“I found one!”
Karen Pendleton of Douglas County emerges from a row of hydroponic tomatoes holding the first ripe fruit of the season. The smile on her face is equal parts pride and amazement. After all these years growing crops, she still has the excitement of a child who is in awe of watching things grow for the first time. With her prize tomato in hand, she walks over to her husband John, so they can share the moment together.
John grins back at her in agreement.
What’s the hardest part?
“The weather,” they say in unison.
"It has to be the hardest part about farming," Karen says. "We had a microburst hit our farm in 2006. Silos were knocked down. Everything on the farm was damaged or completely destroyed. We had more than 300 people who volunteered to come out after the microburst destroyed our farm and pick up fallen pieces of concrete and metal. People brought so much food we had enough to feed volunteers for two weeks. People were even picking up sheets of tin that had blown more than a mile away and brought it back to fix roofs."
She takes a second to reflect on that experience as if contemplating what could have been and concluded, "It would have been very easy to just give up after that, but the community just wouldn’t let us quit. We love our customers. We have some customers who come every day. That’s what we love most about selling directly to the public—the interaction. People love knowing who their farmer is. They love putting a face to their food.”
You'll also see the beautiful butterflies arrive, pollinate and go on their way. John loves all of it. He'll fix a tractor, do farm work and can still tell you where to find the newest bird’s nest full of eggs. John can be found most days driving customers around on his vintage tractor as he shows eager pickers where the best harvest of the day is.
Karen is an enthusiastic farmer, dedicated educator and incredible tour guide. She has a passion for teaching people about agriculture, from which plants to put in partial shade to the process behind how they grow their vegetables. Her roots in agriculture run deep, back to the days where she picked asparagus with her father on the family farm. Now, she’s continuing that family tradition with joy, an infectious smile and a tender heart.
But most importantly, their passion is to farm together.
Their relationship and connection with each other is one that makes you believe in something again. From John’s admiring looks toward Karen or the simple way they just love to be in each other’s company, their connection is beautiful and refreshing.
It’s something to get excited about...like the first ripe tomato of summer.
If you’d like to visit Pendleton’s Kaw Valley Country Market and mark your calendar for March. That’s when the farm opens for the season.