Long before the “Farm to Fork” campaign was even a thing, there was one Illinois farmer way ahead of the game. What started out as a seedless watermelon venture soon morphed into a third-generation family business.
Today that same man, Bill Meyer, now 83, is working alongside his son, Mark Meyer and his family, to bring central Illinois some of the best locally grown produce this side of the Mississippi.
Mark Meyer has graciously accepted an invitation to sit down with us and talk about his operation, Meyer Produce. So, without further ado, meet Mark Meyer:
AER: Please tell us about Meyer Produce.
MM: Meyer Produce is located in Mason County, Illinois, 3 miles west of Manito. My wife, Shelly, along with our daughters Hannah, Paige, and Brooke, help on the farm. We raise about 250 acres of popcorn for Weaver Popcorn Co. Our biggest crops include 55 acres of fresh market sweet corn, 20 acres of watermelon, 20 acres of muskmelon, and 1-3 acres of peppers, in addition to various other vegetables on smaller acres. We also raise around 20 acres of pumpkins and squash in the fall and sell straw in the winter and spring. We also have 6 high tunnels that we raise tomatoes in to sell at roadside stands and farmers markets and have 90 acres of certified organic ground that we grow several different crops including, canning pumpkins, snap beans, soybeans, popcorn, seed corn, and field corn.
AER: Sounds like you have quite the operation. Was this something you’ve always wanted to do?
MM: I started raising and selling vegetables when I was in FFA. I then went on to get a degree in ag business/agriculture from Illinois State University. When I graduated, I worked for Thorp Seed Co. in Clinton, Illinois for 9 months. Then I went to work for a distillery for ten years and farmed on the side.
AER: You must keep very busy. How do you divide up what gets done each day?
MM: My wife helps keep track of taking orders in the summer, while my oldest and youngest daughters help sort corn and pick tomatoes. My middle daughter, Paige, works a produce stand. My dad, Bill, who originally raised seedless watermelon in the ’70’s still helps every day at the young age of 83. He takes care of the tomatoes in the high tunnels.
AER: Do you still have a produce stand in your front yard? Where else can consumers purchase your vegetables?
MM: We sell our produce locally at our flower shop in Manito and at several produce stands and farmers markets. When we’re really producing a lot, we also sell to a local federal prison. We deliver to grocery stores and 15-20 locals within an hour distance. This helps keep our volume up and utilize our acres if we have excess. We have locations in Pekin, East Peoria, Morton, and Manito.
AER: Which AgriEnergy Resources products do you use? What benefits do you see from them?
MM: We put SP-1 on all of our seed to get the bacteria started early in the soil. We also put an AgriEnergy mix of potassium, sulfur, and micronutrients with all of our 28% nitrogen, either knifed in or through the irrigations. The AgriEnergy Mix seems to really help hold the nitrogen from leaching in our sandy soils. We also use a Pivot Mix to put any nutrients we are short on through the irrigations.
AER: In your opinion, what’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
MM: The most rewarding aspect to me is being able to watch my girls work on the farm and understand where their food comes from. It’s also being able to keep dollars local. Our customers enjoy knowing the food is picked fresh and is healthier than food shipped across the country or the ocean.
AER: Will you be adding any new crops for the next growing season?
MM: We continually look for new markets and will expand if the right situations arise.
At AgriEnergy Resources we’re big time supporters of biological farming and local foods. Thank you, Meyer Produce, for your dedication in growing healthy foods for the consumer!