FREEPORT, Ill. — This is an Illinois Exchange story shared by The (Freeport) Journal-Standard.
Back in 1995, Don Weidman decided to retire. He had farmed all his life and figured he could rent out his ground and live on Social Security. He quickly learned he was wrong.
"You can't even buy groceries on Social Security," Weidman said. "I knew right away I had to find something more."
Then he read an article that said he could make more money per acre growing asparagus than any other crop and decided to give it a try.
"I bought 16,000 crowns to grow on 2 1/2 acres," he said, admitting he had ignored an advisory that recommended newbies start with about a half-acre. "I got them all in, but that was just the beginning."
As it turns out, asparagus is labor intensive. Imagine trying to control grasses and weeds on nearly three acres without the use of chemicals. It can be done, but stock up on liniment and factor in not having a marketable crop for the first two years while the crowns put down roots and acclimate to their new home.
Well, an old farmer never admits he's bitten off more than he can handle. Weidman got a lot of help from his son, four daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so that today, some 20 years after the start-up, they market about two tons a year of one of the tastiest treats of spring: home-grown asparagus.
"If it weren't for my kids and their families I wouldn't be able to do it," said the 91-year-old patriarch. "As it is, I don't know how many more years I'm going to be able to continue."