It’s a mind boggling sight to behold the endless expanse of dark green, billowy leaves in the yard of Bob and Sandy Miller. They stretch as far as the eye can see.
But the leaves of this dense foliage canopy hide a very delicious vegetable and lots of it. Over the years, the Miller’s have expanded their rhubarb patch to include close to 2,000 plants and even this spring they are transplanting more.
“We’re sort of known as the rhubarb people around here,” said Sandy with a laugh. “People are amazed when they see our patch.”
Bob and Sandy moved to the Eagle River area more than 30 years ago from a farm in Marion. They were dairy and hog farmers but over time Sandy became allergic to the cows. The couple had vacationed in the Eagle River area for years and loved being in the Northwoods, so they decided to sell their farm and bought Sunset Shores Resort on Medicine Lake. They ran it for four years.
“We loved the people who came to visit the resort but weird things happened that were really nerve racking for us,” said Sandy. “One time lightening hit one of the cottages where a baby was sleeping in a crib. It burned a ring around the crib. We were so thankful no one was hurt but it made us realize maybe this wasn’t the life for us.”
The couple eventually sold their resort and bought a small homestead in the Eagle River/Three Lakes area. Bob became a logger and Sandy worked as a waitress at Northernaire for many years. The rhubarb operation began innocently enough with a small established patch near a shed.
“We had a friend named Gary White who lived in Texas and visited this area during the summer,” said Bob. “He bought a lot of our rhubarb and sold it in Texas because they don’t grow it down there. He was always pestering me to grow more so that’s what I did.”
Bob tilled up a big patch in a side yard and started transplanting the plants he had. He also bought roots from various seed catalogs and at local nurseries.
With the couple’s superb farming skills the patch thrived and it soon became apparent even Gary White couldn’t keep up with the bountiful crop no matter how many pounds he sold in Texas. All the Miller neighbors got rhubarb every year and it wasn’t long before complete strangers were stopping by to inquire about purchasing some of the big-leafed vegetable.
“My mother couldn’t believe we actual sold the stuff,” said Sandy. “It grew like a weed on our farm so she couldn’t imagine people would pay money for it.”
People have come from all over the country to purchase rhubarb at the Miller house.
“We get a lot of tourists that stop by and purchase our rhubarb,” said Bob. “It’s fun to watch their reaction when they see how much we grow. We have had people come from all over the country to purchase it. We even had one lady from Israel.”
Another outlet for their crop is area food pantries. Bob and Sandy have always been very giving people and every year they donate rhubarb to area food pantries. In fact, last year they donated more than 800 pounds of the crop.
“One elderly lady found out we were donating our rhubarb and called me up,” said Bob. “She was even crying because she was so thankful to get some rhubarb. She said it reminded her of her childhood.”
Of course, Bob and Sandy, and their family which includes two daughters, a son and their three grandkids, Hunter and Shelby Foster and Lily Miller, also enjoy the rhubarb. In fact, Sandy always has a rhubarb coffee cake on hand so visitors can try a sample and she’s collected many rhubarb recipes over the years which she shares with anyone interested in learning to prepare this versatile vegetable. (A few of these unique recipes are included in this week’s Star Journal Food Column.)
So far the Millers have no intention of slowing down their operation. In fact, Bob has spent many days this spring dividing and transplanting even more plants into different parts of his lawn. And the couple also spends many hours weeding and deseeding the plants.
“If you pull the seed stalk off the plant it will continue to produce,” said Bob. “We’ve got rhubarb growing all summer long.”
The Miller’s never intended to become “the rhubarb people” when they moved to the Northwoods so many years ago, but they are definitely very proud to hold that distinction. For this generous and caring couple seeing people so happy when they visit makes all their efforts worthwhile.
“Our rhubarb has been a great way for us to give back to our community and to meet so many nice people,” said Bob. “It’s been just great for us.”
For more information about the Miller’s rhubarb call them at 715-479-3279.