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Perseverance Key for Dutch Valley Growers

by Stan Maddux

Published: Friday, July 1, 2022

A large family farm thriving since its humble beginnings near Chicago is among the food producers to be featured during the Indiana State Fair.

Dutch Valley Growers dates back to 1933 when Jim Paarlberg's grandfather in South Holland, Ill. started raising onion sets and, later, tomatoes for Campbell's Soup on rented farmland.

Paarlberg said his father, Conrad, and uncle, Wayne, along with several of their brothers, later wanted to purchase their own land to raise crops but didn't have enough money and fertile, undeveloped soil was sparse from urban sprawl.

Paarlberg said he was 6 years old when his father and uncles pooled what little resources they had in response to opportunity to purchase land and relocate the farm across the state line in LaCrosse.

He said the move about 60 miles away was risky, not just financially but deep roots from their close-knit community were pulled and reestablished elsewhere.

The gamble, though, paid off.

More acreage was added to the farm and, during the 1980s, tomatoes for Heinz were added to their onion sets and other crops.

"They had lots of perseverance. They knew how to work and they worked hard," Paarlberg said.

Nowadays, the farm on even more ground raises onion sets, shallots and garlic shipped under the Dutch Valley Growers label to customers in farm stores and garden sections at major retailers nationwide.

For years now, tomatoes at the farm are grown for Red Gold, a major, long-established national supplier of ketchup and other tomato products based in central Indiana.

"The owners have been on our farm. The owners know our names. They've been very, very good to us," he said.

Paarlberg said one of the keys to the tremendous growth at the farm is a motto framed in his office: "Big things happen when little things are done right."

"And that's so true on the farm," he said.

Paarlberg is also humble enough not to take most of the credit.

He said a lot of factors like weather are beyond his control, but he feels a responsibility to overcome the blows dealt by Mother Nature as much as possible and also give thanks to the benefits she brings to his crops.

Enhancing his feeling of good fortune and success is watching his three grown sons, who work full-time at the farm, carry out and get better at their wide range of responsibilities.

His sons, along with their wives, have also given him seven grandchildren.

"There's a sense of being blessed more than what you deserve," he said.

The farm also raises seed corn for Pioneer, feed corn along with soybeans.

His 33-year-old son, Ryan, will represent the farm on Aug. 16 during the state fair, which runs July 29 to Aug. 21.

"It's pretty cool," he said.

Seventeen other farms were also chosen for this year's Featured Farmers program now in its seventh year.

The program is designed to put a face on Hoosier agriculture by connecting consumers with fellow Hoosiers growing the food they eat.

Featured farmers interact with fairgoers about things like how they grow their crops.

"Our Featured Farmers program connects fairgoers to Hoosier farmers daily during the State Fair with opportunities to learn more about where their food comes from," said Cindy Hoye, executive director, Indiana State Fair Commission.

"These farmers have incredible stories to tell, and we are proud to honor and celebrate them," she said.

Ryan Paarlberg does everything from planting and spraying the crops to fixing mechanical breakdowns and marketing the onion sets and garlic.

He said he likes doing a variety of work to keep things fresh, but a lot of time and work are required, especially when something unexpected happens to make the days even longer.

"Our wives are sometimes like single mothers, which I feel bad about. It takes a special woman to marry a farmer, that's for sure," he said.

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