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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.

By Beccy Tanner

After being involved in education for nearly 30 years as both a teacher and principal, Jo McFadden decided to take a new direction in her life.

“I retired and this is my retirement gig,” McFadden said. “I was looking for a job. This came up on my radar and I thought it sounded like fun.

“I applied and here I am.”

Since August, the 55-year-old McFadden has served as the director of the Ida Long Goodman Memorial Library in St. John.

She replaced Laura Davis as the director.

McFadden has been a life-long resident of Hutchinson and continues to live there with about a 50-minute commute back and forth each school day.

“I was going to pull my (retirement) papers because I had 85 points and could retire. But this (the St. John library position) is a KPERS job. So, I didn’t officially retire because I didn’t pull KPERS. I did retire from being a principal and decided I would keep on working.”

She taught middle school algebra and geometry for 11 years and was an elementary principal in Hutchinson for eight years; and then, principal at Inman Elementary in Inman for eight years.

“I have my master’s in administration and have taught college classes through Baker University and Newman University. I have presented at national conferences on a number of different topics … My areas of interest and skill include professional learning, curriculum, instruction and assessment and school improvement.”

Her hopes for the Ida Long Goodman Library are to increase programming, circulation, and services available to the community.

“We have two exciting things that are in the works right now that I think will be wonderful for our community,” McFadden said.

The first is a Digi Lab – where the library has installed a digital scanner so that patrons of the library can scan old photographs, negatives and slides – and save them digitally. It will evolve into a full Digi Lab where clients can bring in their DVD’s or VHS tapes and can digitize those, as well.

“Think of those little camcorder tapes – all kinds of things – that can now be digitized,” McFadden said. “So, we don’t lose those things that are so important. I know I have a ton of tapes from when my kids were little stored away. I can’t view them on anything. So, once we get those things in, the staff will be practicing on them and then, the community can come in and get their things transferred.”

Another program the library has just established is a premium family membership to Exploration Place in Wichita. The pass is free for area families to come and check out and then use for their entire family.

“So, they can go to Wichita and go to Exploration Place; go to the Dome Theater and see the science show and check out traveling displays,” she said.

She has also started an adult book club and scheduled a series of Lunch & Learns at the library in partnership with Stafford County Economic Development. Topics have included information for first time home buyers; Stafford County’s Exoduster legacy; services offered by the Stafford County Health Department; and Estate Planning.

As the director of St. John’s library, McFadden said her new position is – in some ways – like that of being a principal with all the administrative duties.

“There is the budgeting, staffing and just all the paperwork and programming,” she said.

In addition, she said there is one more added benefit:

 “I will say I have always loved to read and just being among all these books has been amazing.

 “I just can’t get enough.”

By: Ryan Russell

Gray Photo Studio (GPS) is soon to be renovated and will soon after open it’s art studio after receiving a $50,000 matching grant from Kansas Commerce Historic Economic Asset Lifeline (HEAL) program.  SJN Bank of Kansas, which is always looking for ways to help develop Stafford County, has provided GPS with it’s match in the form of a loan.  Without the matching loan, the HEAL grant would not have been possible.

Stafford County Economic Development Inc. (SCEDI) has been working with GPS to develop a plan to complete the historical building.  SCEDI and GPS have a fiscal and administrative partnership.  The buildings renovations will start no later than April and be completed by the end of the year.  In March SCEDI and GPS are planning an online art auction that will benefit the GPS, with over 10 artists committed to donating pieces of art for the auction.

Stafford City Manager Jami Downing also applied on behalf of Stafford and received a HEAL Grant to renovate one of Stafford’s downtown buildings. See Governor Laura Kelly’s announcement of all the counties to receive the HEAL Grant. 

https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/KSOG/bulletins/386bc8f

By Beccy Tanner

There may be a new/old look coming soon to the northwest corner of St. John’s Square.

A $45,000 matching grant awarded by the Kansas Creative Arts/Industries Commission – a division of the Kansas Department of Commerce—will portion some of that grant to St. John for use in building a Victorian-type gazebo.

The largest portion of the grant will go to Stafford to help them in helping the city construct a band shell.

A study last year determined both communities lack public outdoor spaces for special events.

Stafford’s project is called “Spaces Within The Places” and celebrates Stafford as the Gateway to Quivira.

With the annual Jubilee and Homecoming events held in the St. John Square, about $4,500 of the grant will go to St. John for construction of the gazebo and concrete pad.

In applying for the grant, Ryan Russell, director of Stafford County Economic Development wrote:

“These spaces will draw people together to hear music from all kinds of artists and bring young families together to enjoy the outdoors.”

The 10 x 16-foot gazebo in St. John will cost roughly $10,000 with $4,500 coming from the grant. The City of St. John will provide the remainder in funding along with the concrete pad and electrical wiring and sound for the gazebo.

Sturdi-Bilt near Hutchinson is constructing St. John’s gazebo.

It is expected to be delivered to St. John sometime in April or early May – in time for the Jubilee.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the square boasted a similar type of gazebo, and it was used as a forum for bands and special events. It eventually fell into disrepair and was torn down.

It is hoped the new gazebo will be a gathering place for people to once again come together.

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 many Kansans, the Christmas holiday season begins first with a visit to the Delp Christmas Tree Farm in St. John.

It’s tradition and for good reason:

The Delp Christmas Tree Farm is the oldest continuously operating commercial Christmas tree farm in Kansas. Cecil and Ruby Delp started the farm in 1959 and were founding members of the Kansas State Christmas Tree Growers Association.

Decades later, one of the Delp’s sons, Tony and his wife, Linda, returned to St. John to help with the farm. And now, Joel and Sarah Delp and their children help – representing the second, third and fourth generations of the Delp family to help with the farm.

Go now, and there are Christmas carols playing nonstop on a sound system.

The scent of fresh-cut trees, swags and wreaths hangs in the air.

Inside the main office is a fireplace and a help-yourself area with peanuts, candy canes and hot apple cider. Outside are rows and rows of trees where generations of families have come to select Christmas trees.

In the beginning, it was small-town life that first drew the Delps to Stafford County.

Cecil and Ruby moved to St. John in 1946. Cecil was originally from the St. John area. His parents did some farming south of St. John, near the Antrim community. Ruby, although she was born in Arkansas, grew up near Guthrie, Okla. The two met in Oklahoma.

Tony and Linda were the next generation to move back.

“We moved back to St. John so we could be closer to family and also a smaller, rural community where we could raise our family and have the advantages of a smaller school and the opportunity to work out on a farm,” Tony Delp said.

How the farm began

The idea of a Christmas tree farm began with his father’s cousins, who would talk of harvesting 40,000 to 60,000 trees grown in natural habit for sale at Christmas in Detroit and Chicago. Also, Cecil Delp’s two brothers both operated fruit orchards in Yakima Valley, Wash.

“Dad always liked to try different things,” Tony said. “He never liked to do like everybody else. So, he took trips and looked at nurseries and trees. He worked with Kansas State University with the state forester.”

By the 1960s and 1970s, the Delp Tree Farm in St. John was a large operation. During the summers, high school and college students would often help with the farm labor.

When it was the first Christmas Tree farm in Kansas, it wasn’t unusual to see car after car lined up along US-281, waiting for the chance to pull in and select a tree.

Travel the surrounding highways then – especially after Thanksgiving — and it was a common site to see station wagons and pickups with Christmas trees tied securely on top or in back.

The Christmas tree farm heyday for the Delps and other tree operators was during the 1970s and 1980s, when there were 150 tree farms across the state. Now there are closer to 30.

Pre-lighted artificial trees have grown in popularity, Delp said, but he has seen their popularity peak and decline over time. Also, there are more trees available at local grocery stores and at organizations that set up lots in cities.

Cecil Delp was well past 50 when he planted 17,500 evergreen trees using his Fordson tractor, sons Phil and Tony and a planter he borrowed from the local Soil Conservation Service.

Ten acres were set aside for a 4-H project for Phil and Tony.

For decades, Ruby Delp taught first grade to students at St. John Elementary School. Then, in the early 1970s, Ruby and Cecil built a combination tree office and pre-school on the farm. The center of the office included the huge fireplace where customers could go to get warm after tromping through rows and rows of trees to select a Christmas tree. Cecil and Ruby both died in 1997 after 65 years of marriage.

Joel Delp has also experimented with various fruit trees including growing some paw paws. The paw paw trees are normally grown only in thick woodlands, usually close to streams in eastern Kansas, as far west as Butler County. And so, it is rare and exceptional the trees are beginning to thrive on the sandy soils of Stafford County.

Still, it is the Christmas trees that remain popular.

“We couldn’t have a better customer base than the people who come for the Christmas trees,” Tony said. “Most of them are happy, pleasant, and easy to talk to and get along with. It’s fun to see them each year.”

It’s all about family for the Delps.

Linda Delp – according to Tony – is an expert bowmaker and has literally created and tied thousands of bows. She also runs the counter and keeps the office going.

For the Delps, Christmas is their family legacy.

“We care about the community,” Tony said. ““For our family, Christmas begins with Christ and then, it’s about spending time with each other.”

By Ryan Russell

Stafford County leaders have been working to finalize details in opening a commercial kitchen at the Stafford County Annex in St. John.

While some of the initial construction has yet to be completed, the county commission has generously given to help get the kitchen going.  In addition, Stafford County Economic Development Inc. was awarded a grant by South Central Community Foundation to hold Youth Entrepreneur Challenge (YEC) this year with a focus being on value added food creation. 

The YEC youth are challenged to create a business concept and compete against each other.

Stafford County Economic Development will offer an entrepreneurship training program in 2024 — that is food related, once the kitchen is completed and licensed.

Additional programming will be in partnership with 4H extension with their youth programs to create commercially viable products.  We will also work with 4H extension to create year-round programming.

The idea behind this is that Stafford County has an abundance of raw food materials from the flour mill, produce farmers, a number of small farms producing high-quality meat and dairy products; however, there is a lack of value-added products that are marketable.

Additional funds are needed.

The goal is to raise $10,000 for the operational and programming costs connected to the Commercial Kitchen.  This will include the costs of bringing in people with the technical skills and knowledge to help with training in packaging and food processing.  We will also be putting in a gas stove and other equipment that may be needed depending on who uses the kitchen.

Here’s how that money can be raised:

Beginning in November, South Central Community Foundation is doing a matching day on Giving Tuesday.  They have a pool of $70,000 to use in matching.  Each organization has an opportunity to get the funds they’ve raised matched, and an endowment created that will gain interest every year to be used for whatever projects an organization has to fund. 

Though Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, individuals can give throughout the month of November. Stafford County Economic Development is participating in South Central Community Foundations month of giving.  

So, give generously this November and help Stafford County Economic Development spur economic growth in Stafford County’s nascent food product industry.  To donate to support this important program, click on the link. https://www.sccfmatchday.org/nonprofits.cfm?id=1830

By Beccy Tanner

In its day, the old Quonset-style fair building on the Stafford County Fairgrounds was state-of-the-art.

It had an enclosed space, concrete floor, showers in the restrooms and giant electric fans that kept the air moving as fair-goers perused hundreds of 4-H projects.

That was more than 70 years ago.

In recent years as the steel framed-round top community building began to leak and rain water dripped on projects, the Stafford County Fair Board re-evaluated what they could do.

“The building’s roof had begun leaking and during heavy rains, it rained on photography exhibits and stuff like that,” said Billy Milton, fair board president. “We started looking into fixing the roof and got back an estimate that was going to cost between $30,000 to $40,000 to fix and that in 10 to 20 years, we’d have to do it again.

“We did not feel like that was the right area to pursue. It doesn’t make sense for us to be spend that much money. Our budget just is not that big to operate like that.”

A few weeks ago, the old 50 by 120-foot community building was removed from the fairgrounds.

And the ground has been prepared to receive a new building – a little bigger, 60 by 120-foot.

The construction will be more of a Morton-esque-style building.

The biggest hope and feature for it will be air conditioning, Milton said, and a more comfortable space for people to gather.

Using $250,000 in funds that was available to Stafford County to help stimulate the economy after the Covid pandemic, Milton said, the fair board was able to begin the process of replacing the old building. The money was awarded by Stafford County Commissioners with the stipulation it be spent by the summer of 2024.

“That led us to deciding to go ahead and replace the building,” he said. “It will suit our fair and the community a lot better than what we currently had … I have been on the fair board for the last six years and we’ve always kind of talked about wanting a new building – even back in the 1990s, there was talk about it.”

Milton said the fair board has partnered with Stafford County Economic Development to raise an additional $275,000 to pay for the building’s amenities – such as heating and air conditioning, a concession stand area with stove and refrigerator and install showers in the restrooms.

“The rest of it will be open for meetings, wedding receptions and reunions,” Milton said. “We entered into a fiscal sponsorship agreement with Stafford County Eco-Devo because our organization is not a 501-C nonprofit so that when people donate, they can still get the tax breaks and save a little bit of money with sales tax, also.”

The partnership allows for a tax-favored option.

People wanting to donate to the new building fund can do so by sending a check to the Stafford County Economic Development Office at P.O Box 233 at St. John, KS, 67576 or by calling 620-549-3527.

The checks can be made to Stafford County Eco-Devo with the words “Community Fair Building” in the memo portion of the check.

Donation levels include: Grand Champion level at $80,000 and up; Reserve Champion, $50,000 to $80,000; Champion, $20,000 to $49,000; Reserve, $10,000 to $19,000; Purple, $2,000 to $9,999; Blue, $500 to $1,999; Other and Add a Brick, $200 to $350.

A 4 x 8 brick with no clipart has three lines with 20 characters per line; the same size of brick with clipart has an equal number of lines with 15 characters per line; an 8 x 8 brick with no clipart has three lines with 20 characters per line; and with clipart, three lines with 20 characters.

People serving on the fundraising committee include Milton, Joanna McAlister, Barb Alpers and Sharilyn McNickle.

“Right now, with the amount of money we have, we have enough money to get the shell of a building. We can get it back to where we were before,” Milton said. “But the additional money will go towards plumbing, electrical, tables and chairs, a bathroom and kitchen area on the inside.”