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J.R. Kelly Company
30 Apr 2014
Published To
Description

Founded in 1933, J.R. Kelly Company is an award-winning horseradish supplier located in Collinsville, Illinois. J.R. Kelly was originally founded on Produce Row, the first wholesale produce market in St. Louis, Missouri, where the business marketed horseradish on behalf of local growers. After the death of the company’s founder and namesake in 1974, a group of local growers purchased the company, moving into distribution rather than production; two of them still own J.R. Kelly today. The horseradish sold by J.R. Kelly is produced by twelve area growers; altogether, J.R. Kelly markets ten to twelve million pounds of horseradish per year, making the company the nation’s largest supplier of horseradish. Dennis Diekemper, J.R. Kelly’s general manager, describes the company’s state-of-the-art 12,500 square foot cold storage facility as “basically a grain elevator for horseradish roots.” Five different grades of horseradish are available to customers, ranging from product appropriate for fresh consumption to root trimmings used for commercial planting. While the majority of the company’s business stems from their commercial orders, which are placed by both domestic and international companies, J.R. Kelly also sells to individual consumers.

Collinsville has historically been a center for horseradish production; by the late 1890s, only about 40 years after the beginning of the plant’s commercial cultivation in the U.S., the town had established itself as a thriving area for the industry. The terroir of the region is ideal for horseradish production due to the soil’s fertility and natural bogginess caused by the area’s proximity to the Mississippi river. While Collinsville was initially home to many family-owned farms, in the past years they have been consolidated into fewer, larger horseradish conglomerates. Production methods have also become more mechanized over the years, although some labor must still be done by hand. This reliance on local labor provides reliable seasonal work within the region, and ties community members directly into the process of producing the horseradish.

 

Horseradish farming serves as a point of pride for Collinsville; the town is the self-proclaimed “Horseradish Capital of the World.” Collinsville hosts the International Horseradish Festival each June at the end of the spring planting season, which features events such as a horseradish toss, a Bloody Mary-making competition, and a root-car derby. The festival, which draws about 35,000 visitors annually, is intended to promote awareness of the crop and its significance to the Collinsville area. It also establishes Collinsville as the hub of a larger network of horseradish production and consumption that extends nationally and across the globe.

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