A matter of honor (Belleville Telescope)

Jon and Sarah Baxa, and their children Benedict, 8, Scholastica, 6, Faustina, 4, twins Isidore and Ignatius, 20 months raise a garden at 1105 27th Street, Belleville. The share the produce with through an honor market, which allows customers to stop by any time, choose and weigh the vegetables they would like, and leave money in a locked box.
Jon and Sarah Baxa, and their children Benedict, 8, Scholastica, 6, Faustina, 4, twins Isidore and Ignatius, 20 months raise a garden at 1105 27th Street, Belleville. The share the produce with through an honor market, which allows customers to stop by any time, choose and weigh the vegetables they would like, and leave money in a locked box.

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Baxas share fruits of their labor in honor market

By Cynthia Scheer Telescope News

The top of eight-year-old Benedict Baxa’s head peaked out from behind a row of tomato plants as he surveyed a visitor to his family s Belleville garden A voice coming from behind the wall of tall plants spoke to the boy about tomato picking the slightly muffled voice sounded like it was coming from the radio, and no one but the boy could be seen

“I’m hear to talk with you about your garden,” someone said during a lull in the conversation between the boy and the voice

“I ll be right out,” the voice from among the tomato plants replies.

A man in a striped shirt with damp, slightly muddy knees soon emerged from the end of a row of tomatoes.

He has sweat running down the sides of his face, and it was only mid-morning.

His name is Jon Baxa.

The Pike Valley math teacher and married father of five young children was in the middle of his daily vegetable harvest, which he said often takes two hours a day.

Baxa said the large in-town garden at 1105 27th Street is used primarily to feed his family, and the garden is a family project that allows his children to “participate in God s creation He planted extra vegetables this year as part of a “great experiment” to see if area people would be willing to buy local vegetables at his “honor market ”

“I wanted to see if people in Belleville were interested in premium quality food, and that’s what we produce out of here at our honor market,” he said, adding that ready to sell vegetables are arranged in a shed near his house, and people can come to his yard anytime and pick out their vegetables and leave money in a locked box. He also sells produce at the farmer’s market.

Baxa said it is hard to track the number of customers who buy from his honor market because he doesn’t need to be there to make the sale, but he said Fridays are often quite busy, and he has thrown away very little produce.

This spring Baxa planted 250 tomato plants, several kinds of peppers, squashes and salad greens, green beans, beets, radishes, okra, sweet corn, cucumbers, turnips, carrots and potatoes. When the plants stop producing this fall, Baxa said he plans to grow in his hoop house winter greens including spinach and kale.

Trying new things

The Belleville native said he grew up raising vegetables when his parents had a large garden on an empty lot at 16th and S Streets.

“My summers were spent picking weeds, growing vegetables and going to the swmming pool,” he said.

When Baxa and his wife, Sarah, purchased a house in Wichita, they turned their yard into a garden.

“We were known as the weird people with a garden in our front yard.” The Baxas moved to Belleville three years ago and had a garden the first year.

“There was no garden last year because we raised twins instead of vegetables,” he said.

This spring they built a hoop house and committed to raising a large garden.

“It’s a lot of work, but it beats watching TV,” Baxa said. “And so many kids don’t know where their food comes from because they are so far removed from the farm now. Gardening is an amazing answer to our culture that is shifting away from agriculture.”

Baxa’s three oldest children help with the garden, he said, although they are still quite young.

Baxa said he has hired some high school students to help when needed. Baxa said a lot of his customers are older people who aren’t able to raise gardens anymore, and he also sells to a lot of dual income households where the adults don’t have time to raise a garden. Although he has been raising vegetables most of his life, Baxa said he is far from an expert, and he is constantly learning.

“If you aren’t raised around this stuff you can’t look at a plant and know what it needs,” he said. He learned a lot from Depot Market’s Dan Kuhn, whom he worked for last summer. Baxa said he has also learned a lot about organic agriculture from Crossroads Floral owner Deb Filipi. “We aren’t organic, but we try to be as close as we can,” Baxa said. “I’m using organic certified sprays, but I’m not the least bit interested in getting organic certified because I don’t need the government in my business.” Baxa said he is also experimenting with “beneficial bugs.

Baxa said he is always trying new things, and he is trying to figure out how to expand the growing season of some of the vegetables so that they are available throughout the summer.

“It’s easy to grow green beans,” he said. “But it’s hard to have green beans available from the end of June to the end of September.”

Baxa doesn’t have space for watermelons, he said, and there is a high demand for them, so he has a pickup load of watermelons from Depot Market available at his honor market. In exchange he occasionally supplies Depot Market with vegetables including okra.

“I’m so small that they are just being nice to me,” he said. Baxa is now working out the logistics for maintaining his garden after he goes back to school next week, and he’s already thinking about next year’s garden.

“Will we get bigger?” he asked. “I don’t know. I can’t get much bigger because the days don’t get any longer. But what I thought would be a little hobby has turned into a cute adventure.”