Tom Phipps' produce crops have been flooded out four times this year, the result of relentless wet weather in south central Kansas.

"We've been known over the years for our onions. They do really well in the soil we have here," Phipps said recently at his farm along the Ninnescah River. "But this year there's no onions or potatoes because they flooded out early. We have customers who almost cry when we tell them that."

Phipps' roadside stand has been a fixture along U.S. Highway 81, about a dozen miles south of Wichita and a half-mile west of busy Interstate 35, for the past 60 years. Before that, his grandparents sold produce out of their farmhouse nearby.

"It's like an institution in this area," he said of the stand. "I'd hate to see this die out. People always talk about all the memories they've made coming here over the years."

Phipps' memories include having to roll melons up his legs until he could hoist them into his arms when he was still a small boy. Back then farm stands were numerous along this stretch of highway all the way to Wichita.

"I know it's a cliche, but this really is farm-to-table," he said.

After retiring from a career as a masonry contractor, Phipps devoted himself full-time to sustaining the family legacy. He also helps coordinate a farmers market in nearby Mulvane.

"We don't do it for the money," he said, as his wife Sharon chatted with customers in the background. "We're only doing it to keep the legacy alive."

But Phipps is reaching the point where he has to make some tough decisions. He jokes that he taught his two grown sons to work "smart not hard," and both now have successful financial careers away from the farm.

"It's getting to be too much for me, and it costs too much to operate," he said. "It requires so much labor, and when I hire kids to help me I believe in paying them a decent wage, at least $8 or $9 an hour."

In 2016, he bought a bass boat, thinking it would motivate him to get away more. He's taken it out only twice since then.

Shifting to wholesale doesn't appear to be the answer. At one time, Phipps sold peppers to a friend who worked for Godfathers Pizza. He also sold produce to the Kroger grocery chain, but that fizzled after the company's purchasing and distribution became more centralized.

He finds that re-sellers are no longer willing to buy from him and add a 30 percent mark-up; now they want prices low enough that they can make even more on it than he does as the grower.

"It's just not worth marketing it somewhere else," he said. "I can't afford to pick it for that."

Meanwhile, his roadside stand is thriving, with a steady stream of locals and even out-of-state motorists stopping by every day of the week for freshly harvested items.

It concerns Phipps to see so much food presented as locally grown, even when it's not, especially while the produce business just gets tougher for small growers. He thinks they need more support, maybe in the form of subsidies or federally backed insurance similar to what large commodity farmers receive.

Another idea would be for the extension service to provide grants so produce growers could hire and train more college students. If he had the money, Phipps said he could start handing off more responsibilities to the younger generation, something he has already enjoyed doing when circumstances allow.

He recounted the story of one girl who wanted to quit after her first day on the job but ended up coming back to work on the farm five summers in a row.

Phipps takes great satisfaction in seeing local kids warm to the work like he did years ago while helping his mother load melons into the pickup to sell. And work is something that's never in short supply, especially when the weather presents unexpected challenges.

On Labor Day weekend, cantaloupe and watermelons lay ripe and ready for gathering, late-season tomatoes, cucumbers and squash were coming on strong, and the pumpkins needed tending after a couple of recent windstorms tangled the vines.

"I've always said quality is why people stop here and quantity is what brings them back," he said before heading back out to the field. "That's why we always have so many different things planted out here."