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The Soap Pedaler

Posted on Mar 01, 2013 in Soap Pedaler , Farmers Market , March-April 2013

Celeste Cobena, known as the Soap Pedaler, sells handmade soaps at the Seaside Farmers Market. Photo by Kurt Lischka.

Follow that Bike to Seaside Farmers Market By Anne Schultz

Bright and early every Saturday morning, Celeste Cobena prepares for the 8.6-mile bike ride from her home in Dune Allen to the Seaside Farmers Market. She straps a tent onto her bike, piles up soap products into a custom-designed carrier, and takes off. “I’ve gotten caught in downpours and stopped at La Loba’s Bakery or the bike shop to cool off during 100-degree temperatures. But I’ve always made it,” she exclaims. Once this energetic woman starts moving, it’s hard to slow her down. She charges full steam ahead, always arriving at her destination, come rain or shine.

“It’s funny, you never know where something might lead,” says Cobena, recalling a bike ride she took through a state forest 20 years ago shortly after moving down from Louisiana. It transformed her into an environmental activist who helped save the state lands she rode her bikes through. One thing she did was to map out an extensive network of greenway trails enjoyed by many today. An action followed by helping to found Beach to Bay Connection Inc., a grassroots organization dedicated to keeping the land protected. With modesty she clarifies her role. “I instigated the trails,” she says. “But scores of volunteers worked with me to clear and establish them.”

Or like the soaps she made for Christmas presents more than 12 years ago that turned into a flourishing cottage industry. “I always made homemade chocolates for Christmas gifts until I sampled so many that the only thing that fit over the holidays was a pair of baggy sweatpants with a drawstring waist,” she exclaims. “I decided to create a non-edible gift for the following Christmas and chose handcrafted soaps after reading how to make them. That first year I made too many, so I hauled the rest up to Barret’s Store on Highway 98 and they continued selling them until the store closed.”

Cobena’s soaps are made in small batches by hand, and my formula leaves in a little extra oil so it doesn’t dry the skin. With a master’s degree in geology, Cobena approaches soap making like a chemist, using her scientific knowledge to concoct unique and interesting soaps by experimenting with a variety of essential oils, fragrances and colors.

“Some of the synthetic ingredients used in commercially produced soaps have harmful affects on your skin,” Cobena says. “Triclosan, for example, is one that may cause dermatitis, hormone disruption, or respiratory problems,” she warns. Cobena purchases high-quality, plant-based essential oils that are naturally beneficial to the skin. Each herb or plant contains its own therapeutic properties. For example, lavender helps relax and pamper the body, while the oils in orange peel heal and release an uplifting zesty scent.

Her current personal favorite is Egyptian Musk — a blend of patchouli essential oil, lavender essential oil, sandalwood, and musk fragrance. Day at the Beach is one of the most popular and is created from a trade secret recipe Cobena will not divulge. Another customer favorite is Florida Sunshine, a zingy citrus blend of sweet orange and lavender. One of the latest is a soap that blends sweet orange and peppermint essential oils and includes duck egg yolk from Twin Oaks Farm she named Wake Up Call. “These soaps make an ideal gift because they are a unique product handmade in South Walton,” she says. “Also terrific for a vacation souvenir, as their natural aromas evoke the clean outdoor scents of sea and air that stimulate memories and are delivered by bike whenever possible.”

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