Homegrown: Kruse Farms enters fifth generation at Dubuque Farmers Market


The Telegraph Herald’s monthly Homegrown feature highlights vendors who sell at tri-state area farmers markets.

Watch for new installments on the first Sunday of each month. If you have a suggestion for a vendor for us to feature, send an email to elizabeth.kelsey@thmedia.com.

Kruse Farms

Location: Lancaster, Wis.

Items offered: Fresh produce, eggs, flowers and baked goods.

Products sold at: Dubuque Farmers Market and Dubuque Winter Farmers Market.

Contact: 608-723-2380 or carolannstoney@hotmail.com.

LANCASTER, Wis. — The Kruse family’s roots run deep at the Dubuque Farmers Market, according to Carolann Kruse.

Her husband, Vernon, grew up attending the market with his parents, Gilbert and Lenore, who sold goods there each week. Both Gilbert and Lenore’s parents also had set up shop at the Dubuque market.

After Vernon and Carolann married and purchased their rural Lancaster farm, they too began making the weekly pilgrimage to Dubuque.

“Our girls used to sleep in their strollers underneath the table at the market to get some shade,” Carolann said.

Vernon and Carolann now have been selling produce at the Dubuque market for more than 40 years and currently are assisted by their own daughters and grandchildren.

“We’ve been selling at market for five generations,” Carolann said. “Everybody has a hand in it.”

The Kruse farm covers about 200 acres, with about four of those acres used for gardening. On the remaining land, the family grows corn and soybeans and raises beef cattle.

Although the gardens represent only a fraction of the total acreage, the list of produce grown there seemingly is endless. On a recent morning, Carolann pointed out the carefully arranged rows of vegetables — kohlrabi, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, rhubarb, squash, broccoli and basil.

“And this patch looks like weeds, but it’s horseradish,” she said. “See the big leaves there?”

The family keeps the farm’s historical roots alive by using tools that once belonged to Vernon’s parents, including a tiller and a device for forming furrows in which to plant seeds.

In addition to the outdoor gardens, the Kruses grow several kinds of produce in a “hoop house,” a covered growing tunnel that can extend the growing season by providing some protection from the elements.

“In the early spring in the hoop house, we plant lettuce, onions (and) radishes and have that for early crops,” Carolann said. “Then later in the season, we’ll put the tomatoes in.”

By late July, the hoop house was bursting with more than 1,000 tomato, bean and pepper plants. A drip line throughout the house ensures that all crops are watered daily.

The farm also offers more unusual produce, including okra, ground cherries and cucamelons.

“(Cucamelons) are an itty-bitty watermelon, and they taste like a cucumber with a little bit of lime in them,” said Shelby Knoble, one of Carolann and Vernon’s grandchildren. “They’re my favorite things to pick and eat.”

Shelby, 17, has been coming to market and helping out on her grandparents’ farm “since I was born,” she said with a laugh. Her mother, Amy Knoble, also assists with the business, along with Vernon and Carolann’s other daughter, Jill Drinkwater, and her two children, Anna, 12 and Henry, 9.

“I really like working on the farm,” Shelby said. “To me, it helps me bond with my family more … and it’s something not every teenager like me has. They may have one or two plants, but they don’t have this big of a garden. It’s a lot of responsibility, and it’s taught me a lot.”

In addition to produce, Kruse Farms sells flowers and baked goods at market, specializing in banana, zucchini and rhubarb breads. Vernon also cares for more than 200 chickens and sells their eggs at the Dubuque Farmers Market.

Carolann said she enjoys the camaraderie and relationships formed among the vendors and longtime customers at the market.

“I have lots of people that I know down there by their face but not their name, but they’re always there for us,” she said, describing a customer who stepped in to offer supplies and assistance when the Kruses suffered a house fire several years ago.

Amelia Milligan, of Dubuque, said she and her family visit the Kruse Farms stand at the Dubuque Farmers Market almost every Saturday to purchase green beans, zucchini, cucumbers and other items.

“When I talk to people about where I shop, I’ll usually mention Kruse Farms because they have such a great selection,” she said. “Their stuff is really, really good, and they charge a decent price for it.”

Milligan’s mother also has visited the Kruse Farms stand for years, and the two families have become close.

“They just kind of take you in, and you become a family member once you’ve been shopping with them for a long time,” Milligan said. “Every Saturday that we’re down there, we always stop and talk.”