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Shepherd’s Valley

July 29th, 2008 at 2:41 pm

Today’s Flyover People column:


Yellow, purple, and red green beans. Red and white okra. Purple sweet potatoes.

Vegetables are taking a spin on the color wheel these days.

Two weeks ago, I rode along with my friend, Tracy Simmons, and two of her children to Shepherd’s Valley, an organic farm northwest of Americus.

Tracy’s mission was to pick up the weekly dividend of food for shareholders who live in Emporia.

Shepherd’s Valley is owned by John and Ramona Crisp; they have what is called a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. The Crisps have gardened organically for more than 26 years and started their CSA operation in 2006.

Individuals and families buy CSA shares, paying for a season’s worth of produce in advance. Then, every week from late April to early October, each subscriber, or shareholder, receives a box of produce. People can also buy winter shares, which offer greens and other crops from October through December.

Some shareholders live in Emporia and Council Grove. And each week food is picked up for subscribers in the Junction City and Manhattan area, Topeka and Lawrence, Burlington and Lebo.

“We have 50 families who are shareholders and 40 more who buy eggs or meat on a regular basis,” John Crisp said.

Shepherd’s Valley has a massive, well-tended garden with rows that are 220 feet long. They produce 35 kinds of fruits and vegetables, mostly vegetables.

Tracy and her family had visited the place earlier this year, but we all wanted a tour, so John happily showed us the farm while Ramona put the week’s produce into boxes for the Emporia shareholders.

Crisp sent Tracy’s kids down the rows of sweet corn. “See how long it takes you to disappear.” They only took a few steps into the corn before the leaves hid them completely.

Soon they would be harvesting the onions, Crisp said. “When the onions lie down, that’s an indication they’re ready to pull.”

They had already harvested beets and Swiss chard (five varieties). It was the end of the kohlrabi season and they had plowed under the remainder of the radishes.

Three hundred tomato plants are in the ground, most of them heirloom varieties.

“Our shareholders last year got about 27 pounds of tomatoes per family,” Crisp said.

Okra is popular with his customers. They produced 500 pounds last year. This year, they have seven varieties planted.

Okra apparently doesn’t travel well. “If you see it in the store, and you rarely do, it’s wilted and brown,” Crisp said.

“These okra plants will get over my head before it’s all over in August.”

Crisp pointed out a vine of blackberries, not yet ripe, and we walked through the apple orchard.

Some of the chickens exist for egg production. Their eggs come in three shell colors, depending on the breed of chicken. In a Shepherd’s Valley carton, you’ll find eggs that are light brown, chocolate brown, and pale blue-green.

Each hen produces 240-300 eggs a year. When those chickens are finished laying eggs, they become stewing hens.

And Shepherd’s Valley offers meat: chickens, turkeys and sheep. The poultry is processed by them on the farm.

Crisp has what he calls a whiz-bang chicken plucker. “I can drop two chickens in the plucker and in seven seconds they’re naked,” he said. Turkeys take a little longer because they’re bigger.

All the food raised here is “organic or beyond organic,” Crisp said, adding that the government keeps lowering its standards for organic food so he stays above those standards.

John and Ramona sent a package of food home with me, too: eggs, kohlrabi and green beans, which Dave and I enjoyed. There’s nothing like food fresh from the farm.

Copyright 2008 Cheryl Unruh. Flyover People is published weekly in the Emporia Gazette.

columns, other people's stuff

  1. Flips
    July 29th, 2008 at 16:38 | #1

    “There’s nothing like food fresh from the farm.”
    AMEN——– & with NO CHEMICALS!!!!!!!!!

  2. heineken160
    July 29th, 2008 at 17:25 | #2

    “Vegetables are taking a spin on the color wheel these days.”

    Good one!

  3. July 29th, 2008 at 19:45 | #3

    I bet their eggs are to die for. Likely most people in Kansas know what eggs are supposed to be like, but I was in my early 20s before I knew that a fresh GOOD egg had a rich looking yolk, and whites that don’t spread all over the pan.

    I was used to eggs my whole life that the yolks were pale yellow and the whites spread all over the pan. I thought that was how they were. I was really surprised once when a friend of mine gave me some free range chicken eggs that had been laid that morning. Oh man alive, whole different story.

    Same thing with corn. I never realized how good corn could taste. In fact, the first time I tasted sweet corn I told my new husband, Larry, that I thought something was wrong with the corn. It had this sweet taste. He said, “This is how corn is supposed to taste.”

    I tell ya, for restaurant eating, you can’t find a whole lot better than SOuthern California. But for good, rich, wholesome food eating, you can’t find much better than Kansas. Oh, and also Kansas church suppers. Can’t beat ’em.