Pendleton’s Country Market is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year under owners John and Karen Pendleton.
John’s father, Albert, managed what used to be the Kaw Valley Cannery, growing mostly potatoes and peas. After serving in World War II, Albert sold the canning factory and followed his dream of starting his own farm, which is where Pendelton’s Country Market remains today.
He became a first-generation farmer and raised crops like corn and soybeans. The Pendletons also had a feedlot that housed 500 cattle.
During the 1980s farm crisis, land prices fell dramatically, which led the Pendletons to plant asparagus in hopes of finding an alternative crop that would keep their farm afloat.
“We planted our first half acre of asparagus in 1980, partially because my dad wanted to start looking into what he could do more into his retirement years,” John Pendleton said. “The early ‘80s was also the beginning of the agriculture crisis, where it was just a nightmare of land prices plummeting.”
In 1983, John and Karen officially took over the farm. At the time, he wasn’t expecting to run the family business and had plans of using his degree in animal science to work in confinement hog production. He soon changed his mind after he got invested in the farm’s new crops.
“I had thought about being here on the farm but going someplace else to learn more,” John Pendleton said. “But this actually was an opportunity with the asparagus and tomatoes.”
Forty years later, Pendleton’s Country Market grows a wide variety of produce, cut flowers and bedding plants. They also sell plant pots and other local goodies like soap and canned goods.
Their flower business flourished in the early ‘90s during the height of dried flowers, which led Karen to start making floral arrangements for weddings and other events like the Symphony in the Flint Hills. To this day, she connects the start of their floral success to Martha Stewart.
“It was Martha Stewart’s wedding books and her promoting locally grown flowers that changed the American cut flower business,” Karen Pendleton said. “It was all her.”
Being in the business so long has made it hard for the Pendletons to pick a favorite thing they grow.
“It’s kind of like picking which kid is your favorite,” John Pendleton said.
Over the years, the Pendletons have amassed a loyal customer base, one of them being Tana Ahlen.
Ahlen has been a customer since John and Karen took over and is a part of their community supported agriculture program, a subscription service that allows customers to receive weekly bags of produce during the spring, summer and fall months.
“You get a sack of fresh produce every Tuesday, and it’s always fresh and in season,” Ahlen said. “You get things that you probably wouldn’t just pick up in the grocery store.”
The Pendletons developed the program as a way to support their farm during its off seasons. They also have a punch card option, which can be used to get produce at their farmstand or at their stand in the Saturday Lawrence Farmers’ Market.
“We think of it like a seasonal loan that they are giving us to buy seeds, fertilizer and pay for employees,” John Pendleton said. “It’s like an operational loan to get us through and then we pay back that loan with produce.”
While the Pendletons have run the farm for 40 years, it hasn’t always been easy. In 2006, a microburst hit the farm, damaging several silos and sheds. It was hard for them to get back on their feet, which led them to downsize the amount of crops they grow.
Later in 2019, Pendleton’s Country Market was hit by a tornado that demolished five out of seven greenhouses. As a result, they had to downsize their crop inventory again.
“We had over 100 varieties of tomatoes before the tornado,” John Pendleton said. “After that, we cut it back to 60 and people complained. Last year, we got back up to 100 and now we cut back to 90.”
Living through these natural disasters was a learning experience they never expected to go through, but are thankful to the community for its support throughout the years, John Pendleton said.
This year, the Pendletons started their own podcast called The Stalk of the Town, where they discuss the history of the farm and other memories they have made along the way.
“Our goal is not necessarily to get new customers, but to have the customers we have feel more connected with us,” John Pendleton said.
It was employee Kory Jacobs’ idea to start the podcast because of how many stories the Pendletons have. Now that it’s out on their website and most podcasting platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts, Jacobs noticed the engagement it has gotten was more than they expected.
“We have like 500 streams,” Jacobs said. “An average podcast in its first month gets about 120.”
While the podcast is a recent project, they have received positive reactions within the community.
“I think they are so fun, and I just like to listen to them,” Ahlen said. “I think it’s another good way to deliver information.”
Looking back on their 40 years working on the farm, the Pendletons recognize they could not have done it without their customers and hard-working staff.
“Interacting with long-time customers is a lot of fun,” John Pendleton said. “We’ve had phenomenal employees through the years, and they have made it fun as well.”
When asked about their future, the Pendletons explained their want to stay the same with the possibility of downsizing.
“We are at an age where we have to be thinking about what we’re going to do after this, so I don’t think we are really looking to do more,” Karen Pendleton said. “That’s what everybody wants, but it’s easy to get bigger and do more things. It’s hard to downsize and still be what our customers want us to be.”
Those interested in purchasing produce or flowers from the Pendletons can visit their market at 1446 E. 1850 Road or stop at their stand at the Lawrence Farmers Market every Saturday.
Reach reporter Camryn Robbinson with more business news at email@example.com.
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