Archive for Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Produce farm means a busy summer for family

August 23, 2000

It all started out with a garden. Jan and Elden Bailey, who own a produce farm seven miles south of Tonganoxie, never realized it would become their life for a better part of the year.

About 10 years ago, the Baileys started learning everything they needed to know about farming their own plethora of produce.

"If we already have a garden, why not," Jan said.

They've made it work. From March until October, the Baileys work practically nonstop managing, planting, selling, ordering and maintaining their many crops and plants of fruits and vegetables. When summer arrives, there's no such thing as relaxation, unless you count sitting in an air-conditioned truck on the way to town, where they sell produce.

"There's a lot of work to be done from daylight to dark," Jan said.

The Baileys have one day off Sunday. However, that's a day of catching up on every other chore that got passed by because of one thing or another.

Days for the Baileys and their son, James Smith, begin around 6 a.m. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they're lucky to make it in the house before midnight.

"Despite all the work, we enjoy this," Jan said.

"We like watching things grow and take pride in almost everything."

Elden jokingly disagreed.

"We work 14-hour days with no overtime and get paid $3 an hour," he said. "We ain't rich doing this and it's very time consuming. It's a challenge, maybe that's the one thing I like about it."

Keeping the best crops is an art. Elden researches at length and experiments with new plantings every year. He said they like to find what sells the best. Most of the seeds are ordered through a commercial seed company.

"We are more about quantity and quality," Elden said.

After the picking, packaging, sorting and loading is done, selling is the number one priority. Jan and Elden split up on Saturday mornings and sell their produce at the Lawrence Farmers Market and the market in Overland Park. On Wednesday mornings, they are in Overland Park. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, they head to Lawrence. For them, it is a never-ending cycle to keep their produce farm running.

Here is just one example of what a typical selling experience would be:

Jan loads up a truck with about 200 cantaloupes, 300 pounds of tomatoes, 20 boxes of peaches and plenty of cucumbers, bell peppers and blackberries.

One Saturday she left with only four boxes of peaches. Saturday morning selling is from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Farmers Market in Lawrence.

"We only take our A, Number One stuff," Jan said. "That's what sells."

The "seconds" are used for canning and various other practical things.

Jan keeps up the pace despite having heart surgery last year. Of course, the Baileys have their helpers.

Their son went into the service for a couple of years but decided to come back and help his parents.

"I used to help them all the time," Smith said. "I enjoy doing it because I like being outside. I know all about it so I wanted to help my parents out again. I'd definitely rather pick than sell."

Cantaloupe, watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, blackberries, raspberries, bell peppers, apples, peaches, plums, grapes and pears can be found dispersed across the Baileys 10-acres of land. Until a couple of years ago, they also had beets, carrots, onions, potatoes and peas.

"There just wasn't enough hours in the day to get it all done and not enough ground to fit it all," Jan said.

As it is, the Baileys have 1,200 tomato plants, four or five patches of cantaloupe, 250 fruit trees and 700 green, red and yellow bell pepper plants.

They order in March, plant in the greenhouse in April or May. Then, serious picking begins the first week in July.

"We have our own little secrets to get early stuff, though," Jan said.

From the mid-October until March, it's fishing time, normally in Texas. That's the Baileys' other passion. Jan and Elden both have done it since they were young. Elden has even had his own fishing radio show and does seminars in Missouri.

"I love to fish and I am as good a fisherman as anybody else," he said.

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