Steve Kruse clips a few yellowish sprouts. He hands some over for tasting and nibbles on one or two himself.
Popcorn, nasturtium and pea shoots have been growing in a dark room at the front of one of his greenhouses and he wants to share them and talk about the flavors.
He’s done the same thing with green sprouts that taste like wasabi and arugula, lettuces and kale.
- RELATED: King in the Kitchen with Lucchese’s made-from-scratch pasta and meatballs, Oct. 22, 2014
Kruse, whose family is marking 45 years in the farm store business, has found ways to literally grow the business. This coming Saturday will be the annual spring open house but also the debut of the Green Market at Kruse Farm Supply.
It’ll be a farmers market stand with his greens and produce, as well as local honey and Refinery Cafe coffee beans.
“This has revitalized me, so to speak,” he said of his efforts to grow food rather than flowers over the past several years.
FROM GRINDING GRAINS TO GROWING GREENS
Kruse’s father, Owen, got out of the Air Force in 1954 and operated the Elkhart County Farm Bureau Co-op location in Bristol. After it caught fire in August 1969 and wasn’t rebuilt, he started grinding corn on his farm at 19904 C.R. 6, Bristol. He also applied pesticides to farmers’ fields.
That was the start of Kruse Farm Supply. In 1976, Steve joined the business and bought it in 1985 with Jack Watson.
19904 C.R. 6, Bristol
8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 25.
The event is a celebration of 45 years in business and include specials, Antonio’s pizza, music by Paul Decker, and the debut of Green Market, Kruse’s new farmers market.
The Green Market will be open Saturdays and one other evening yet to be determined.
They continued to grind feed and do field work until the early 1990s, when the business turned to lawns and gardens. The first greenhouses to grow flowers went up in 1994. In 2005, Kruse bought out Watson.
Over the years, Walmart, Menards and Lowe’s started selling flowers and other lawn and garden items. Sautter’s, Macintosh, The Garden Shop and Palmer Hardware are all gone now. Kruse is still offering items and service.
About a decade ago, Pat Lucchese asked if Kruse would grow some basil seeds that John and Kathy Lucchese brought back from Italy. They needed a start in a greenhouse rather than an old whiskey barrel.
The basil grew large and leafy. Kruse started growing more items. For a time, his ex-wife Barbie grew produce for Lucchese’s and a few others, but Kruse took it over again.
These days, he’s supplying greens to seven Elkhart restaurants: Antonio’s, Lucchese’s, Per Bacco, Sports Time, Artisan, Charlie’s Butcher Block and Iechyd Da. In Mishawaka and Granger, Rocky River, Evil Czech and Corndance Tavern all get greens from Kruse.
THE LOCAL ADVANTAGE
There’s really no substitute for locally grown greens. Michele Lucchese, executive chef at Lucchese’s, said she’d take greens from Kruse every day if she could, but settles for two or three days a week and mixes them with others for the restaurant’s salads. “Oh, they’re amazing,” she said.
At Antonio’s, owner Paul Cataldo and his staff build dishes around Kruse’s greens. A new salad topped with cod uses kale and other greens with quinoa and a citrus balsamic dressing. Also on the menu is a salad named for Kruse.
Customers at a number of these restaurants have learned that if dish has Kruse greens, it’s special.
This year’s event is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, at 1331 N. Main St., Elkhart.
Tickets are $7 at the door and the meal includes hot chicken salad, many cold salads, bread, beverages and desserts.
It’s not magic. It’s know-how. Kruse has turned his years of experience to growing food. He uses organic materials and feeds the soil.
He joked that as a kid, his family almost bathed in pesticides, but he knows better now. “As I get older, I pay more attention to that than I did as a kid,” he said.
At Kruse Supply – Kruse is implementing a subtle change to the business name – customers are coming to him saying they want to plant bigger gardens. He’s tutoring them on how to do so.
“There’s big demand for growing their own, buying local,” he said.
The effort to both grow more food and to buy more local food go together, he said. As someone grows a bit of their own food, it grows the demand that outstrips what they can grow themselves.
He’s filling that gap with what he grows and what he buys at the Wakarusa Produce Auction and from Berrien County fruit farmers.
Kruse is one of the local food businesspeople who is hitting all the local food fronts. He’s selling to restaurants. He’s helping people grow their own food. He’s selling directly to consumers, either through his CSA program or now at the Green Market.
- FROM THE MAGAZINE: What is a CSA, and where can I join one locally? Flavor 574 Magazine, spring 2015
For the CSA, he can grow the food and fill a basket for $20 every week. Last summer, he brought baskets to The Elkhart Truth/Flavor 574 offices for much of the summer. We committed to at least six weeks and ate from the bounty.
The new farm market is another reinvention for Kruse, but it’s done with joy, not desperation. He’s having fun growing and selling food. He hopes his stepson Chancey Kretschmer will oversee the retail operation and he can focus on growing food.
He’s proving that the market for local food is vast and, if you do it right, something from which a farmer can make money and an eater can delight.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.