Rural Missouri - May 2013 - (Page 28)
by Jason Jenkins
hrough a cloudless sky on an
early April morning, the sun
beats down, warming Tom
Ruggieri’s shoulders. A cool
breeze still blows as he kneels and
scoops a handful of soil, crumbling it
between his ﬁngers. Just 10 days ago,
a late-season snow had blanketed the
ﬁelds, but today, the unmistakable
smell of spring is in the air and the
time is right.
It’s planting day.
While they may not grow thousands of acres of corn or soybeans,
Tom and his wife, Rebecca Graff, are
farmers — true stewards of the land.
Since 2002, they have operated Fair
Share Farm, a 20-acre homestead outside of Kearney where they cultivate
about ﬁve acres of vegetables and
fruits on contract for members of their
The goal is to grow high-quality
produce using low-impact techniques
that improve the land. With a motto
of “feed the soil, feed the people,”
the Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative
members are providing healthy food
to nearly 150 local families.
CSAs have been popping up across
the United States since the mid-1980s.
The concept is simple: Individuals
and families partner with a farmer to
grow their food for a season, sharing
in both the risks and rewards that are
inherent in agriculture. While fruits
and vegetables are the most common
fare, some CSAs also offer items such
as meat, eggs and dairy products.
“Some people actually call us
‘their farmers,’” says Tom, who spent
20 years as an environmental engineer in New York before moving to
Missouri to start a new career on the
land where Rebecca’s family had been
farming for four generations. “We
sign contracts and agree to grow your
vegetables for you during the year. If
you want a constant supply of fresh,
local vegetables, there aren’t a lot of
other ways to do that unless you grow
The CSA model provides the farm
with a guaranteed market for its produce, as well as capital up front on
which to operate. In return, members
receive a share of the farm’s bounty
and the knowledge of how their
food was grown. “It allows people to
participate in their food production,”
adds the 56-year-old.
At Fair Share, the regular produce
season lasts for 24 weeks, usually
beginning in mid-May and continuing through October. Members may
purchase a partial share or a full share
of the weekly harvest.
This year, Fair Share offered 150
total shares. Depending on the time
of the year, a partial share includes
four to six items; a full share includes
seven to nine items.
An “item” is what a person would
typically buy at a grocery store in
order to make a dish. As the season
progresses, the share of produce differs
In the spring, a share might include
sugar snap peas, baby beets, green
onions, carrots, lettuce, radishes and
chives. During the summer, the menu
shifts to include tomatoes, peppers,
This year marks the 10th season for the community-supported agriculture program at
Fair Share Farm near Kearney. This past year, owners Tom Ruggieri and Rebecca Graff
built a high tunnel, which has extended their growing season by seven weeks.
The roots of community-supported
agriculture run deep at Fair Share Farm
swap it out. We also always offer an
eggplant, melons, cucumbers, green
herb choice in the share.”
beans, zucchini and basil. As autumn
Annual prices at Fair Share currentarrives, a share might feature lettuce,
ly range from $485 for a partial share
broccoli, cauliﬂower, cabbage, winter
to $660 for a full share. In addition to
squash, Swiss chard, potatoes and dill.
this charge, the farm has a work re“Members either
quirement. Members each provide
come to the farm or
one of our satellite locaKearney
eight to 12 hours of labor each
year based on the size of their
tions to pick up every
week,” Rebecca explains.
shares. They help with tasks
“We label the crates saying
such as harvesting, washing
and packing of vegetables.
how much to take, and they
“Most people who
can pick which ones look
join a CSA want a congood to them. If it’s a crate
nection to the farm. They
of carrots, it may say take
one bunch; lettuce, take two heads.
want to come out, bring
their kids and have that farm experiThere’s a swap box at the end of the
ence,” says Rebecca of Fair Share’s
line, so if there’s something they don’t
work requirement. “So, it’s a way to
ﬁnd particularly appealing, they can
offer that to the membership and at
the same time, the farm beneﬁts.”
This past year, Tom and Rebecca
constructed a high tunnel, or hoop
house, a type of unheated greenhouse.
The structure has allowed the couple
to extend the farm’s growing season
to 31 weeks. Rebecca says shares for
the extended season, which cost $230
for the seven additional weeks, sold
out quickly for 2013.
Fair Share is not a certiﬁed organic
farm, but Tom says they follow all the
guidelines for organic production.
“We call what we do ‘biological farming,’” he says. “You are what you eat,
and you are what your plants eat.”
To care for their soil, Tom and
Rebecca apply natural compost and
grow cover crops such as rye, hairy
vetch and clover as “green manure” to
improve fertility. They practice low-till
methods and mulch their vegetable
beds with hay to prevent erosion, conserve moisture and provide additional
The farmers also look for other
ways to minimize their impact on the
environment and reduce their carbon
footprint. About half of the cultivating and other mechanized tasks on
the farm are accomplished using a
1948 Allis-Chalmers Model G tractor
that has been converted to run on
battery power. All of the vegetable
beds are irrigated using a 900-watt
solar-powered system that can pump
up to 30 gallons per minute.
Tom says the practices they’ve
adopted have had a dramatic effect
on the fertility of the soil, which
today feeds six times as many families
as when Fair Share began. Even last
year — during the heart of the deepest
drought in 75 years — the farm still
was able to grow high-quality food.
“We can’t be beating up our land
and taking from it all the time,” Tom
says. “We’ve actually improved the
quality of the farmland just by our
farming practices. The crops we grow
today are better than they were 10
It’s a sentiment that Crystal Leaman of Holt shares. She joined the
CSA shortly after Tom and Rebecca began their operation and has witnessed
the growth of Fair Share Farm.
“It’s pretty much changed my
world in terms of eating vegetables
and greens. The ﬂavor is just different
that anything I’ve ever gotten in the
store,” says the Platte-Clay Electric
member. “It used to be that I would
think about something that sounded
good and then go to the store and buy
the ingredients. Now, I’ve got recipes
for vegetables I didn’t even know existed. They’re some of my favorites.”
Crystal says her support of Fair
Share Farm involves more than a
weekly basket of produce.
“It’s about investing in my community and the growth of something
that’s really wonderful,” she says.
“They’re feeding more than 100 families and changing everybody’s eating
and our ideas of it. Very little that I
get to do with my money do I consider as valuable as this.”
CSA shares still are available for the
regular season at Fair Share Farm, which
begins distribution May 18.
For more information, call 816-3203763 or visit www.fairsharefarm.com.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - May 2013
Rural Missouri - May 2013
Table of Contents
Chronicle of the corncob pipe
Missouri Snapshots contest
The family that drills together
Out of the Way Eats
Where bluegrass grows
Hearth and Home
Veggies and vision
Rural Missouri - May 2013