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Farmers serve fresh food, talk about farms

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 10/14/2013 3:26 PM

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OSAGE —Steve Rachut started growing sweet corn when he was 12.

"I had three rows in the garden, and then, each year, I grew a little more," he said.

The Steve in Steve's Sweet Corn & Produce now grows 10 to 12 acres of sweet corn. He tries at least one new variety each year to see if there's something better than what he's growing. His varieties are a secret.

This year was a challenge, Steve said. He got his first planting in just before a 14-inch snow in late April. Because of continuing spring rains, he only got 7 acres planted.

Steve and his wife, Beth, also raise 250 acres of corn and soybeans, and they help Steve's father, Dennis, and his uncle, Ron, with their farming operations. In addition to corn and soybeans, Dennis and Ron grow carrots and onions. Steve and Beth also custom farm.

Steve and Beth talked about their operation as part of Fresh on the Farm at their place west of Osage on Highway 9. Also participating were Kelli and Matt Miller, of Sugar Creek Farm, also at Osage. The Millers raise old-fashioned pork and free-range chickens. Just to the south, near Charles City, Jay and Marlowe Jung offered samples of the beef, chicken and pork they raise and sell through their Big River Meat Company.

Fresh on the Farm was sponsored by Healthy Harvest of North Iowa and Extension in Mitchell County and Floyd counties, C US Bank of Osage, Osage Chamber of Commerce and Buy Fresh, Buy Local of North Iowa.

During sweet corn season, Steve sells product six days per week from a stand at Kolbet Realtors in Osage. He also sells twice per week at farmers markets in Mason City and Austin, Minn.

Steve, his father, and four other workers pick the sweet corn they plan to sell for the day at 7 a.m.

"After we pick, we spray cold water on the corn and check every ear on the end to make sure there aren't any worms or blemishes," Steve said. "I'm kind of a picky guy."

He rigged up a shower head on a steel stand that connects to the hose for spraying the corn.

When Steve started out, he sold the 10 dozen ears he raised at the Osage Farmers Market. As his operation expanded, he started selling at Kwik Star.

"That was before I could drive, so my mom took me into town," Steve said. "When I was in high school, I did the selling but when I was in college I started hiring people to sell at the stand."

Steve attended North Iowa Area Community College for two years and then transferred to Iowa State University where he earned a degree in agricultural business.

Having an organization like Healthy Harvest of North Iowa helps businesses like his, Steve said.

"Most people want to know where their food comes from, and this is a pretty good way to keep it local," Steve said.

Jay and Marlowe Jung buy batches of Cornish Crosses and Red Ranger chicks from Hoover Hatchery in Rudd, raise the birds and process them at Martzahn's in Greene.

They take their cattle, hogs and lambs to Elma Locker and prefer to sell wholes, halves or quarters — although they have sold some retail cuts. If someone prefers another locker, they'll try to accommodate the request.

"We've shipped lamb to Virginia, and we've been selling pigs in Des Moines," Jay said. "It's slow but sure. We're not getting rich, but it's what we want to do."

The Jungs raise all their livestock on pasture.

"Everything is raised outside, and we rotate through the pastures," Jay said. "Everything is grass and grain fed. It works all right for our small operation."