On a chilly afternoon in January, Steve Kiesling stops his white truck, opens the back door and gently holds up a perfectly round, yellow pear.
“This pear hasn’t been touched by a human hand since it left Washington,” he said, confidently. “It hasn’t been touched because pears don’t like to be touched.”
And Kiesling knows his pears.
Raised on his family farm in Logansport, Kiesling, 60, grew up working in the fields 12 hours a day, six days a week, for 50 cents an hour.
The memories of this time are still fresh in his mind, as he clearly remembers turning 13 years old and being told he could not play on the local Babe Ruth baseball team.
“My father said, ‘You’re going to work,’” Kiesling said. “So I worked.”
The Kiesling farm began in 1891 with Kiesling’s grandfather, who harvested potatoes, 30 acres of celery and 30 acres of cabbage.
“I got my work ethic from my father and my integrity from my mother,” Kiesling said. “Because farming is what we did.”
It is this work ethic which would catapult Kiesling into the fruits and vegetables industry many years after his 13th birthday.
After graduating high school, Kiesling moved to Chicago where he worked in the South Water Street Market as a berry buyer. Here, he learned how to spot the ripest and highest quality goods, everything from the finest gooseberry to the sweetest strawberry.
This experience helped Kiesling become self-employed in 1992, and launch a new business, Kiesling’s Crisp Produce Co., less than two years ago in Logansport.
“I love the idea of selling fruits and vegetables,” Kiesling said of his business. “I want to help people eat healthier and take care their bodies, because we are all children of God.”
To do this, Kiesling buys fresh produce from all over the world and delivers it directly to the doors of customers in Logansport and Zionsville. Every week, he chooses 25 seasonal fruits and vegetables to carry in his produce truck.
Kiesling limits the array of produce he offers based on what is in season, what is fresh and what will bring the customer the most satisfaction.
He said he takes everything into account, including weather patterns and pricing, before buying produce for the customer. For example, if there was a greenbean freeze in Florida, farmers would pick all of the bad beans, sell them to grocery stores and then green beans would be discounted in every store to make people buy them.
“I’m not going to sell any customer a bitter grape or an unwell green bean,” Kiesling said. “I will only sell what I know has been harvested well and is good for consumption.”
What Kiesling does offer is an unusual assortment of items, which some people may have never seen in stores.
“My customers love my brown tomatoes,” Kiesling said. “And Hoosiers know good tomatoes.”
Ray Cortopassi is one of Kiesling’s customers and said that he enjoys Kiesling’s produce and weekly visit.
“There isn’t anyone like him,” Cortopassi said. “He has a lot of knowledge about the industry and he embraces it. He has a remarkable sense of entrepreneuership.”
When a customer asks him why he does not carry the same items every week, Kiesling is quick to teach them the best methods for purchasing produce.
“My customers like my knowledge,” he said. “I’m not perfect, but I look out for my customers.”
I watch the economy of fruits and vegetables and try to teach them that what they buy in the stores may not be worth their money.”
Kiesling believes that in today’s market, grocers fail to acknowledge the consumer when selling fresh produce.
“There’s no loyalty in the food industry,” Kiesling said. “Nobody is thinking of the consumer when they sell mushy apples or unripe plums.”
But the consumer is always at the forefront of Kiesling’s mind. He said that sometimes, shoppers are misled into thinking they are getting a good deal at the grocery store when actually they are being sold old or poor quality foods. He said that some stores will purchase fruits and vegetables in crates of eight, 12, 16 or 24.
“The consumer doesn’t know if their apples come from crates of eight or crates of 48,” Kiesling said. “But this shows the quality of your fruit. I teach people things like this, and they are very grateful.”
Kiesling said that his prices are competitive, and he takes all measures to ensure a fair price.
“You may be able to find something cheaper (at the store),” Kiesling said. “But you won’t get more food for the price, and you may get a lot of bad produce you don’t eat or throw away. You won’t want to throw away my fruits and vegetables.”
Kiesling drives his produce truck to Zionsville every Thursday, and people who want him to stop at their house can contact him at 690-0038 or e-mail him at