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Monett's blueberry heaven: Profile of the Rausch Blueberry Farm

Friday, June 18, 2010

(Photo)
The Rausch family standing in the blueberry fields as harvest time arrives. Shown from left are John, George, Ann Marie and Andrew Rausch. [Times Photo by Lisa Craft]
George Rausch never thought himself a farmer and there's probably moments to this day that the profile stirs a little discomfort. For the hit and miss nature of agriculture is enough to try the patience of the best of men, regardless of title.

So it makes sense that toiling in the field wasn't the first career choice of this local blueberry proprietor, who has nurtured the feisty but finicky fruit for a generation now. Rausch recently retired from his long-time position as the City of Monett's first building inspector.

It's not that living off the land was a leap of faith, for Rausch was raised on the very spot on Highway H north of Monett that's now home to a thousand plants in bloom. The homestead is a Rausch original, four generations deep, and designated as a Missouri Century Farm.

"When my father was a boy, this land was animal pasture. When I was a boy, we grew fruit," said Rausch. "You name it, we grew it: strawberries, tomatoes, peaches and melons.

"My dad even tried peanuts."

Rausch paused.

"I don't even know how you'd harvest a crop like that."

What George Rausch did know was that the family's 40 acres spoke to his spirit. He decided that a dormant farm could -- and should - be brought back to life.

Raising a fruit crop was appealing to Rausch but the varieties sporting thorns or hair didn't endear him. Neither did short-lived plants, like that of the strawberry. A viability cycle of only three years wasn't going to cut it.

Rausch accessed the University of Missouri's agricultural research center, located near Mt. Vernon, and discovered that the blueberry held some promise as a lasting crop. Through research, Rausch learned that precise soil additives and irrigation techniques were the ticket to striking the right pH balance for blueberries.

"Farming is part art and part science," said Rausch. "It's said that the best fertilizer is the farmer's footsteps."

The research spurred the acquisition of a tractor and plow to clear away the brush and sumac trees. Preparation of the soil took two years. The blueberry plants were rooted in three acres in 1987.

"I didn't know what would do best, so I planted seven varieties," said Rausch.

Picking blossoms to stunt the fruit production during the initial growing years is critical to the maturity of the plants, which can live for 30 years or more. By year three, the blossoms flourished, prompting buttons of the alluring fruit to suddenly appear.

Now Rausch had to find a marketing plan to get folks to slow down and become customers. Enter wife, Ann Marie, who proved to be a natural at making the fruit stand ripe for retailing. Two decades later, she spearheads the seasonal postcard campaign and readies the quaint two-track gravel entrance for an eager public making a beeline for the tangy berries.

"Our customers span generations," said Anne Marie. "They come from all over - Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas."

The life's journey that brought George Rausch home again was a calling. A family farm spanning four generations is bound to have a history of joy and sorrow.

"I was named after a great uncle," said Rausch. "He died at 14. He went to feed fodder to the horses and got kicked in the chest. This was before modern medicine, so they laid him on the kitchen table. He lived two more days.

"What wouldn't he have given to have a family, a career? It's our duty to live the most complete life we can," Rausch said. "If nothing else, it's for those who didn't have the chance."

The Rausch blueberry farm produces seven different varieties of blueberry.

The early season selection offers two great choices. One provides the desired fruity fix and the other offers the deliberate satisfaction provided by its baking properties. The Patriot offers good size and full taste, and the Collins is good for muffins and pancakes.

Choices three, four and five are a triplet of blue. Blue Ray is a big sweet berry that appears midseason. Blue Jay and Blue Crop, which originated in Maine, also arrive midseason.

The Martha Washington is a signature berry created by Rausch unique to his farm. The actual name of the cultivar is a farm secret. The late Marvin Bennett liked this variety but was told he couldn't get the actual name. He suggested "Martha Washington" and it stuck.

Finally, there's The Darrows, named after anArkansas professor who developed this quarter-sized, late season blueberry.

Rausch's Blueberry Farm is located directly north of Monett at 21655 Highway H. The u-pick operation opened for the season on June 10. The business is open from 7 to 11 a.m. and 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and all day on the weekends but closed on Mondays. For more information, call 417-235-7825.

Recommended recipe from Ann Marie Rausch:

BLUEBERRY NUT BREAD

3 C flour

2 Tbsp. salad oil

3 tsp. baking powder1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tsp. salt1 C Rausch's Blueberries
C sugar1 C chopped nuts
2 eggs, well beaten1 C milk
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Combine eggs, milk, oil and lemon extract.
Add to dry ingredients and mix just enough to moisten. Fold in Rausch's Blueberries and nuts. Pour into greased and floured 9x5 loaf pan, letting stand for about 15 min. Bake at 350 deg., 1 hour, or until done. Cool 10 min., then turn out to wire rack.



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