Rex Oberhelman: A Profit of $27,000 from Five Organic Acres

The Plowboy Interview with Rex Oberhelman who lost his farm and land and against all odds began a successful organic farming business selling fresh produce to supermarkets.

| March/April 1986

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    He got to thinking, "Why couldn't I grow that same produce locally and sell it to the stores? 
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Rex Oberhelman truck farming income for 1984.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Layout for Rex Oberhelman's organic farm  garden rows.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
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    Rex Oberhelman's organic farm planting for rows.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

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Rex Oberhelman lives in the southern end of Minnesota, atop the same threefoot-deep topsoil that's made the next state down — Iowa — famous. Not surprisingly, then, Rex is surrounded by 400-, 600-, and 1,000-acre farms: big spreads that sow corn and soybeans from highway to highway. (They were farming from fencerow, to fencerow, but then to increase production even more, they pulled up the fences.) Sadly, those big farms are going out of business in a big way these days.  

Five years ago, Rex Oberhelman went out of business, too. The banks called in his loans and took both his family's 120-acre farm and his own supper-club business. He was left with five acres and his house.  

The loss devastated Rex and his family. He lost his faith in himself. His marriage went sour. And he turned to alcohol.  

Then a remarkable — almost incredible — turnaround occurred. After undergoing therapy for his drinking problem, Rex made himself a promise. He pledged to, each and every day, forage the garbage bins of local grocery stores to find food for his rabbits. This small activity provided him with a foothold from which to start rebuilding a sense of responsibility and commitment. Soon, it provided him with much more, as well. 



Oberhelman quickly became aware of just how much produce the food stores were throwing away. Sometimes entire shipments arrived spoiled and were thrown out. He got to thinking, "Why couldn't I grow that same produce locally and sell it to the stores? It'd be fresher than what they buy now, so it'd last longer. And if I let them buy only the amounts they need, they'll have less spoilage from over purchasing."  

Five years later, Rex, his new wife, Sharon, and stepdaughters, Lisa and Jodi, are earning a net profit of $27,000 a year. They sell produce to local grocery stores, restaurants, and one wholesaler . . . sell greenhouse flowers, bedding plants, hanging baskets, and vegetable starts . . . and sell on farm produce to anyone who wants to drive out and buy it. They've figured out a way to make a living farming five acres in an area where 1,000-acre farms are failing right and left.  






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