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Sultan of Squash: Meet Don Francois, Iowa’s Biggest Winner

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JOHNSTON, Iowa -- Don Francois grows over 100 different vegetables from asparagus to zucchini, March to November, seven days a week.

In just a couple of acres behind an office building in Johnston, Francois tends his plants.

“I got four varieties of picklers in here, actually,” says Francois, his feet clad in dirt-caked Crocs as he peels back the lush green cucumber vines.

He spends anywhere from two to four hours working on the garden every day after work.

What’s the big deal, you say? Well, Francois is the big deal.

He’s the finest vegetable farmer in the state.

Says who? Says the Iowa State Fair. Over and over again.

“Last year I had 135 entries and I got 102 ribbons, and I think about 40 of those were blue ribbons,” Francois says.

Yep, he’s the Big Tomato, the Sultan of Squash, the Peter Piper of not just pickled peppers, “There’s the jalapeno -- this guy’s ready to come off.”

With some 1,500 ribbons to his name you have to believe Francois has a secret, and he does -- he’s got more than just a green thumb, he’s got a degree in agricultural engineering.

Some gardens have blueberries, his has a blueprint.

“I think just the organizational skills that it takes to do engineering kind of helps in the garden — in the competitive gardening part of it, yeah,” says Francois.

His entries for this year’s fair are already coming together and you have to like their chances because around here, the blue ribbons are growing on trees -- not to mention vines and bushes.

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