MOWEAQUA — Young entrepreneur Howie Downs can talk at length about perennials, annuals and various varieties of sunflowers. At the ripe old age of 7, Howie has been in the produce business for two years already.
“Our name is 'Back in the Woods,'” said Howie, a second-grader at Holy Family School. “Because we have it back in the treeline.”
“He and his grandpa were driving,” said his mother, Melissa, “and grandpa said 'What are you going to call it?' and you said, 'Well, it's back in the woods.'”
The extensive garden is a group effort, with Howie, his sister Ellie, 4, his parents Melissa and Aaron, and both sets of grandparents working together. His paternal grandparents live nearby in rural Moweaqua and his mother's parents in the Chicago area, where Melissa Downs is from. They take their produce to a farmer's market in Frankfort on weekends, and Howie is in charge of handling the money and making change for customers.
“(We do it) to raise money to buy stuff,” Howie said. “To buy important stuff and to raise money for college.”
There are two sections to the garden. The pumpkin patch is its own 2-acre area because pumpkins and the vines take a lot of room. Then there's an area devoted to a “monarch way station,” with plants that the butterflies like, and the garden also includes peppers, tomatoes, sunflowers, cornflower, perennials and annuals, green beans, scarlet runner beans and other vegetables.
Grandpa lets Howie drive the garden tractor and they experimented this year with planting six rows at a time after tilling the area. Melissa Downs said Howie hopes to save enough money to someday open his own business.
“A large part of the garden is the monarch way station,” Melissa Downs said. “But the pumpkin patch is what's taking all our time at the moment.”
It's been a good year for pumpkins, she said, and Aaron and Howie do most of the harvesting while Melissa and Ellie clean up the pumpkins and bag them to take them to the market stall. In past years, they just piled them up in bins, but COVID-19 restrictions mean they have to be individually bagged this year, and that's an extra time-consuming step.
And then there's the bane of every farmer's existence: weeds. Howie does the weeding, too, with help from his family.
He begins looking at seed catalogs and planning his garden in the winter, choosing the varieties of plants and ordering the seeds.
“It's really fun and it's a good experience,” he said.
Okaw Valley Ag complex
Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter
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