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Rural Barton County couple bring more than vegetables to market
Dan and Joyce Wapelhorst and their grandson spend plenty of time outside in the spring and summer, working in their garden and simply enjoying relaxing in the shade of their mature trees. The couple are regular vendors at Great Bends Summer Street Stroll Farmers Market that occurs Thursday evenings at the Courthouse Square. - photo by Veronica Coons, Tribune staff

Dan and Joyce Wapelhorst live west of Great Bend.  For the past 12 years, they’ve been regular vendors at Great Bend farmers markets.  But they’ve been gardening at their rural home for the past 30 years, and it shows.  The well manicured lawn leads to a colorful flower garden with gazebo and pond focal points.  During the summer months, the couple spend much time together there, enjoying the outdoors.  When we visited, their grandson and helper was enjoying the pleasant day with them, coloring near the pond.  

Tomato tips

Every spring, Dan starts over 100 tomato plants in the couple’s backyard greenhouse.  He plants them out in the garden May 1, making certain they are protected by cages.  Years ago, he and Joyce created clear, vinyl coverings that could be slipped over each cage to protect the plants from cold and wind. When inclement weather is predicted, you can find the two of them covering each plant prior to a storm, he said.  They mulch with grass clippings to keep the earth from drying out and preventing weeds. Only natural pesticides are used, and then only sparingly, Dan adds.

When temperatures get low, Dan has even been known to water the garden periodically through the wee hours of the morning to ensure the young plants don’t freeze.  Spraying them down with water every 30 minutes keeps the temperature of the plants at 55 degrees, and prevents ice from forming until the sun warms the surrounding air, he shares.  

When hail is predicted, the couple take action, sliding protective stick coverings over the cages to limit the plant’s exposure to the ice hurtled at them from the angry summer skies.  

These are only two of the valuable lessons an experienced gardener like Dan has to share, and he shares his tips with generosity.  

Seniors helping to grow market

By July 1, they begin marketing their tomatoes to Great Bend market shoppers, most recently at the Summer Street Stroll farmer’s market that runs from June 3 through Sept. 8  at the Barton County Courthouse Square.  When the tomatoes begin to ripen, they typically bring 200 to 300 pounds each week, and they usually go home with empty boxes.  

Since the Barton County Health Department worked to register vendors to accept checks from the Kansas Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, the Waplehorsts report business has picked up for them.  

The program provides income-qualified seniors who register with the Barton County Health Department with $30 in checks to be spent at local farmer’s markets.  They come in $5 increments, Joyce explained, and they can use them only with listed vendors to purchase vegetables.  

Growing relationships

Of course, tomatoes aren’t the only vegetables the Wapelhorsts bring to market.  Their sales start in mid June, as a variety of other vegetables begin to ripen.  They typically spend their time Sunday through Thursday tending, harvesting, cleaning and packaging their vegetables and finally transporting them and setting up their booth for the sale.  It’s nearly a full-time job, one that if they were to calculate an hourly wage, wouldn’t pay.  But cash isn’t the real reason Dan and Joyce devote so much time to their market farm business.

“We love meeting new people, visiting with our other gardener friends, and we love the sense of loyalty that develops between us and our customers,” Joyce said.  

Some of those relationships go way back, they add.  Long time customers have called them up and visited them at their rural Barton County garden after the season ends to purchase late ripening tomatoes and other items well into November.  

Others wishing to join Dan and Joyce at the Summer Street Stroll Farmer’s Market can find information and an application through the Barton County Health Department and the City of Great Bend.  There are no fees to take part in the Thursday markets.

The 2016 market is intended for locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables sold personally by the growers, garden products, locally produced crafts, handmade items, art and designated food and beverages.  Set up time begins at 3 p.m., and the market is open from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

A newly revised paper from K-State Research and Extension is available now.  It provides an overview of the allowed foods and their label requirements, and provides clear information about safety practices, and recommendations for selling prepared foods, baked goods, meat, eggs, and dairy products. It is titled “Food Safety for Kansas Farmers Market Vendors: Regulations and Best Practices.”  Find it through the Barton County Health Department or Barton County Extension.