River’s Edge Produce

Heart KC
by Peggy Bair

Farming Tradition Near Farley, MO Stretches to Six Generations of Oberdieks

In 1886, a little boy named Charles Oberdiek came with his parents, Henry and Margarita, from Germany to a plot of land nearly Farley, MO where other German immigrants had come before them. Probably an unmarried uncle had been sent out to scout a good location, said Gary Oberdiek, a fourth generation of the Oberdiek immigrant family. By the Missouri River, the family’s destination has made a home for six generations of the family. It’s been there so long now, the road they live on is named after the family: Oberdiek Lane.

The Oberdiek family carries on the legacy of farming on the land that started with 134 acres.

The Oberdiek farm is a where the family raises hogs and grows corn and soybeans. The spread has now grown to 1050 acres. From the beginning, though, there was a lot of work to get where it is today.

Corn and soybeans are the row crops grown on the Oberdiek farm near Farley, MO. ©2020 Photo by Peggy Bair/HeartKC

“I’m not old enough to remember,” Gary laughed, “but supposedly this [land] was all timber,” waving his hand at the rich green fields of crops surrounding him. “This wasn’t cleared off when they moved here. My grandfather was a kid when he moved here – he was four years old. They [the family] cut the timber for the coal mine which was on the Kansas side of the river.”

The family back then also sold items like chickens, eggs, timber and produce at Haymarket Square in Leavenworth, KS.

One of the differences in today’s evolution of the farm is higher education in farming among the family members. Gary and his brother, Warren, both have degrees from the University of Missouri Ag program – as does Gary’s son Zach. Gary and Warren’s degrees are concentrated in animal science – and Zach’s included more horitculture. One of Gary’s daughters, Sydney, is presently at the University of Missouri getting her degree in biochemistry. She plans to get a master’s and is adding a business degree to that mix.

Greater education in farming translates to a farm that works with the best efficiency: better crops and crop yields. One can get that education through 40 years experience – certainly – but a degree gives the farmers a head start and connections with the latest growing and business technology.

It was Gary’s wife, Shelley, who brought the produce farming idea into the mix back in 2000 resulting in the 17 acres of the produce farm they call River’s Edge. Greenhouse growing helped created profitable yields.

Zach Oberdiek picks ripe tomatoes from the family’s farm near Farley, MO to be taken to market the next morning.
©2020 Photo by Peggy Bair/HeartKC

Tomatoes are one of the higher value crops grown in the greenhouses via hydroponics. “You want to get the most dollars per square foot of greenhouse space and tomatoes are a higher value crop,” said Zach. The hydroponic system helps control the quality and yields of the tomatoes. “You can control the best environment for the tomatoes, giving them exactly the nutrients they need to thrive,” said Zach.

The 6,000 sq. ft. greenhouse produces about 45-50,000 lbs of tomatoes per year – a yield of a little over 40 lbs per plant.

In the present evolution of the farm, produce is grown on about 17 acres of the farm. Lush row crops of seed corn and soybeans form the bulk of the rest of the crops.

Each crop has its purposes.

“Most of the corn raised around here goes to livestock feed or ethanol,” Gary said.

A side effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had is a lack of demand for ethanol. “Ethanol has slowed down this year because people aren’t driving as much and they aren’t using as much fuel,” Gary said.

“There are many uses for [corn], though,” said Gary. Some of it goes into industrial uses like glue, degradable plastic bags and – sugar. “It’s just like cane sugar, it just comes from a different plant.”

Soybeans grown here go to many uses also. “Soybean meal and soybean oil and corn by-products go into a wide variety of products from crayons to makeup, he added.

“Soybeans are very versatile,” Gary said. “Particle board has some soybeans in it, for instance.”

River’s Edge, the produce section of the farm, is what local consumers see at the farmers markets. River’s Edge sells at Haymarket Square in Leavenworth, KS, at the Parkville Farmers Market, downtown Historic Kansas City Market and at the Farley, MO elevator on 45 Hwy (by the town of Farley) once a week.

“Tomatoes, watermelon, sweet corn – we’ll have some strawberries in the spring, asparagus” Gary said, ticking off the names of some of the produce Rivers Edge offers.

“Peppers,” Zach added.

Zach Oberdiek greets customers Sept. 5, 2020 at Haymarket Square in Leavenworth, KS – a location that is an Oberdiek family tradition for generations. His ready smile and high degree of knowledge about the varieties he sells is part of what helps customers become familiar with his products. ©2020 Photo by Peggy Bair/HeartKC

“We’ve got some tuberoses for florist wholesalers,” Gary said. “They aren’t ‘roses’ – they are tuberoses. They’re real fragrant. You have to store the bulbs and plant them every year. They are common in India and Mexico.” The flowers are in scattered patches around the property and not grown in the greenhouses, which are reserved for the higher yield and value crops.

Tuberoses picked from various spots on the property are stored in refrigeration for shipment to florist wholesalers.
©2020 Photo by Peggy Bair/HeartKC

To those who claim that hydroponically grown tomatoes lack flavor, Zach addressed the concern with how River’s Edge addresses this issue.

“When tomatoes aren’t picked when they are ripe – when they get picked when they are green – then [in order to make them red] they are gassed with ethylene, which forces them to turn red before they have fully ripened [which can result in a lack of flavor.] That doesn’t happen with our tomatoes. We only pick them when they are ripe and sell them when they are fresh.”

Tomato varieties River’s Edge offered this year were Bigdena and Rebelski beef steak tomatoes; Lorenzo, a yellow truss tomato. “And this year we had three different kinds of Heirloom tomatoes – a Brandywine Red, a Gold Medal and a Cherokee Purple. The Heirlooms may or may not change next year. It depends on which ones work best in the greenhouse and which ones sell good.”

Zach checks the hand-picked ripe-red tomatoes for quality in the greenhouse at the Oberdiek farm. ©2020 Peggy Bair/HeartKC
Gary Oberdiek, left, and his son Zach Oberdiek, right, run the same farm the Oberdiek family has farmed since 1886 on Oberdiek Road near Farley, MO.
©2020 Photo by Peggy Bair/HeartKC.
Tarra and her daughter Logan, 5, oversee a market stand near Farley, MO with sweet corn, tomatoes and watermelon fresh picked from the day’s produce at River’s Edge Produce. ©2020 Photo by Peggy Bair/HeartKC
The Oberdiek family canines Butch and Abby (the aussie) are keepers of the boundaries of the farm, chasing off coyotes, greeting visitors and surveilling the farm property.
©2020 Peggy Bair/HeartKC
Ready for customers when the Leavenworth, KS Farmers Market opened in May, 2020, Zach Oberdiek lined up his heirloom, red and yellow tomatoes at his booth. Spring choices also included asparagus, tomato plants and tuberose bulbs.
©2020 Photo by Peggy Bair/HeartKC.

Quick-steaming was Gary’s favorite method but said that his wife, Shelley’s microwave method has gained a lot of fans. Others like the grill method of cob-corn preparation.

Corn’s nutritional content and benefits are discussed in the highly recommended volume World’s Healthiest Foods.

While we never rely on animal or lab studies to make recommendations about food choices for your meal plan, we found the results of a recent lab study on corn to be especially interesting. In this lab study, the antioxidant activities of corn were analyzed on a genetic level, and all three major components of corn kernels— the bran, the germ, and the large endosperm portion—were examined. The activity level of 84 different genes was measured in the study, and all 84 were genes related to antioxidant pathways. Activity in 28 of 84 of these antioxidant pathway genes was increased after incubation of cells with carotenoid extracts from corn. Interestingly, the two predominant carotenoids in corn—lutein and zeaxanthin—were found to be present in all three of the major corn components. The authors then went on to conclude that all three corn components might be helpful in lessening oxidative stress. However, we see no reason not to take advantage of the maximal antioxidant potential of corn and consume all three corn components—the germ, bran, and endosperm—at once. A perfect example of accomplishing this task would be the enjoyment of freshly steamed corn on the cob since this whole-kernel form of corn provides you will all three corn components. (1) WHF

Gary addressed the question of GMO corn that comes frequently when people are discussing their food sources.

“All corn is pretty much GMO corn,” Gary said. “You have three choices: GMO, sprayed or corn that is full of worms. Worms love corn,” he said. To get the best product, corn is genetically designed to be resistant to the pests that compete for that food. That is why GMO corn has worked out to be the best option of the three choices.

To enjoy sweet corn to its fullest, it should likely be consumed the day of purchase. That recommendation applies to grocery store purchased corn more likely than farm-purchased corn – because you can be assured the farm purchased corn was likely picked only hours before it was presented at market. Up to 3 days, though, if the corn is stored in air-tight containers, it can be briefly stored inside its husk.

Fresh corn freezes well – including up to a year if its left on the cob. Kernels can be frozen for 2-3 months (blanch them first, then bag in heavy-duty freezer bags.)

Tomatoes are a favorite fruit for many reasons. They are versatile and nutritious. Research on the health benefits of tomatoes is longstanding and widespread. For many individuals, the cardiovascular benefits from tomato consumption has been well-documented.

Graphic credit: World’s Healthiest Foods

Tomatoes are well-known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. They contain lycopene which has many health benefits including skin protection and are a great source for Vitamin C, biotin, molybdenum and vitamin K as well as many micronutrients best ingested from a whole food source. The Worlds Healthiest Foods put tomatoes up in a category alongside kale as a super food in terms of nutrient rankings. Interestingly, the Italians have it right: combining tomatoes with olive oil increases the body’s absorption of the carotenoid phytochemical in tomatoes by 2-15X.

Additionally, a study by Cornell University found that cooking tomatoes increases the content of beneficial trans-lycopene by substantial percentages.

(1) If you have not yet done so, HeartKC highly recommends that you own your personal copy of World’s Healthiest Foods. This well researched and continually-updated volume belongs in the kitchen of every person who seeks to be informed about nutrition.

This story is one of a series of stories on Farmers Market vendors in the Midwest markets. Please like and follow our stories – and share to show support for the efforts of local journalism to provide stories about people you probably will want to know about to enhance your world and your life.

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Peggy Bair

Peggy Bair is a Midwest journalist and photographer covering human interest stories throughout Middle America.

I am an alum of the English Department of the University of Missouri – Kansas City with continuing studies in Nutrition Communications from Arizona State University.
I am a member of the American Society of Media Photographers, the National Press Photographers Association and Professional Photographers of America. I have worked on the staffs of six different newspapers throughout my career and specialize in people stories. Your support of local journalism helps me keep bringing stories that connect us and perhaps lift your spirits.

Although my business has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not accepted any payment, grants, government assistance or unemployment for my journalism during this pandemic. If you would like to donate to support honest, informative storytelling, you can contribute by posting any amount to my PayPal donation link. In any case, sharing the link to this story with others helps spread the positive, share the happiness that is HeartKC.

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