Chow Town

Despite heavy rain, area businesses find crops thriving

Kurlbaum Heirloom Tomatoes in Kansas City, Kan., has fared well throughout the heavy rain in the area this summer.
Kurlbaum Heirloom Tomatoes in Kansas City, Kan., has fared well throughout the heavy rain in the area this summer.

Rain, rain, go away. Or not.

There can be no debating we are in an extremely rainy pattern here in the Kansas City area. The rains and storms have been persistent, frustrating, and often times, damaging. Just ask the folks in Mosby, Excelsior Springs, or Lee’s Summit. We’ve seen the flooding, power outages, and downed trees, which seem to accompany every wave of storms. Beyond that, the deluge of water has turned paths, fields, and campsites into muddy messes.

As a local food and wine guy, I was interested in finding out what the heavy rain was doing to area crops, specifically heirloom producers and wine grape growers. So I made a few calls and sent out a bunch of emails. The answers I got back were both surprising and pleasing.

My first call was to Liz Kurlbaum of Kurlbaum Heirloom Tomatoes in Kansas City, Kansas. Liz and her husband, Sky, started growing heirloom tomatoes some years ago. The business has grown to include the Kurlbaum’s children and their families along with Liz’s sister-in-law and her family. It’s also grown to more than three thousand plants and 43 tomato varieties. I was expected to hear doom and gloom from Liz. I got just the opposite.

“I certainly expected the worst. But, because we have sandy loam soils and are close to the river, the plants are actually thriving,” Kurlbaum told me. “This could actually be our biggest crop in years. It’s really unexpected. ”

In addition to the excellent drainage, Kurlbaum said another reason for the good crop can be found in the temperatures, especially at night.

“The most important element for the tomatoes are the night time temperatures. Cool is good. The storms have actually kept the night temperatures down and improved conditions,” Kurlbaum shared.

Okay, the Kurlbaum’s and their excellent heirloom tomatoes caught a break, but surely, area grape growers are suffering. Well, not really. At least, according to the few I talked with.

“The good news is that these early rains have given us relief from the last three years of drought,” Cindy Reynolds from Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery told me. “Grapes are drought-tolerant, so we did fine through the drought, but having the springs running under our vineyard again is fantastic. Plus, our 45-foot deep spring-fed pond is back up to the top again. This all makes for happy, healthy vines.”

It was much the same story on the Missouri side of the state line. I reached out to Stonehaus Farms Winery in Lee’s Summit and was told it’s sunny skies for their wine grapes despite the clouds and rain.

“Everything’s planted and doing great,” Kaylee Sheddrick, an associate with Stonehaus Farms told me. Sheddrick said Stonehaus Farms grows the red varieties Cynthiana and Chamborcin, and the white grape Vignoles, and all are performing well.

Of course, all of this could change if the rains don’t stop and we don’t get some sunshine and heat. But, that’s the nature of farming, and right now the glass appears to be half full rather than half empty. That’s good news for producers and consumers alike.