The North Bend Eagle


 

Johnson's farm-fresh product puts food on the table

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 3/7/12

When Bob and Ruth Johnson’s children started going to college, Ruth thought she would grow some watermelons to sell for extra income.

That was 23 years ago. Now the vegetable gardening has grown to be a large part of Bob and Ruth’s farming operation.

Johnsons' farmRuth and Bob Johnson show some of the seedlings they have started in the greenhouse on their farm north of North Bend.

In 1989 the Haymarket Farmers Market in Lincoln was just starting and the Johnsons were one of four vendors selling produce there.

“We realized we had to have more to offer,” Ruth said.

So they started adding flowers and more produce to their offerings and their vegetable farm grew.

Now they have a green house and three plastic tunnels where the plants can start early and grow in a protected environment.

Ruth has a nursery license and can grow perennials and annual flowers. By the time the flower season is done, they have vegetables ready to sell.

They have continued going to the Haymarket on Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon, from May through October. About ten years ago they started going to Old Cheney Road Farmer’s Market in Lincoln on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We usually sell out on Saturday so we have to come back home to stock up,” Ruth said. “We have everything lined up so we just have to load up.”

They have also added the Garden Market by the state offices in Lincoln that is open Wednesdays, noon to 4 p.m., June through August.

The Johnsons have become more involved in vegetable gardening organizations with Bob serving on the board for the Nebraska Vegetable Growers and the Old Cheney Road Farmers Market Board.

Both Bob and Ruth go to the weekend markets, but often only one goes to the Wednesday market with grandkids helping out at all markets. With three daughters and their families living in Lincoln, there is always family to help.

“When it gets real busy we need more help,” Ruth said.

The grandchildren are also instrumental in getting the plants growing and harvested in the summer time.

Bob, 80, and Ruth, “in my 70s,” say they will keep doing this as long as they have help. Grandchildren make plans to spend the summer and earn money on the farm.

“(Daughter) Cheryl called and said Rochelle (age 9) has her bags packed, telling her mother she is ready to go to grandma and grandpa’s for the summer,” Ruth said.

Bob already has plants and flowers started in the greenhouse. In mid to late March they will be transplanted to the high tunnels (two 16’x 96’ and one 20’ x 60’plastic covered areas) to continue growing. Bob built the first high tunnel 15 years ago with PVC pipe and plastic and they have since added two more.

Johnson has had to invest in special equipment needed for vegetable gardening. He would find out about the equipment at trade shows they attended where they found a source to buy the equipment. Bob has also built some of the equipment needed for the vegetable farming. One implement that is used makes the mounds that the seedlings are planted in, spreads plastic, and drip tape for watering. Another tool, the transplanter, makes a hole for the plant, puts water in the hole, then a person places the plant in the hole.

The Johnson’s try to grow as organically as they can.

“One time we got aphids in the tomatoes and I thought I was going to have to spray,” Bob said, “but the next day I go out and a natural predator of the aphids had gotten in and took care of the problem.”

Bob has been innovative with some of his farming practices. He has found that plastic milk jugs filled with instant tea hold warmth for the plants they sit next to.

The Johnsons start most of their produce from seeds, transplanting them in May, when the plants are ready to go outdoors. There are a few, like the sweet potatoes, that they buy as plants.

Though most of their produce is sold in Lincoln, they also sell to Tomato-Tomato in Omaha, an indoor farmer’s market.

Tomato-Tomato has a Community Supported Agriculture program aimed at getting healthy local foods to customers and supporting local farm economy. There may be as many as 500 customers signed up to receive weekly seasonal sacks of fresh produce. The Johnsons have already met with the owner and know what produce is needed when. They also sell in the Tomato-Tomato store on 156th and Center.

To share their produce with their neighbors, the Johnsons often have a wagon with watermelon, pumpkins or other produce on it in front of their home on County Road 6, selling on the honor system.

The Johnsons have about eight acres invested in this method of farming, which are rotated in fields around their home among the corn and soybean fields. They do have a raspberry patch, but it was damaged two years ago by frost and is still recovering.

The Johnsons have a web site at www.johnsonfarmnebraska.com where you can see pictures of their produce and workers.

“It’s fun,” Ruth said. “You meet a lot of new people. Some customers come back every year. It’s nice to hear how they enjoy your produce.”

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