Business

Their corn business grew

Julie Gaeddert, Tonya Martisko and Jason Gaeddert have been selling corn "since we were about this tall," Julie Gaeddert said recently, holding her hand out to indicate the size of a 9- or 10-year-old.

Their childhood enterprise, conducted from the curb in front of their grandparents' house in Buhler, has grown into a successful business with distinctive green-and-yellow stands in parking lots throughout the area.

Gaeddert Farms Sweet Corn is the only large-scale sweet corn operation in south-central Kansas "and, as far as we know," the only one of its size in the state, Julie Gaeddert said.

The sisters and their cousin have 135 acres of sweet corn, all not far from the farm where the sisters grew up. It remains the center of the operation.

Jason Gaeddert, who has a master's degree in agronomy, is in charge of production. In summer, that includes getting into the fields at 3 a.m. with a mechanical picker that harvests four rows at a time.

Julie Gaeddert, with a degree in accounting, and Martisko, with one in social work, start at the farm about 4:30 a.m. They and about 20 employees sort through each ear to make sure it's ready for market. Those that aren't suitable go back to the field for mulch or organic matter.

Delivery drivers take the corn to the stands, which open between 9 and 10 a.m., depending on location. They close between 3 and 5 p.m. —earlier if the corn sells out.

The sisters and cousin go until 10:30 p.m. or later.

"We take Sundays off," Martisko said.

The company added two locations in Wichita this year, at Kellogg and Greenwich and at Pawnee and Broadway. That gives Gaeddert Farms Sweet Corn seven locations in Wichita, and one each in Hutchinson, McPherson and Newton. Corn also is sold at the farm and on Saturdays at farmers markets in Wichita and Hutchinson.

Until 1999, selling corn was more of a summer job and hobby than a calling for the three owners.

But growing up on the farm — Jason Gaeddert a couple of miles down the road from his cousins — created a yearning to return to that life full time.

By the mid-1990s, they had 30 acres planted in corn and bought their first picker. In 1999, they quit their other jobs to devote all their attention to corn and farming.

Planting starts the end of March. They plant sequentially, with different varieties and different maturity dates to supply the market through mid-August. They could go longer, but their 60 or so employees are almost all students and teachers who have to go back to school.

At the end of sweet corn season, Jason Gaeddert goes back to farming with his father.

The sisters and their parents turn their attention to Gaeddert Farms Corn Maze, a separate business that opened in 1999.

The five-acre maze is planted on the farm, about 2 1/2 miles east of Buhler, and is not part of the corn acreage. As other mazes have opened, the Gaeddert family has added a jumping pillow, a pumpkin patch and other attractions. The maze will keep them busy through October.

The sweet corn operation added the new locations this summer because of requests for stands in south Wichita. The sisters say they don't have plans for expansion — though business owners have asked them to set up in the businesses' lots.

"We can't just set up on any lot," Martisko said. Each stand requires a city permit plus the right zoning and people to staff it.

"This is a lot of work for us," Gaeddert said. "But we wouldn't do it if we didn't enjoy it."

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