell said.

Dave Conklin is an investor and president of the corporate board for the Wilds Sonshine Factory.

“We're opening up the factory to any group, especially school kids. You know, it was a hard sell at first because everyone's like, 'Whoa, you can't bring kids to a distillery,'" Conklin said.

Conklin said kids coming through on a tour will learn how to make hand sanitizer instead of alcohol, which he says is the exact same process.

McConnell and Conklin both have environmental education backgrounds from Penn State, but they didn’t create the education center by themselves.

Conklin said they worked with the county conservation districts of Elk, McKean and Warren Counties. They also worked with Penn State Cooperative Extension, the Allegheny Hardwood Utilization Group, and the Pennsylvania Wilds.

Conklin said the building itself is made from all Pennsylvania materials.

“The building is very Pennsylvania proud, right to the block, the masonry that built the outer shell, right down to a good bit of all the items in the building are all Pennsylvania based," Conklin said.

Moving into the bar, you’ll hear the sound of water. In the far corner of the room is a big waterfall, surrounded by a massive sunflower mural. The mural is made of real pictures from one of their nearby sunflower fields with a starry night sky above on the ceiling.

The world's longest bar made from a continuous piece of wood in Kane, PA.
Sydney Roach

The main feature of the room is a 43-foot-long bar cut from a hemlock tree in Warren County. It’s the world’s longest bar made from one continuous piece of wood, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. McConnell said this bar beat the previous record of the “Captain’s Table” in Australia, which is 36-feet-long.

“We really wanted a place to be able to gather everybody all in one place. And so we found the Captain's Table in Australia and decided with how important the timber industry is to the area and how flourish[ing] our forests are, we decided that it wasn't good enough [for the longest bar from one piece of wood] to be in Australia. So we wanted it to be here in Kane, in the Black Cherry Capital of the World," McConnell said

Bottles of sonshine at the Wilds Sonshine Factory in Kane, PA.
Sydney Roach

Taking a seat at the world’s longest bar made from a continuous piece of wood, I got to experience their signature product: spirits distilled from sunflower seeds. They call it “sonshine,” hence the name "Wilds Sonshine Factory."

McConnell said Conklin is the mastermind behind sonshine spirits.

“I don't know how he looked at a sunflower and was like, 'Yeah, I'd taste that.' But it's pretty similar to like a moonshine or a vodka, or tequila,” McConnell said.

The Wilds Sonshine Factory in Kane will have its specialty sonshine at its grand opening from Friday, Aug. 25 to Sunday, Aug. 27. There will also be food trucks and live music.

Sydney Roach is a reporter and host for WPSU with a passion for radio and community stories.