I was born in farming. I grew up in it.
I was the oldest out of a family of nine. I have one brother and seven sisters.
I always was put out, and put out, to all doings and chores on the farm before my capability. Milking a cow at age four. I started milking Tilly. That was her name. I can remember exactly how she looked.
So many things had to be done. You knew that cow had to be milked every morning. I milked three cows every morning. I’d go in, wash up, eat a little bit before that school bus came.
I went to Topeka schools and I graduated in eighth grade at Westview High School in 83.
We grew corn, oats, and mint all my life besides wheat. And we did not use any herbicides. When I was a boy, home in the 70s, I had to cultivate that cornfield three times. There were no herbicides for it.
Back then those farms were all organic.
So this is how I got started:
I always had raspberries and I always grew organic. Never used herbicides since I lived there. So I planted two [more] rows of raspberries to see if I could grow more.
[Farmers Market co-founder] Beth Neff found out I was growing raspberries and I had a message from her. I never knew her, who in the world she was. She said, ‘This is the Goshen Farmers Market,’ and she wanted all the raspberries I could grow.
This was a huge decision. I did come in. I came in here with a bike and six pints of raspberries.
Well, at the end of 2000, 2001, all my berries that I brought in? I was sold out before it was over. I went back home again before hours were done.
This was very challenging for me: In 2002 and 2003 I had these berries and I had this sign here that said ‘organically grown.’ That meant no herbicides, or pesticides — organically grown. And a lot of people out of Goshen College — I’m gonna talk plain here — came in and asked, ‘Are these organic? Are you certified?’ And I’d say, ‘Well, no.’ A lot of them walked off. It was tough on me.
But I like to wear my customers’ shoes and my own shoes.
By ‘03, I started making jam, and then I decided to go and certify it [organic]. I was new at this, and they were really strict — they still are — but it was [really] knowing how to get certified. How to keep records. I’m always trying to improve records, to make it clearer for them to read.
I’ve made every jam there is to make in that kitchen since ‘03, a couple of thousand jars a year now.
Local. There’s one word. What the customer wants that still beats low prices on “organic” at a Costco? Local.
These jams are all in small batches. You know where it comes from, who grows it. That’s huge.
And it’s not work, and it’s nothing about how much money you make. I have my motto on every jar: “Glory and garden. Hands in dirt, sun on head, and heart in nature.” That’s what it says on every jar. I was born in it. I love to be out in the ground and to prepare that ground.
It’s weedy back there, but I hand weed a lot of them out of my plants. I watch them turn to buds and break open and bloom, fruit set to red, black, pick ’em, bring ‘em in here in these containers, or make it into jam to the customer’s full satisfaction.
That’s more than money can cover. It’s worth it.
— Fritz Miller, owner, Fish Lake Organic Berry Patch
This summer, we're taking a look at some of the small farms and urban gardens you'll only find in Goshen! More stories to come through September.
Written and edited by Wendy Wilson
Original publish date April 2022
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