One of the first things that fascinated me about Ripley County when I started my job as Executive Director for Ripley County Tourism Bureau was that we had a popcorn farm in Sunman and I’d never heard of it. I mean, I LOVE popcorn. We’ve actually grown small patches of it in our garden. How could I have missed a major gourmet popcorn farm in the county?
Riehle’s currently plants an average of about 200 acres of gourmet popcorn each year. All the planting, harvesting, cleaning, packaging, and shipping are done right from their family owned and operated farm in southeastern Indiana. The farm has been in the Riehle family since 1910 and is currently managed by Eric and Lisa Riehle, with help from his father Mark. Eric’s brother Chris helps with the planting and harvesting each year and two of Eric and Lisa’s five children help occasionally, too.
The Riehle’s started growing popcorn about 20 years ago when Eric agreed to grow 15 acres for a popcorn grower. The crop was successful, and he decided to expand his own popcorn operation.Today, in addition to the 200 acres of popcorn, the Riehle’s also raise soybeans. They are very active in their local community and have been known to make and deliver popcorn to their children’s classroom.
On the day I visited, I was shown around by Donna Kunkel and Tony Hountz. Both were very knowledgeable about the inner workings of the popcorn business. Donna works in the office during the week, keeping up with orders and helping ensure the website orders are processed. Although you can order and pick up directly from the farm, they do not have regular retail store hours. If you give them a call (812-212-2202) or email them as firstname.lastname@example.org they will be happy to set up a time to pick up your order.
They do have a bustling online store where you can place your orders and have your popcorn delivered right to your door. I visited after Cyber Monday and they were busy packing boxes and boxes of popcorn to ship out. Currently, Riehle’s Select Popping Corn is available locally at the George’s Pharmacy locations, along with Dotty’s/Kates Bulk Foods in Batesville; Hair Unlimited in Sunman carries their microwave popcorn; Gooseberry Flower and Gift Shop in Versailles carries a variety of Riehle’s Select Popping Corn, oils, seasonings, as well as the Whirley Pop Popcorn Poppers.
I just missed the harvest this year, but there was still much to do.
Once the corn is picked and shelled, the kernels are then put into grain bins. When a specific variety is needed, an air system moves the corn from the bins to the cleaning and sorting system. The best popcorn kernels are selected, packaged, sealed, and prepared for shipment. The underground air system was installed a few years ago. Prior to that, the popcorn was put in large totes and transported from the bins to the cleaning and sorting area. The underground air system ensures that the corn stays out of the weather and allows for faster movement from the bins.
According to Tony things have changed in the eight years he’s been with the Riehle’s. For instance, the process to separate a 2000 pound tote of popcorn by color used to take several hours – now it takes just 15 minutes thanks to new equipment. Also, moving the corn from the bins directly to the sorter by air through underground pipes eliminates the extra labor of loading and unloading and is easier on the popcorn.
After the popcorn is harvested, Tony works to package the popcorn and get it ready to ship out. Packaging for retail ranges from 4 oz. bags to 15 oz. bottles to 30 oz. bags. They supply 50 pound bags up to 2000 pound totes to a select wholesale market. They also package their gourmet popcorn for several private labels. Of course, the question they are often asked is – after working with it all the time, do you still eat popcorn? They say they still enjoy it all the time. They even have a commercial corn popper in the break area.
All Riehle’s popcorn is raised NON-GMO. They offer thirteen varieties of great tasting popcorn including four varieties of tender, virtually hulless, very small kernel corns – Baby White, Baby Yellow, Baby Blue and Autumn Blaze. They also offer medium sized kernel corns – Shaman Blue, Ruby Red, Midnight Red, Pink Blossom and Pearl White; the larger kernel corns – Sunburst, Goldenrod and Organic Yellow; and Rainbow Delight which is a special blend of all thirteen.
Popcorn is great for snacking and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed popping and trying several different varieties. I’m still trying to decide which is my favorite, but again, I LOVE popcorn, so I’m up for the task! The good folks at Riehle’s were very friendly and I appreciate the time they spent with me. If you are looking for an outing for a scout troop, you might consider a trip to the popcorn farm. For more, check out Riehles Facebook page.