Rees Fruit Farm has been providing fruits and vegetables to people in northeast Kansas since 1901 and continues to evolve as trends shift.
In the early decades of the farm’s operation, Rex Rees, third-generation owner, said customers canned produce so they would have access to seasonal favorites throughout the year. In the 1960s and 1970s, preserving and packaging techniques and transportation methods improved so much that just about any item needed to satisfy a craving could easily be purchased in a grocery store in or out of season.
Yet Rees Fruit Farm has still retained its niche as a produce purveyor because many people like to buy local.
“Other countries don’t have the same restrictions and regulations to comply with that we do in the United States,” he said. “Overall, it’s generally safer to buy locally. The only drawback to that is that people need to realize that not all fruits and vegetables are available year-round.”
For example, the season for sweet corn is about three weeks and for tomatoes about six weeks, Rees said.
“In Kansas, we’re limited by our climate,” he said. “It would be great to have a longer growing season without extreme temperatures, but that’s the way it is.”
Best known for its orchards, Rees Fruit Farm sells cider, apple butter and apple cinnamon doughnuts made fresh daily. In the summer, individuals and families converge on the fields to pick their own strawberries, blackberries and tart cherries.
The increasing popularity of farmers’ markets has expanded Rees Fruit Farm’s footprint with Wednesday and Saturday participation at the Capitol and the Kansas Judicial Center, respectively, April through October, and at other markets too.
“Going to farmers’ markets is trendy whether people are there to buy a week’s worth of vegetables or just to browse or buy one thing,” said Rees. “We see more vendors there every year.”
Rees said 15 years ago farmers’ markets were viewed primarily as an opportunity for farmers to offload surplus produce, but now the shift is to sell “the best stuff” there.
“The farmers’ markets have become a big part of our business,” he said.
Undaunted by long hours, hard work and the weather uncertainty that farming entails, Rees said he loves growing things and looking for new ways to market the results of his labor.
“The most satisfying thing about this business is that we’ve developed a lot of loyal customers over the years and continue to pick up new ones,” he said.