Butler County’s biggest industry was on full display Thursday. The more than 60 people who attended the Farm to Fork Tour by Butler County Farm Bureau experienced agriculture from start to finish. Attendees got to pet cows and horses and pick tomatoes and grapes off vines touring seven different facilities all within Butler County.
First stop was Keriel Dairy in Whitewater. The third generation dairy farm owned by Daniel “The Milkman” and Kerry Wiebe showcased 100 Holstein cows, who’s milk is locally sold and processed. Keriel is a truly family operation with every one of the Wiebe kids, from those who’ve graduated college to those in grade school helping milk cows. It is the last remaining dairy farm in Butler County.
Guests got to see the feed mix fed to the cows and learn about cow care. They also got to sample fresh milk produced that morning. The Wiebe’s milk 100 cows every day at 4 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. It takes about 3 hours to milk in the morning and 2 1/2 in the afternoon.
“We take pride in that we call work together as a team,” Kerry Wiebe said. “There’s a lot of blood sweat and tears, but we take pride in our teamwork and I think that’s why we have lasted.
They also grow beans, wheat, corn, and alfalfa. On warm days such as Thursday, the cows are housed in a shaded barn with big fans to keep the temperature around 73 degrees. They receive pedicures once a month and have a vet on call 24/7.
To showcase their operation, the Wiebe’s host annual barn sales in the spring and fall featuring vintage and craft vendors. Both sales also feature a homemade lunch with pulled pork made by Daniel and cupcakes by Kerry. The next sale is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 3. For more information on the dairy and the sale visit www.kerieldairy.com.
Stop number two was at Grace Hill Winery in Whitewater where guests got too tour the vineyard and eat lunch.
Jeff Sollo, who’s father owns the winery, gave guests the overview on how to make wine. The tour began with information on the 4,500 grape vines that spanned the acreage south of the event center. Most of the grapes are nearly ripe with the first harvest happening Saturday.
To harvest the grapes volunteers come out and pick for 2 to 3 hours and then are fed lunch featuring free wine. Until that time, large nets are draped over the almost ripe plants to keep their number one predator, birds, from pillaging their fruit.
Sollo said the vines take three years to produce fruit, and after many trials in his fathers “grand project” they started producing wine in 2006 after purchasing the abandoned homestead in 2003.
Now the seven different variety of vines produce 30 tons of fruit to supply half of Grace Hill’s grape needs. The rest of the grapes are sourced from other growers in Kansas to create a truly Kansas product.
After the grapes are picked they are pressed and then stored in stainless steal vats for sweet wine, and oak barrels for dry reds. Sweet wines take about a year to produce with a sampling in January for blends and new wine types. Dry wines take two years to produce. Both must be kept in a cool and oxygen free environment.
“There’s no manual for producing wine in Kansas,” Sollo said. “We had to learn on the fly. We killed a lot of grape vines, make a lot of bad wine. It was a trial by fire.”
For more information on the winery visit https://www.gracehillwinery.com.
Due to time constraints and rain the tour of Varner Farms of Towanda was confined to within the tour buses. Calvin Varner and his daughter Shelby told guests about their operation while the buses made a loop around the farm.
The Varner family farm has several fractions of the family working together to grow corn, soybeans and wheat, bail hundreds of thousands of bales of hay, and raise 270 cow-calf pairs. The three Varner girls, raise 180 beef and dairy goats. Shelby talked about how her and her sisters milk the goats at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily and make lotion and soap out of the milk. They also sell the milk.
Many of their meat goats can be seen in the show ring at the Butler County 4-H Fair as 4-H projects.
The on bus tour continued with a quick drive around Mid-Kansas Cooperative’s facility outside Benton. Brice Clark and Spencer Reames each led a bus through a guided tour explaining what the facility did at different points. Including a 500,000 bushel ground storage facility, the elevator can hold 1.4 million bushels of grain.
Not only a grain elevator for corn, wheat, and soybeans, fertilizer and other chemical needs are sold at the facility along with seed and the full line of Purina feed products.
Next stop was to Locke Grass and Cattle Company of El Dorado.
Chris Locke showed guests the barn of the historic Delford Ranch Herefords, which his family bought and have been using as the headquarters of their cattle operation for several years. Lock talked briefly about his operation. In addition to the sale barn which he co-owns, Locke and his family start cattle, which they house during the winter. They work all their cattle on horseback, of which there were several looking for pets from guests.
Christian, Chris’s youngest son, showed guests his newly completed hunting lodge. He hosts guided hunting tours during the winter months. For more information on the hunting operation visit https://www.facebook.com/Kansas-Hurt-Locker-Outfitters-LLC-728863173813247/.
The last stop was dampened by rain, but that didn’t stop guests from exploring the green houses of Griggs Brothers farm in Douglass.
The farm features three greenhouses currently at their operation near Douglass with four more planned to be built this winter. Griggs plants vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, onions and squash indoors and outdoors. One of this tomato houses this summer way hydroponic producing 18 pounds of fruit per plant.
All the houses were built by hand with tomatoes planted in January. Griggs sells his produce at various farmers markets. For more information visit, https://www.facebook.com/griggsbrosfarms/.
The evening concluded back at Fulton Valley Farms owned by David and Betty Corbin in Towanda. After a jaunt with the reindeer and a trek through the famous lighted woods, guests were treated to wine from Grace Hill and beer from Walnut River Brewery to kick off the local food fest. Booths were set up by local producers to showcase the products they offer including soap and lotions made by the three Varner girls.
The meal was made up of mostly products produced in Butler County.