By Beccy Tanner

Four years ago, Glora Batten started her journey into canning.

A friend asked her to come over to their house and help can pickles.

“We got started and made a batch of pickles and I just thought it was very fun,” the 29-year-old St. John woman said.

That moment started her thinking about the possibilities of canning more foods.

Soon, she had created an array of jams and jellies, pickles, relishes, and syrups.

Currently, Batten says she is in a canning hiatus.

Her youngest daughter, Charlotte, was born last June and is taking much of Batten’s daily attention.

But she is hopeful to get back into the full canning swing later this spring where she can offer sometimes as many as 30 different varieties of items.

When she does, Batten said she plans on using the new commercial kitchen in the Stafford County Annex.

“I have filled up my dining room table laying down jars and canning equipment,” she said. “I always go through a deep cleaning before I make anything, so it will be nice to walk into a nice, clean kitchen (at the Stafford County Annex) and just simply get the process going.”

Her business is called Preserved Goodness and she sells all over Central Kansas – Salina, Hutchinson, Wichita and Great Bend — and on Facebook.

“I’ve done a lot of pop-up markets over the last couple of years,” she said. “And I’ve been invited to sell products in a couple of stores and in different small businesses … I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I have a good friend. Her name is Phyllis, and she runs Dilly and Doc (a creative studio in Great Bend). She kept telling me I should have a booth with my jams and jellies.

“I didn’t think I had the audacity to do such a thing. I kept telling her so. And then, I went down in my basement after a day of canning, and I realized that I had filled up an entire room with probably 400 to 500 jars of jelly.”

Batten and her husband, Shawn, have four girls – Talley, 10; Rebekah, 4; Savannah, 3; and Charlotte, 7 months.

“My oldest daughter likes to do lemonade stands at the farmers markets,” Batten said. “This summer, I am hoping to go with her and have a few jellies to sell. And then, we will start back up doing random pop-up markets this fall.”

Until then, Batten said she can take small orders with advance notice.

She makes pepper jams, sandhill plum jelly, mulberry and blackberry jams. She has traditional flavors of jams and then, some not so traditional – think chocolate strawberry, blueberry-strawberry, carrot cake, monkey butters and tropical jams.

She sells half pint jars, typically around $7 each.

“Anything that looks fun, I usually try.”

To check out Glora’s business, see Preserved Goodness Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/preserved_goodness .

By Beccy Tanner

Two teams and four St. John High School students are the county winners in this year’s Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Ryer Ward, placed first in the contest, which was held Feb. 7 at the Stafford County Annex.

He receives $750 and a chance to compete at the state competition on April 16th at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

His entry was called “The Pocket Shop” and details a business that would make breakfast rolls or pockets with filling.

Second place winners are Garrett McAlister, Willow Murphy, and Uricke Engelbrecht for their entry of “Unraveling Fibers.” Their business would include a subscription service for crocheting and needlework projects.

They receive $500 and have a chance at applying to be a wild card team in the statewide contest.

To participate, students must submit an executive summary of a business proposal and do an in-person presentation.

Each team is then judged on their business’s marketability, niche, and ability to grow their company as well as model.

This year’s judges included: Lea Ann Seiler, from Network Kansas; Trisha Greene, 21st Central District K-State Extension; Angela Peterson, St. John-Hudson USD 350 elementary principal; and Ryan Russell, director of Stafford County Economic Development.

Stafford County Economic Development with funding from South Central Community Foundation hosted the local YEC competition and sponsors the students to attend the state-wide competition.

 EcoDevo is a 501c3 nonprofit organization with a mission to promote economic and population growth throughout the county by assisting local businesses, engaging in community activities, and promoting Stafford County as a great place to live, work, and play.

This is the audio from our monthly radio show: Focus on Stafford County. This show aired live Thursday, Jan. 25. Topics included a $50,000 HEAL grant that was awarded to the W.R. Gray Studio in St. John and a $50,000 loan from SJN Bank for the studio’s renovation. Other subjects included the Stafford County Port Authority, updates on the upcoming Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge; the county’s commercial kitchen, childcare, the Community Fair Building and new housing construction.

This is the audio from our monthly radio show Focus on Stafford County. This show aired in December. It includes discussion on Giving Tuesday, Stafford County’s commercial kitchen, the partnership between Stafford County Economic Development and the Ida Long Goodman Memorial Library’s Lunch and Learns, a new gazebo for the St. John Square and some upcoming grant writing workshops.

By Beccy Tanner

When Connie and Tim Gross retired in 2015, they moved to Stafford County.

For both, it was a coming home.

Connie was born and raised in Stafford County; Tim, from Pawnee County.

They moved to her family’s fourth-generation homestead located six miles north of St. John, off US-281. The property was originally homesteaded by John Shotton in the late 19th century. The  Walls family farmhouse was built in 1900.

And, in their own way, Connie and Tim began their lives in 2015 as pioneers back on the farm.

“We decided we wanted to put up a garden because I have always liked to play in the dirt,” Connie said. “The garden we planted had a whole bunch of things.”

It did great.

In fact, there was lots of produce.

“We decided to go ahead and take things to the markets because we had more than we could use,” she said.

A lot more –oodles of green beans, jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, squash, watermelons, cantaloupe, Brussel sprouts and even more than that.

What they didn’t sell at local markets, they gave to churches.

“We just had too much,” Connie said.

So, they began canning.

But as they began selling produce and canned products, they needed a name.

That’s where family history and humor come in.

“When I was little, my cousin, Carol, asked her dad what their farm was named,” Connie said. “Because they had a little hill, her dad (Fred Walls) told them it was Mountain View. And I was really thinking, ‘Well, I wonder what our farm is called?’ At the time before they leveled out the land, the road went up a little hill and came back down then went up again. My dad said it was Turkeyknob Hill. I thought that was pretty cool. I didn’t think it was as pretty as Mountain View but I got a kick out of it.

“So, when we were doing this, we decided we’d call this TurkeyKnob Farm.”

First came the salsa.

And pickles.

Then, their creativity really set in.

The names of their canned products roll off the tip of a tongue. Some are just fun to say:

Bourbon Caramel Apple Jam, Strawberry Jalapeno Jam, Chokecherry Jelly, Jalapeno Butter and Rattlesnake Relish.

TurkeyKnob Farms was one of the first businesses to utilize Shop Kansas Farms, a Facebook page and website that promotes Kansas grown products.

After that, the rush was on.

“I wrote on the page that we had jalapeno butter, and we were selling it around town and at local markets,” Connie said. “We had over 800 responses, 600 people wanted to order it. We had 24 jars at that time. So, that’s really what started TurkeyKnob Farm as a small business.”

The jalapeno butter is Tim’s personal tried and true recipe.

“Tim was working at the stove almost continually making the jalapeno butter. There was no way we could meet the first 600 orders but we did try to meet most of them. As time went by, he began making candied jalapenos as well.”

He has also made and created barbecue sauces.

Both Connie and Tim are mostly self-taught cooks. Both their fathers inspired them to experiment with jams and food combinations.

Connie said her father, George Walls, loved to make strawberry rhubarb jam. However, she doesn’t care much for rhubarb but does make some mighty-mean strawberry jam.

“It seriously tastes like you are eating fresh strawberries,” she said.

Tim was in college when he began exploring different methods of cooking.

“I was living in a house with roommates, and I got a lot of cooking in that way,” he said. “I had an interest in what kind of spices go together to get an optimal taste. It was trial by error. I learned to make the barbecue sauces and then the jalapeno products, as well.”

Currently, the couple market 15 different products. They are sold in eight White Foodlineir stores, some co-ops and various specialty shops such as Smith Market in Hutchinson, Sunflour Café & Collective in Wichita, Happy Valley Farm in DeSoto, Golden Belt Beef near St. John, Miss Pretty Pickles in Great Bend and Simply Unique in Larned.

 The number of products they have available can vary from time to time.

A link to their page with Shop Kansas Farms is https://shopkansasfarms.com/turkey-knob-farm-llc

Last year, their business was placed on hold for about nine months. Connie suffered a major fall and ended up with several broken bones, torn muscles and ligaments. Then, there were several surgeries.

And, in the meantime, they moved – twice.

“One of the reasons we moved is that we felt, at our age, we couldn’t take care of the property like we wanted. And, we wanted to get our living area all on one level,” Conniie said. “My dad and Tim’s mother have already passed away. We didn’t have any big reason for keeping us in Stafford County. A couple of our kids now live in the Kansas City area, and we wanted to be a lot closer to our grandkids.”

They now live in Berryton, Ks., near Topeka.

Still Stafford County is close to their hearts.

“I was born and raised in Stafford County and we still have a lot of friends still there,” Connie said. “It was a hard decision to leave. We lived there eight years. But we felt we were getting older and didn’t want to miss out on our grandkids.”

In the meantime, TurkeyKnob products can be found in almost any store around.

By Beccy Tanner

For four generations, the Cornwells of Stafford County have farmed and raised some of the top beef cattle in Kansas.

Now, it is the fifth generation – the grandchildren who range in ages between 15 and 6 – who are taking the next steps for the future of the family name.

In the process of learning about science and entrepreneurship, they have created Cornwell Beef – a website and business that markets the family’s pasture-raised beef.

“We’re a fourth-generation family farm,” said their grandmother, Lisa Cornwell. “This came about as an entrepreneurship project. I love everything about kids learning entrepreneurship.”

And so, they began an experiment – the timing was perfect. It was right after the Covid pandemic shut almost everything down.

The grandchildren had plenty of time on their hands.

Melissa and Jake Cline run Cornwell Beef East along with their sons – Jack, 15, and Kolt, 13, in Eudora, KS. They have a freezer for beef pickups at Happy Valley Farm in Desoto.

Joe and Lisa Cornwell’s grandchildren who help are Gentri Bright, 14; Hadley Bright, 13; and Victor Cornwell, 11; Tianna Cornwell, 6; and Dawsyn Long, 6.

They also have help with a Great Bend delivery crew with Kambri Klug, 8; and Kenton Klug, 7.

The enterprising students first purchased meat from Walmart, Dillons, and Target –as an experiment. They needed some test products.

“We did kind of a science project, and we measured the grease that came off the meat – and its color and clarity,” Lisa Cornwell said. “Then, we compared that with ours, which is a lot leaner.”

The children then began talking about what a business would look like – what its name would be – Cornwell Beef, of course.

“We learned about labeling and how we had to have a USDA facility to have the meat processed,” Cornwell said. “The bigger kids update the website and do the inventory. My littles – and sometimes the bigs, because they can drive—deliver within the area.”

Cornwell Beef has developed a few food products in addition to their meat cuts  – such as Pat’s Regular Beef Jerky in Liebenthol made with Cornwell Beef. Another product, Stroot’s Beef Sticks of Goddard is also made using Cornwell Beef.

 And this next summer, there are plans to introduce a roast sauce that will make a roast taste more like brisket. They also have hot dogs that are becoming increasingly popular.

The family sells many of their products at White’s Foodliner in St. John and Main Street Deli in Stafford.

“Most of our sales are straight off our website,” Lisa Cornwell said. “And we do the home delivery straight to the porch. Hunting season is a great time of year for us, the hunters like locally raised meat while they’re here and enjoy taking them back home! We are going to try and expand our retail market into the rest of White’s stores later on.

“Right now, I’m out of steaks but will pick up another beef on Monday. The hunters take a lot of the steaks back home.”

Cornwell Farms began in 1917 with Courtney and Naomi Cornwell. Their only son, Jack, began the second generation on the farm when he married June. The couple had three children – Rick, Martha and Joe.

The third generation of Cornwells on the farm were Rick and Gayle who had three children – Jeff, Casey and Bethany. Joe and Lisa had four children – Melissa, Cami Jo, Ty and Marci.

The fourth generation continues the farming and Angus beef production.

“Joe and Ty farm together,” Lisa said. “Gentri, Hadley, and Victor update the website and do inventory. Gentri swaths hay and Victor is a little cowboy, he works cattle and farms. The littles enjoy helping with delivery. 

So, what makes Cornwell Beef different?

“We’re a small family farm,” Lisa Cornwell said. “We have a herd of 500 cows. We butcher two or three cows a month for the business. We are not doing anything crazy. We know each of these cows. We treat them like our kids.

“Our cows are on pasture until we’re ready to butcher.”

The cows live on grass from May through October.

 In late fall and winter, the herd lives on rye pastures and are fed ensilage, corn silage and ground hay.

“We only cut prime steaks which are like steakhouse steaks,” Lisa Cornwell said.

Which is why their Stafford County beef is beginning to be a sought-after commodity all across the state.

It really is about the beef.

By Beccy Tanner

When Darrell Bauer, owner of the Wheatland Café in Hudson talks about the quality and uses of Hudson Cream Flour, his voice takes on that enthusiastic tone of a loyal fan.

“There’s all kinds of flour out there but Hudson Cream never fails,” Bauer said. “And, they have a lot of good products – a biscuit mix, gravy mix that’s really good.”

But then, he starts listing all the dishes he uses the flour in:

“I use it in our cinnamon rolls, bierocks, for making gravy, breading chicken, chicken fries … I’ve used other self-rising flours before when I was out, and it just doesn’t do the same. I can’t tell you what they (Hudson Cream) do differently, but the food is always good.”

Stafford County Flour Mills Company in Hudson, which has produced Hudson Cream Flour for the past 118 years, has developed a mighty loyal reputation.

The gourmet magazine Saveur told readers in 1998 that “Hudson Cream is not a blend of hard and soft wheat flours, as all-purpose flours are, but is made entirely from hard red winter wheat. The result: higher, lighter breads with a rich flavor.”

Hudson Cream Flour is all about innovation and creativity.

It’s also about a loyal fan base of chefs and cooks that grows exponentially with each generation.

Especially in Stafford County, think about a holiday meal that doesn’t somewhere have Hudson Cream Flour included in a couple of the recipes.

But beyond flour, the Hudson mill is also a trendsetter in many other ways.

For example, in 2014, Stafford County Mills installed a wind turbine outside the city limits of Hudson, making it the first commercial flour milling facility in North America to use wind power-generated electricity produced on site.

That kind of innovation really began decades ago.

According to its website, hudsoncream.com, in 1922, “Leila English Reid, who was born and raised in Stafford County, moved to West Virginia.”  Not happy with the type of flour she found there on grocery shelves, she negotiated to bring a train car shipment of Hudson Cream Flour to West Virginia.

The rest is history because now, a majority of Hudson Cream Flour still sells and is popular on the East Coast.

“Why it has survived, I think, goes to two things: number one, it is a premium product on the market, and it’s allowed us to keep a market share when a lot of people sold out.,” said Derek Foote, who is in management at the mill’s corporate office in Hudson. “The other is the local community supporting it. When the mill went up for sale, there were local people buying it to keep it local.”

That happened in 1986 when, the Krug family – the original owners of the mill -were ready to retire and looking to sell the Stafford County Flour Mills. Fearing it might mean a loss for the local economy, several area residents pooled their resources to buy the flour mill and keep the company local.

The end results is that the flour and other products are now shipped to 41 states, Foote said.

“Not all that’s in our bags, nor the Hudson Cream Flour or Stafford County Flour Mills label,” he said. “Most of our label goes either in the Midwest or back to the Appalachian states.”

In addition, the Stafford County Mills supplies the public schools in Hawaii with flour, and product for kosher companies in New York and Chicago.

When the mills are running, 400,000 pounds of flour can be turned out in a day, Foote said.

“A lot of it is the quality of the product,” Foote said. “I think that’s the biggest thing is that we have kind of a cult-like following, especially back in the Appalachian states because of its short patent flour. Basically, it’s how we refine it. We pull a lot of the clear flour, the heavy stuff off. And so, what we are left with is just the heart – a flour that is smother, softer. That’s why the cream is in the name. Big mills can’t do that — or they don’t do it so much. It allows us to make more of a premium product that differentiates ourselves. We have been able to sell to niche markets.

“We are about the only one (in the nation) that does it with winter wheat – that’s the key part.”

In recent years, the mill has also substantially grown a market for organic flour.

“We actually do a pretty good volume of it,” Foote said. “It’s not grown around here as much and not as much of it is sold around here – but that product goes more to the east coast and to places like Denver and Austin. We do a significant volume, and it just keeps increasing.”

Not bad for a flour mill where the majority of its wheat is grown within 26 miles of Hudson.

This is our September 2023 Radio show with our director Ryan Russel

By Beccy Tanner

The Stafford County Zoning Commission has unanimously given their approval for a special use permit that help sets the stage for constructing the Port Authority of Stafford County.

Final approval, though, lies in the hands of the Stafford County Commission, which are set to hear the zoning case in October.  

The Port Authority of Stafford County will be located near the junction of US-50 and US 281 highways, near a BNSF railroad mainline. 

It is a site where hundreds of cars and trucks pass daily.

And while those vehicles will continue to pass daily by the site, there is hope that a 256-acre site will soon be constructed and handle full-size grain trains of more than 100 railcars and semi-trucks that can carry more than just grain but merchandise and consumer goods that may eventually pump as much as $7-to-9 million into the local economy.

The new Port Authority will in fact be a transportation and shipping hub.

Carolyn Dunn, president of the Port Authority and who currently is the Stafford County Economic Development’s Strategic Projects Manager presented the case to the zoning board, Sept. 12.

Dunn is also the county’s former economic development director and has been involved in the county’s development for the past 12 years.

“I was made aware that we were missing some critical business opportunities in the very first few months of economic development being in existence in 2011,” Dunn told the board. “We had a company at the time that was interested in putting a unit car loading facility here and had some purchase options on land but then decided to locate somewhere in Nebraska, instead. We subsequently had two other companies that considered Stafford County closely but invested somewhere else.”

Stafford County, because of its rural population, does not have a large labor force to attract manufacturers. But it does have agricultural products that can bring investment opportunities into the county.

And that is what local business and agriculture leaders are hoping to draw on.

“We are at the crossroads of two U.S. highways that intersect with the mainline railroad,” Dunn said. “It’s not an accident. Some of these companies that were considering Stafford County as a location is because we do have that strategic location when it comes to transportation.”

Additionally, there are few other public points of entry to a major railroad in the western 2/3 of Kansas. Those that do have rail service are owned by private companies, who control who uses the tracks.

“So, that is something we can put out there as an advantage that we could offer for developing,” Dunn said.  “Our purpose here is to create more and better-quality jobs that diversify the economy. One of the biggest goals for me is to increase the tax base with the goal of preserving essential services and quality of life.”

Because construction of the Port Authority will be costly, Dunn said, she wanted to do it in such a way that local taxpayers would not have to pay for it.

“We’ve made an application to the Federal Railroad administration … There is no way we would have even had an application worth sending in if we hadn’t already had over $5 million secured and other components already in place. It’s a very long process,” Dunn has said previously. “There have been a lot of different entities along the way that have been willing to be open and helpful to us. I feel we have the kind of support that the FRA looks for from the Kansas Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Transportation. We have the support of both our U.S. Senators, US Representatives, and State Rep. Brett Fairchild, and local representatives who have endorsed us.”

The $5 million that has already secured for the Port came from a $2.5 million BASE grant through the Kansas Department of Commerce and a $2.5 million appropriation in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill (HB 2510).  Another $800,000 was awarded to Stafford County Economic Development to loan to the Port Authority with flexible repayment terms. 

Yet, more money is needed – at least another $5 million—which Dunn has applied for and is hopeful the county will receive.

That’s why the special use permit is needed – as part of the process.

“What we have is agriculture and we are missing the opportunities to capture some investment in the benefits that that brings because we maybe didn’t have the right tools to really make it an appealing investment for potential businesses,” Dunn said.

By Beccy Tanner

Jean Drach is apologetic as she answers the phone.

No apples this year for sale.

 And the peaches that she and her husband, Larry, sold, they were brought in from Colorado.

But the heirloom tomatoes were awesome. It was a good year for tomatoes.

She credits two late freezes and blistery hot summer temperatures for this year’s lack of produce.

But this is just one year.

The couple have had lots of good years and have plans that next year will once again be bountiful.

Beginning in 2006, it was the couple’s dream to farm. They started an orchard with five acres.

Drach’s Farm & Orchard is located three miles east of the US-281 and K-19 intersection.

“We didn’t really know anything about crop farming or cattle, so my husband said let’s put an orchard in,” Jean Drach said.

That first year, the apple and peach trees were nothing more than sticks.

“We didn’t have much knowledge about fruit trees,” she said. “We thought we put them in the ground, and we’d have apples and peaches. But no.”

It took time and investigation and testing to see what varieties grew best in Stafford County.

“We did our research, especially on the peaches of what ones would grow in this area.”

The first year they planted 100 trees.

And then, planted another hundred.

“And now, with some of the storms, we are down to 168,” Jean said. “It’s just the two of us.

“It took us 10 years for the apple trees to start producing.”

The orchard has 20 varieties of apples; four different types of pears; as many varieties of peaches and – she emphasizes – in good years, also pumpkins.

There are also blackberry bushes.

The secret to much of their success all these years, she says, belongs to the sandy soil of Stafford County.

“It makes good, good planting for the trees because the water just absorbs down into the roots,” she said.

They have also grown potatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe.

“Now, that we’ve grown a little older we are not doing those as much,” Jean said. 

Like most farmers, the Drachs have discovered the Kansas weather – like the weather experienced this summer – can mean the difference between a good year and a poor one.

“It was unpredictable,” Jean says of the summer’s storms and heat. “We also feel that climate change is here because we are seeing a difference. In good years, each apple tree can produce up to 1,000 apples.”

Last year, the Drachs made 300 half gallons of cider.

This year, the apples split on the tree before they were ripe.

In years past, droves of people come out and pick apples and school groups come to explore and taste.

Their orchard is a feel-good, neighborly oasis in a sea of wheat fields and prairie grass plots.

They’ve had pumpkin festivals and pumpkin hunts, in fact it’s called the Great Pumpkin Hunt  (similar to Easter Egg hunts) in the orchard.

She encourages children to try the different varieties of apples to see which ones entice their taste buds the most.

“They get to walk the five acres and they are pretty pooped when they get back on the bus,” she says chuckling. “It’s (the orchard) turned out to be more than we ever thought it would be.”

And, that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing area families and social events in Stafford County.

Typically, during the summer months, customers operate on the honor system. Refrigerators in a shed on the orchard grounds are filled with produce, customers are welcome to select produce from the refrigerators and pay for them by dropping their money in a mailbox behind the refrigerators.

“I have never heard anything negative about our orchard,” Jean said. “It’s been so nice.”

Some locals even consider it a stopping point as they do their regular chores.

“One more thing about the refrigerators, we keep pop, candy and Little Debbies for all the guys that are farming near by, or who check the tank batteries. One neighbor — there is a dirt road that goes between us and their house, she takes her grandkids down every Friday night and the boys get their own pop and candy and that makes their day because there’s nothing like that around here.”

It’s also true for the bikers who participate in the annual Bike Across Kansas and other bikers who use the route.

“We have a sign up for them and put a picnic table up for them,” Jean said.

The sign says “Bikers Welcome,” but really anybody is welcome.

“They stop, eat peaches, and take pictures. It’s great.”

One evening when a terrible storm came up, a biker called the Drachs and asked if he could spend the night in their orchard.

Of course, he could.

Some travelers have even left gifts for the Drachs – more soda pop and even Danish rolls.

It’s become a refuge for travelers near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

In the meantime, the vision each year for the Drach Orchard continues.

“Hopefully, next year we will have a better crop,” she said.