Making things grow in St. John

Fran Brownell
Mike Osborne has the knack for growing good vegetables at Osborne Farms near St. John. His wife, Jill, is good at selling them, and the family is hard at working with asparagus and romaine lettuce ready to market. Tomatoes are coming on strong and will be ready in two weeks.

St. John entrepreneurs Mike and Jill Osborne are on track for their summer 2020 fruit and vegetable selling season which includes plans to sell produce at the St. John Farmers Market as soon as it opens this summer.

Jill Osborne has been a familiar face at the St. John Farmers’ Market since the local market was organized.

“We’ll be following all safety protocols relating to coronavirus,” she said.

Currently, asparagus is in season at the Osborne farm and for sale. Tomatoes will be ready in the next two weeks.

“We expect to harvest over 1,000 pounds of big red juicy tomatoes this season,” she said.

Tomatoes will be followed by cantaloupe and both seeded and seedless varieties of watermelon.

Seedless watermelons are gaining in popularity, according to Osborne.

“I love it when customers tell me they can’t say enough good things about our melons,” she said.

Osborne Fruit & Vegetable is also currently selling asparagus and romaine lettuce in Wichita at the Kansas Grown Market, located in the parking lot of Sedgewick County Extension Office, 21st Street and Ridge Road.

“We’ve been selling there for over a decade,” Osborne said. “We always sell out early every Saturday.”

Currently, asparagus is sold for $5 pound and tomatoes will be priced $3 pound.

Osborne Fruit & Vegetable Farm started almost as a hobby 30 years ago and today supplies hundreds of tons of fresh produce annually throughout Kansas, with deliveries to Walmart stores statewide.

“Our label is on the produce so shoppers are able to identify it,” she said.

The 600-acre farm on east edge of St. John is under Mike’s charge since he prefers working in the field, leaving most marketing side of the enterprise to Jill.

“Mike can make most anything grow,” Osborne said. “Plus, we’ve got good ole Stafford County soil.”

Everything on the Osborne farm is grown from seed, planted by hand starting in February, and harvested by a crew of 10 seasonal workers, Osborne said.

Also pitching in when they are at the homestead are 25-year-old daughter Morgan, a nursing student at University of Kansas, Lawrence, and 19-year-old son Mason, a student at Garden City Community College and forward guard for the Bronc Busters basketball team.

To preparation for selling at the Saturday Kansas Grown Market in Wichita, Jill Osborne begins with washing and bundling the produce on Friday nights. She hits the road at 4:30 a.m. every Saturday, making a detour to Hutchinson to pick up her sister Jana who bags up the produce at the market as Jill collects the money.

“That way, after handling money, I’m not touching any produce. It’s a coronavirus safety precaution,” she said.

Both Jill and Jana are masked up.

“I take about 200 pounds of produce to market, with varieties varying by season.” Jill said, adding her truck is always empty on the drive home.

Weekdays and weekends, the Osborne family also sells produce from their home at 309 East Fourth Street in St. John where asparagus is now offered at $5 per pound.

The Osborne Fruit & Vegetable Farm has a Facebook page showcasing seasonal produce, and may be contacted by phone 620-546-3932.