By Lori McDonald | For The Republic
When August Wonning was farming his property back in the late 1880’s, little did he know that his great-grandson, Louis Wonning, would still be farming that same property today.
Louis grew up on the farm with his older brother, Seth, and their parents, Bill and Judy Wonning.
“At one time this was a dairy farm and they would have had grain and livestock in the past,” Louis said of the farm, which has been in his family since 1886.
“Grandpa’s name was Harold, but everyone knew him as Jack,” Louis said. “He and his brother, Lou, farmed it and they were born in the early 1900’s and died in the 1980’s.”
When they started farming it, they had horses and we still find horseshoes once in awhile from back in their day and from back in their dad’s day.”
“My parents still live here and I live up the road a few miles,” Louis said. “Dad does not farm, but he’s a self-employed cabinetmaker, which he’s done for about 40 years.”
The Wonnings used to rent the farm property out, but Louis said he’s always enjoyed farming and so he decided to get back into it. He has about three acres of farm ground with the potential for more.
“Farming and gardening is something that I’ve always found myself doing without having to be told to do it,” Louis said. “I still have that enjoyment today when I do it and it’s a great hobby to kind of get away from everything for awhile.”
Louis said it technically all started when he was a little boy and both he and his mother would sell strawberries to the old Jay’s Market in Seymour.
Jump to today and Louis is running Wonning Produce, now entering its fifth year.
“When it comes to raising the fruits and vegetables, it’s kind of a family game because my parents, brother and two aunts help,” said Louis. “The neighbors also pitch in here and there, plus my girlfriend, Sabrina, and her daughter, Brynn, like to help out.”
Louis opens up the stand when the sweet corn is ready, around the beginning of July, then he closes up shop after Halloween, which pretty much ends pumpkin season.
“Watermelon, cantaloupe and sweet corn are my three big things that I grow,” said Louis. “I try to keep a good variety of fresh produce in the summer.”
Some of the other produce Wonning usually has available include tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, jalapenos, onions, cucumbers and strawberries.
Later in the season, he’ll have pumpkins and Indian corn, but watermelons are the taste of summer around here, he said.
“One neat thing about the barn here is that it was built in 1906 and used to be a grainery where they stored the grain,” said Louis. “When you look inside you get to see the framework of an old barn, which gives it an antique look.”
Louis said when his grandpa was about 10 years old, he helped make some of the wooden pegs used to hold the building together.
“As far as the artwork on the side of the barn, I wanted to do something fun that would stand out so people would remember it,” Louis said. “So we have a giant watermelon painted on the side since that’s the main thing I try to focus on growing.”
Louis said the mural was painted by his friend, Kirstie Newkirk, and her mom, Tina Burbrink. He knew that Kirstie liked to paint, so he approached her about the project last summer.
“I’ve known Louis for a very long time from the area I live in,” said Newkirk, who lives in Cortland. “He knew I was into painting and art and asked me if I could do a mural on his barn, and I told him that with some help, it was very possible.”
Newkirk said the experience was a creative outlet for both herself and her mom, who lives in Columbus resident. They thought it was really neat, taking something blank and turning an object such as a barn into something bright, colorful and memorable, she said.
“We decided to do the project over Memorial Day weekend last year, but we had to watch the weather,” Newkirk said. “We spent a total of probably 12 hours painting on Saturday and Sunday.”
Newkirk said she has been around agriculture her entire life so this was a great mix of both worlds — art and agriculture. She suggests people go to the unique stand and pick up their produce.
“Maybe snap a picture by that big watermelon and put it on social media,” Newkirk said. “People will have an adventure trying to find that watermelon mural and the fantastic produce that goes with it.”
Louis said this is the time of year people get out of the mindset of growing things, but he has some greenhouse helpers who will be starting some planting in the coming weeks.
Wonning participates in the Seymour Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings once the melons are ready.
He said the secret to good, sweet watermelons is the unique sandy soil of Jackson County, which allows for good water drainage.
Louis will be putting up signs along the road to help direct people to the stand. The signs will feature an arrow and wooden cut-outs of produce. Wonning Produce is located northwest of Seymour.
“I run my produce stand based on an honor system,” Louis said. “I open the doors up, put produce in it and people can shop and leave money in a drop box and take what they want and then go.”
Louis said he wants to thank all the customers he’s had over the past few years and appreciates their business.
“Besides farming, which is my main hobby, I enjoy running and have run in some marathons and done some triathlons,” Louis said. “I just like being outside and staying active.”
The most rewarding part to me is you get to see and taste the end product and most of the work is peaceful out in the field, which comes with it’s own stresses too. You get to see it start to finish.”