Tietz family's produce and popcorn business has widespread appeal

Gloria Hafemeister
Correspondent
Randy Tietz and his sons Jacob and Christian and daughter Angela are busy picking pumpkins on their Lebanon farm for the busy fall season.  They spent Labor Day, as they always do, laboring in the field.  They are the sixth and seventh generations to operate this farm.

LEBANON – The Tietz farm at Lebanon is the only farm from the United States to have had the distinction of being featured in the travelling United Nations “Future of Food” display. 

Tracey Tietz, who spent about 4 hours at their family farm in 2014 posing for pictures for a National Geographic Magazine story on feeding the growing world population, says she was surprised to find that one of those photos made its way to the United Nations display in Rome.

The photo featured the family’s popular popcorn and in the background of the photo featuring Tietz was the family homestead’s red barn, windmill and white silo.

She says she met the photographer from National Geographic magazine at the Madison Farmers Market, one of several markets where the family sells their produce and popcorn each year.  She didn’t think a lot of it because it was a really busy day at the market but when the market was ready to close he approached her again and asked if he could follow her to the farm to take more photos.

In the next months they didn’t hear any more about whether the photos had been used but then the family was contacted by the food director for the United Nations who just so happened to have grown up on a farm near the Tietz farm. The five foot photo on display in Rome, Italy caught his attention because it said “Watertown, Wisconsin.” 

The Tietz family started their popcorn business in 2005 with one acre. Each year the acreage expanded as its popularity grew. This year they have planted 45 acres to grow popcorn. They now raise six varieties including blue, red, yellow, white, calico and mushroom.

When they first raised popcorn they picked it all by hand and husked and shelled it by hand. 

Randy recalls, “We used a hand-cranked sheller for at least 3 years.”

As their acreage grew they purchased a one-row corn picker. They leave the corn in the field to dry and then put it in crates. Once the popcorn is at optimal popping moisture they shell it and clean it before storing the kernels.

The family uses a barrel cleaner and fanning mill with four screens and two aspirator fans. Before packaging, the corn is cleaned once more.

The scraps from the popcorn, pumpkins and other crops are not wasted. The scraps are a delicacy for the approximately 100 pigs the Tietz's raise. Randy says they direct market meat from about 75 pigs each year.  

The family has been raising crops and vegetables for several generations.

“We’ve always looked for new things to grow,” says Randy, whose family has farmed at this location form more than 170 years. “Besides the popcorn, we raise 8 acres of sweet corn, a variety of other veggies, 120 acres of soybeans and 150 acres of corn.”

Randy Tietz and his sons Jacob and Christian and daughter Angela are busy picking pumpkins on their Lebanon farm for the busy fall season.  They spent Labor Day, as they always do, laboring in the field.  They are the sixth and seventh generations to operate this farm.

The family also raises the popular squash and pumpkins. Already this year they have picked more than a 1000 bushel of squash and 30 hay wagon loads of pumpkins. All items are laid out according to size on the floor of a huge shed the family built for marketing purposes. Their seasonal farm store is in the front.

Randy’s brother, Russell is also involved in the family business. Their parents, Leroy and Karen, are officially retired but help out as well.

Jacob says, “We sell produce and other vegetables at farmers markets in Madison, Oconomowoc, Hartford and Watertown. Our family started doing this about 40 years ago.”

Both Randy and Russell have full time jobs off the farm but they enjoy coming back to do the outdoor work and enjoy the farm and working together. Both grew up exhibiting their produce at the county fair.

This year was a good year for the family at the Fair with the siblings earning many blue ribbons and grand championship awards on their entries.

Christian, the oldest sibling, has been exhibiting crops and vegetables at the Dodge County Fair since he was in fourth grade. He is now a sophomore at UW-Madison where he also follows the family tradition of playing in the UW-marching band.

His dad says, “It’s great to see him in the band. When I was in the marching band UW-went to the Rose Bowl and it was really exciting to play there.”

Jacob plans to attend UW-Madison for accounting but he intends to also help out on the family farm on the side.  Angela, 15, is not sure what she plans to do in the future but does enjoy working with her family on the farm.

Tammy, who manages the marketing and advertising of the business, is glad that her family was so interested in raising and marketing the plethora of produce, giving her the opportunity to stay home with her children when they were growing up.

She enjoys the stories of how far their popcorn has travelled. The Madison Farmers Market has provided the opportunity for many people to learn of the benefits of home-grown popcorn that she believes tastes so much better due to it being allowed to dry on the cob out in the field.

The family's online business spun out of requests from customers at the farmers markets, eager to purchase products aside from the markets. Tammy says online sales have grown a lot over the years and have allowed folks from outside of the country to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Their popcorn has gone overseas with tourists after visiting friends. In fact, their wares were given as a gift on a mission trip in Cambodia and has traveled worldwide in the form of care packages sent to men and women serving in the military serving in Korea, Japan and Germany.