Can growers of fresh produce thrive even if they are located far from urban markets?

Can growers of fresh produce thrive even if they are located far from urban markets?

Dan Kuhn thinks so. He recently gave a presentation to members of the High Plains Food Co-op describing how he has been able to create a cluster of produce growers in north central Kansas.

Kuhn started out studying literature in college. During a semester abroad in Ireland he fell in love with the rural life. He transferred from the University of Kansas to Kansas State University to study agricultural production. By the time he graduated, he was ready to buy a small orchard on the north edge of Courtland, Kansas.

Eventually he had a chance to buy the old local train depot. He moved it onto his property and converted it into a store that now sits along a state highway.

Today he continues to operate the store but also supplies produce to an assortment of farmers markets, farm stands and kiosks across central Kansas.

By building up his own market, he has also become an anchor business for other area growers who want to get started in produce or diversify their sources of revenue, he explained.

“We have a little produce community of four or five producers now,” he said. “We have our own little culture, you might say.”

Kuhn even convinced a conventional farmer in his area, Warren Sutton, who normally grows corn and soybeans on a couple thousand acres, to partner with him on growing pumpkins.

Another neighbor makes $13,000 a year just by selling peaches.

One winter Kuhn and his wife, Kathy, made $4,000 growing and selling spinach.

“It’s an amazing crop for our climate because you don’t have to heat a greenhouse to grow it,” he said.

Kuhn has been willing to change with the times, getting out of apples when it became unprofitable and switching to other crops such as spinach, green beans and squash. He also built several hoop houses that he fills every year with peppers and tomatoes. He’s convinced that by being flexible, innovating with new production methods, working together and creating a network of support, small produce growers can be successful, even in small rural communities.

“This subject is very dear to my heart,” he said as he encouraged his fellow growers from 200 miles west to explore similar opportunities. “Kansas needs more farmers growing fruits and vegetables.”