Centennial Honor: Sweitzer Family Farm

Monday, August 6, 2018
Nathan, Alex, and Kurt Sweitzer at their family farm in Cobden, Illinois.

Having the chance to enjoy even their first anniversary is a big moment for any family business, but this year is far from the first, and truly one for the books in the Sweitzer family. Coming up on their 100th year of maintaining a family-run produce farm not only brings a cause for celebration, but a time for pause and reflection over the last century. With their family tree still growing, and the passion for farming still present in all of the Sweitzers, this bunch will likely be around for another 100 years.

Meet the Sweitzers:

Lead by Kurt, the fourth born in his Sweitzer generation, the farm has continued to develop and keeps a unique charm that just can’t be copied, no matter how hard others might try—have you noticed their vendor stand on Saturdays at the Cape Riverfront Market? If you can’t immediately spot them by their huge array of bright and beautiful produce, you’ll certainly see their giant shading umbrellas and know you’re in the right place—Farming is not for everyone, in fact, Kurt is the only one of his five siblings still operating the farm since he took over in 1987. Although this huge commitment may seem like an undertaking too much for just one man, Kurt explained why he stayed, and it was simple. “I loved it, and I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” Kurt went to college and he earned his degree in agriculture business and economics, and once he finished, he went home to do what he was always meant to do, farm. Eventually his wife Lisa came along, the woman who is rumored to be the best Sweitzer of them all, and they had three children, all of which are the individuals you’ll see manning the Sweitzer produce stands at farmers’ markets now: Alex, Nathan, and their daughter Mary. Of course there is one other Sweitzer you can find hanging around; Alex’s wife and self-proclaimed “Sweitzer farm manager,” Sam, who helps out on the farm and at the various farmers’ markets that the Sweitzer family attends.

A Day in Their Shoes:

The Sweitzer Family mural that hangs in one of the barns on the Sweitzer Farm property.

With four different markets and a few restaurants to replenish each week, the Sweitzers all stay busy, picking, rinsing, packing, and selling. With Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, being their pick and pack days, you can find Kurt, Alex, and Nathan out in the fields while Lisa and Sam work to rinse and ready the produce to go out for sale the next day. Every Tuesday, you’ll find Nathan out at the market in Anna Illinois, while Thursday you may spot a mix of the gang at the Cape Farmers’ Market or dropping some fresh vegetables off at restaurants locally owned in the Cape Girardeau area. Of course the weekend is not a time for rest for this gang. You can find Alex and Sam on Saturdays at the Cape Riverfront Market, while Kurt and Nathan make their way to Carbondale Illinois for their biggest market of the week. The Sweitzer’s schedules may seem hectic and sporadic, but it leaves their Sundays open for church and little time for family before the week begins again. What more do you need, really?

Carrying on the Tradition:

The Sweitzers have been around now for a while, but the way each of them speaks about the farm and their individual connections to the land is moving. For Kurt, the land is where he and his siblings grew up, but it’s also were he got to watch his kids do the same. For Alex and Nathan, one day they’ll get to experience this too, and maybe pass the farmer hat on to their kids. It seems as if the memories made through every generation will always keep the Sweitzers tied to the farm that’s been a part of their family for a century. While speaking with Kurt, for instance, he pointed out a single grape vine on his property that’s over sixty years old, and recounted a memory of himself and his cousin playing around that same vine as children. It’s funny how with just one sentence a complete stranger, such as myself, could really begin to feel the roots the land shares with the Sweitzer family. The same roots that started back in September of 1919, and have since grown into a successful and thriving fifty-seven acre produce farm.

Sweitzer Farm has been home to generations, and to get a real picture of that as well as commemorating the family members that came before them, Kurt and Lisa had a mural painted. The mural features many of the faces you see all grown up today, along with those who have been gone now for years but will never be forgotten. The Sweitzer family started out as a group of German Catholics working for a man just farming fruit, and now, 100 years later, look how far they’ve made it. Kurt and Lisa have almost too much to be proud of with the success they’ve seen over the years, whether it be in keeping the farm going, raising kids who value the farm as much as they do, or managing it all without losing their minds, what they’ve accomplished is remarkable.

Kurt Sweitzer points out a grape vine that his been on his family's farm for over sixty years.
The well-known umbrellas used by the Sweitzer family at their farmers market stalls.
A view of some acreage that makes up the Sweitzer family farm.
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