Bob Ralph was raised a city boy, in the heart of Overland Park. But when he was growing up there in the 1980s, he frequented a patch of nearby farmland that became his touchstone to a rural future. “That’s my earliest recollection of anything rural. My mom would hold me up to the fence so I could pet cows.” That was the limit of his agricultural exposure. “Literally nobody in my family history had anything to do with agriculture,” he says. Still, he was fascinated by farming and the power of the American farmer to feed so many people. “I like the concept of putting a single seed in the ground and getting back thousands of seeds,” Ralph says.
As he got older, he knew he wanted to farm something; he just wasn’t sure what. In 2004, he bought six cows and kept them on a friend’s land. Four years later, he bought forty acres near Princeton and made friends with the farmers at the local co-op. They were gracious enough to explain the business to him, making it very clear that farming is a love of the labor, with little, if any, profits. Having not come from a farming background, Ralph knew he had to be careful with his investment, which meant traditional row-crop farming was probably not an option.
“Excuse the pun, but one day this question popped into my head: ‘Where does popcorn come from? I literally didn’t know.’” He went to his local grocery store, bought some unpopped popcorn kernels and planted them. “Over that summer I enjoyed so very much growing that popcorn,” he says, which was a patch of only a few square feet. But he was hooked.
Today, Ralph grows 130 acres of premium “mushroom” popcorn. “That’s mushroom-shaped popcorn,” he explains. “My variety pops large and in a ball or mushroom shape. It doesn’t taste like mushroom.”
Ralph’s venture into farming has been a huge success. Princeton Popcorn, named for the city, is now shipped all over the country and the world. Ralph raises the popcorn, cleans and packages it on-site. It’s available in 50-pound bags, 1- or 2-pound jars, and may be purchased from the Princeton Popcorn website, as well as online through Walmart, Amazon, eBay and Etsy. Princeton Popcorn also sells license plates, coffee mugs, iron-on patches and vinyl stickers with their logo, which are available only on their website. However, Ralph says, “If any kids wanted to write me a letter, I’d return them a patch for free.”
princetonpopcorn.com | (785) 222-0297