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Serving: MO

3rd-generation farmer finds place in pecan groves

Managing trees and a store are part of the job at Miller Pecan Farms, a growing family business in Missouri.

The phones have been ringing off the hook at The Squirrel's Nest in De Witt, Mo., with customers asking about pecan harvest. The person answering the calls and managing the business for Miller Pecan Farms is third-generation grower Cheyenne Deitch.

Deitch manages the farm for her grandparents, Dean and Ruth Miller. The family has been in the pecan business since 1972. They started with only 40 trees and grew the business to near 1,500 native northern Missouri pecan trees, which have small nuts and hard shells.

“They are very sweet and have a high oil content,” Deitch says. “They are great for making pecan pies.” Her grandparents knew early on the native pecans would have a consumer draw, so her grandpa bought the farm’s first machine to crack pecans.

Business growth

“My grandparents wanted to teach their kids the value of a dollar, so they would have neighbors bring their pecans in, and they would crack the pecans for 5 cents a pound,” Deitch says. Over the years, Miller Pecan Farms grew busier and busier. “The neighbors were telling their neighbors and their friends, and so my grandparents bought more crackers," Deitch adds.

Then the family had to handle the shear poundage of pecans. Deitch's grandmother Ruth started her own aspect of the business, creating candies and syrup and selling it in the family store — The Squirrel’s Nest.

“We now have, I think it's over 50 products in our store that we do by hand here,” Deitch says. Customers will buy them to make their own candies, place in salads or eat right out of the bag. “They taste better to eat as a snack or in a pie,” she adds. “Maybe we are a bit biased, but we hear that a lot.”

Production practices

The farm offers natural native pecans, meaning it does not use any pesticides on its groves.

In a good year, Miller Pecan Farms has about 10,000 pounds of pecans in the freezer. This will get them through until the next year. However, 2019 has been a difficult harvest.

Many of their pecan groves are along the Grand River in northern Missouri. This area saw flooding this year. Continued wet weather during the summer and fall hampered the ground’s ability to dry out. And during a time when the pods are opening and falling, that can mean disaster for Deitch.

“Our trees were under about 6 feet of water for over a month and that happened a couple of times, so it is muddy,” she says. The pecans run the risk of falling into the mud and not being able to be harvested. “If it doesn't dry out, then we'll lose probably 75% of our crops,” she adds.

But this young pecan grower continues to focus on the positive. She and her husband, Jason, hope to leave Miller Pecan Farms to their daughters, Ella and Libby.

Coming home

“Every time I come to work, it's amazing,” she says. “Every day, I'm humbled by how much work my grandparents have put in and how much love and time they've dedicated to this little business.”

Even as an adult, she remains amazed by what all her grandpa built from the cracking room to the candying room her grandma fills with treats.

As she walks around the shop, she can’t help but feel at home. “This is where I grew up; it's amazing what my grandparents have done,” Deitch says. “Hopefully, my kiddos want to grow up here just like I did.”

So far, little Ella is always on her mom’s heels in The Squirrel's Nest. “She's really good at helping pass out samples,” Deitch says. “She loves to do that. It's just amazing to watch them grow up in the same place.”

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