There were more vegetable farmers per square mile than in any other county in the world. In the late 1930’s in Erie County, Ohio. Among them was Mr. William Frye, who owned a small parcel of land in the city of Huron, along the shores of Lake Erie. William was respected among farmers in the region for his devotion to preserving the heirloom vegetables his immigrant grandparents brought over from Europe. Always in the company of his lovely wife, the beloved couple made the rounds to Cleveland each week to meet with buyers, chat with other growers and spend time with the community.
The Frye’s grew all kinds of vegetables but they were especially renowned for their rhubarb, a tart and succulent variety with strong stalks and a vivid red color. The Frye’s could never quite keep up with the high demand for their coveted rhubarb, but they made sure that everyone who ordered from their farm received at least one full basket. I have lots of great memories of the Frye’s. I visited their farm often when I was a boy and will always remember the way their fields were comprised of neat, arrow-straight rows, and that their half-acre of rhubarb was grown in tidy, compact bunches. I also remember William’s voice being full of pride when he spoke about his vegetables and his farm.”
William Frye was also a frequent visitor to our family farm, always arriving in the same brown Oldsmobile, stopping to ask permission first before perusing our fields. My dad, Bob Jones, was growing 25 acres of his own rhubarb at the time and he would say to William, “There’s no need to ask permission to drive through our fields, William, you are welcome on our farm anytime. The only thing I ask is that you tell us what we are doing wrong and that you tell us how we can grow our rhubarb as well as you do.” But Mr. Frye, always a gentleman, would never say a word to criticize us. He preferred instead to drive through the fields, taste our vegetables, and watch us work.
As the years went on, Mrs. Frye’s health began to falter and she eventually passed away. William was heartbroken. He was also left to harvest his prized rhubarb and deliver it alone. Eventually, his health also began to deteriorate. The arthritis in his hands, amplified by a lifetime of farming and hard labor, was so debilitating that he couldn’t cut his prized rhubarb anymore, and he could only steer his Oldsmobile using his wrists and knee. Our family sent workers to help him harvest his fields, package his crops and to help make his deliveries. Sadly, Mr. Frye passed away in 1980, taking three generations of old-world farming knowledge with him. But before he passed, he willed us his beloved rhubarb, his family heirloom, knowing that his legacy would live on and that we would respect, preserve and cherish it like he had.
Today, the Chef’s Garden has over 3000 of these rhubarb plants growing on our farm, and it has become one of the most sought-after spring products we grow. Known for its tart and zesty flavor, it’s trademark crimson stalks, and its ability to hold its color under fire, Mr. Frye’s Rhubarb is one of the ingredients chefs will crawl over each other for to be the first to have it on their spring menus. I love to tell people Mr. Frye’s story every spring and I love to show off the rows of rhubarb plants, Mr. Frye’s rhubarb plants, to the chefs who visit the farm. Grown, of course, in neat and arrow-straight rows, just the way William Frye would have done it. Mr. Frye’s Rhubarb is available from any of our product specialists...ask for it by name!