Looking out on the expansive pecan grove nestled in the Neosho River Valley, it’s hard to believe the fruitful trees were once abandoned. When Tom Circle bought the 120-acre orchard in 1990, he may not have expected the forgotten trees to become the largest pecan retail operation with a shelling plant in the state of Kansas, but he made it happen while keeping it all in the family.
“Most of the original trees out here were grafted in 1963 or 1964,” Circle said. “When I bought the place in 1990, we did our best to save some of the younger trees and advance the operation.”
Fortunately for Circle, a lot on Highway 400 just a mile from the orchard came up for sale in 1994, giving the rejuvenated pecan operation a place for a retail store and shelling facility.
The country store-style retail space features a commercial grade kitchen, which has allowed Circle’s to diversify their operation by baking their own pies and serving a deli-style lunch. The attached shelling facility is just large enough for Circle’s pecan crop, along with a few friends and neighbors.
“We shell all of our pecans here at our facility,” Circle said. “Usually we try to turn the majority of the crop into value-added products like pecan halves, cracked and blown pecans or pecan meal.”
Circle continued to explain that Circle’s recently opened up to the community, offering to buy or custom crack pecans picked up in neighbor’s yards or other areas. After other facilities stopped custom cracking in the area, Circle’s recognized a community need they were happy to fill.
Local folks are only one sector of Circle’s thriving customer base. Returning customers traveling between Wichita and Springfield drop by anytime they’re able and have quite the preference for Circle’s pecans.
“We have five main varieties of pecans available to the public, along with some native varieties,” Circle said. “We let people come in and taste each variety to get their preference because there is a small flavor difference between them, and then our customers call back wanting their favorite variety each time.”
Cooler weather, falling leaves and Halloween fast approaching all signal that repeat customers will be making their way back to Circle’s Pecans and Country Store. Circle, his wife Linda and son Tom, along with a few part-time employees, will welcome the season and all the work it requires, from shaking and shelling pecans to baking loads of holiday pies.
With harvest typically starting around Halloween and often continuing through the first of the year, fall and winter are busy times for the pecan growers. Circle’s opens its doors seven days a week during Christmas season to accommodate the demand for fresh pecans and freshly baked pies.
“We typically start harvest season toward the end of October, depending on the weather,” Circle said. “We just keep going until there are no pecans left, usually around the beginning of the year.”
With harvest time depending on the weather, pecans thrive best in conditions detrimental to other row crops. The Circle family counts on rains around corn harvest time and then a dry period just before the pecans are ready.
“A wet summer could lead to disease issue like pecan scab,” Circle said. “We want a dry period before harvest because a lot of water makes it difficult to get the truck down into the grove.”
Adverse weather conditions don’t stop the Circle family from diligently caring for the trees that produce their livelihood. After over 20 years of faithfully keeping the pecan trees in what they call a “lifelong process,” Circle’s Pecans has remained faithful to southeast Kansas and the surrounding areas.