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Marketing produce

Pardeeville, Wis., family grows and sells fruits, vegetables at farmers markets.

Terry and Marie Schave of Pardeeville, Wis., have been raising and selling fruits, vegetables and flowers for the past 30 years.

They have a 2.5-acre garden on their Columbia County farm, where they grow tomatoes, dill, kohlrabi, cucumbers, watermelon, several varieties of peppers, winter squash, cauliflower, zucchini, potatoes, asparagus, rhubarb, red and black raspberries, plums, peaches and pears. In addition to growing a lot of fruits and vegetables to sell at area farmers markets, Terry buys sweet corn from a neighbor, and gladiolas and other cut flowers from a friend who also sells at farmers markets.

Buying produce
Terry also buys a variety of fruits, vegetables and hanging baskets of flowers at the Tri-County Produce Auction in Dalton. The market is managed by the Amish and is held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between May 1 and Oct. 31.

“I go to the produce auctions on Mondays and Fridays,” Terry says. “I buy onions, cantaloupe, winter squash, small pickles, yellow watermelons, dill, kohlrabi and tomatoes to supplement what we grow. Sometimes I buy produce that we grow but I need more than what we have. We also buy hanging baskets and sell asparagus at the produce auction in May and June.”

The Schaves grew up in Beaver Dam, where they lived until 2010, when they moved to Pardeeville and took over the farm from Terry’s dad.

“We didn’t know about the Amish produce auctions until we moved to Pardeeville,” Terry says. “We’ve been going ever since.”

Terry says he learned most of what he knows about gardening from his dad and his grandfather.

Throughout the summer, Marie makes sweet pickle relish and several kinds of jams — including strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, cherry, raspberry, plum, peach and strawberry — to sell at the farmers markets.

“We’re very busy in the summer,” Terry says. “Marie also works full time at Walmart in Portage, but she is talking about retiring next spring to help more with the garden and selling at the farmers markets.”

Terry sells at farmers markets in Watertown on Tuesdays and in front of the mall in Beaver Dam on Wednesdays and Saturdays. They also have a produce stand at the Kwik Trip on the south side of Beaver Dam.

“We’re usually there on Wednesdays and Saturdays after the farmers markets in Beaver Dam,” Terry explains.

The couple has six grown children and 21 grandchildren, “with one more on the way,” he says. Their 12-year-old twin granddaughters, McKay and Madison Dockstader, are a big help, according to Terry.

“They help plant, weed and harvest vegetables, and when they’re not in school, they help sell at the farmers markets.”

Their son Daniel also helps out with the gardening and selling at farmers markets on weekends and when he has time.

“Terry picks the watermelons,” Marie says. “He’s the one who knows when they are ripe. I help him with everything else.”

To make sure everything is fresh, the day before a farmers market, the Schaves spend a lot of time harvesting fruits and vegetables from their garden and loading their pickup truck and trailer.

“Farmers markets have really taken off in the last 10, 15 years,” Terry notes. “When we first started selling [at farmers markets], we were selling out of the back of our car.”

Now they keep a portable air conditioner in a trailer they use to transport produce to keep the fruit and vegetables cold. They also fill the back of their covered pickup truck. Fruit and vegetables at the farmers markets are displayed on tables covered with gingham tablecloths. They use a canopy to provide shade over their display, a scale to weigh the produce and a cash register to ring up the sales.

Loyal customers
Terry listens to his customers and does his best to honor their special requests.

“Right now I’m getting a lot of people asking for green tomatoes,” he says. “They want them for frying. Our inventory changes throughout the growing season. We have a lot of regular customers who buy from us all season long.”

One of those regulars is Cindy Ortega from Beaver Dam, who bought a couple of jars of jam, some sweet corn, a watermelon, a few peppers and some tomatoes from Terry at a recent farmers market in Beaver Dam.

“I always tell everyone to go to a good produce man, and Terry is good,” Ortega says. “He knows his produce. They have the best jams — I love their jam.”

Terry also raises about 15 head of grass-fed beef cattle.

“I buy small Hereford or Angus feeder cattle, raise them and finish them out,” Terry says. “My brother has 46 acres next to mine, and I use his land for hay for my cattle.”

The Schaves sell their beef to family and friends, and by word-of-mouth.

Terry raises 25 broilers that dress out at 10 to 12 pounds each. “They fill our freezer every fall,” he says.

They also raise a few hens that provide eggs year-round for the Schaves and their family.

Future plans
Terry worked at Metalcraft in Mayville for 26 years before retiring in 2010. During that time, he also sold fresh fruits and vegetables. He says he enjoys what he is doing now more than working in a factory.

“I’m on my own schedule, and I get to work outside,” he explains. “Selling produce doesn’t pay big benefits, but it’s enough to make a living, and I meet a lot of really nice people.”

At 70, Terry acknowledges he won’t be doing this forever. “The day is coming when I’ll just be taking care of my beef cattle and my chickens,” he says. “But I’m not ready to retire yet.”

Check out the slideshow for pictures of the produce auction and the Schave family at work at farmers markets.

TAGS: Marketing
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