Leslie Petri and her husband, Buddie Brooks, never considered themselves unhealthy or overweight, but when a doctor called Brooks “obese” six years ago, it was time for an overhaul. Together, they changed their diets, lost more than 70 pounds, and threw away their prescription medications.
“We just got sick of tired of feeling sick and tired,” says Brooks.
But the life transformations didn’t stop there.
Petri, a life-long gardener and retired attorney, spent a year working on the Foundation Farm in Arkansas, learning the ins and outs of production organic farming. Last fall, the duo bought a 35-acre spread in McDonald County, dubbed it “Smiling Dog Farm,” and made a home for themselves, their teenage daughter, two cats, six dogs, and thirty-six free-range laying hens.
This market season, they’ll offer snap peas, Copenhagen market cabbage, four types of lettuces, three types of kale, chard, broccoli, shogoin turnips, beets, red and yellow onions, potatoes, and more. Eventually, their new fruit orchard promises to deliver apples, pears, peaches, cherries, grapes, and juneberres, which Petri likens to a cross between blueberries and vanilla. Everything on the farm is raised organically.
Petri and Brooks couldn’t be happier. They’re doing what they love and they believe in the work.
“I just want people to have good food,” says Petri.
Fifteen years and two kids ago, Cortney and Dewain Riddle had a problem: their newly-purchased property was so overrun with grasshoppers that their window screens were falling apart. That's where the chickens came in.
The plan for natural pest control quickly evolved into an interest in egg production. Today, the family has rougly 50 hens in their flock. The family enjoys watching the birds graze and doing what "God designed them to do." The hens graze freely everyday, sharing the yard with the Riddles' two children and four cats.
Near the hen house, Cortney also keeps a modest garden. She grows blackberries, greens, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and more. Though most of the bounty stays on the farm in the form of canning and preserves, she brings the occasional surplus to Market to share. For Cortney, community and personal connection are a part of why she participates in the local food chain. As a fitness instructor at the YMCA, she takes pride in practicing what she preaches. But more importantly, she cares about the quality and healthfulness of the food that she feeds her children. Working for good food is what works for the family. She's been instilling these values in her ten-year-old daughter, Avery, who helps sell at Market every Saturday.
Cortney's famous eggs also share a spotlight with her fresh-squeezed lemonade. She offers good old-fashioned lemonade every weekend, but spruces up offerings with other flavors like pina colada, watermelon, and strawberry, too. She cuts and squeezes the lemons on-site to ensure quality. It's just one more way that she shares her love of real food, prepared in a real way, with her friends and customers.
Michael and Bethany Kiele live in a picturesque neighborhood near downtown Neosho, but location hasn't dampened their farming ambitions. Bethany keeps small planters on the back deck with lettuce heads beautiful enough to display in flower bouquets. A large rack in their living room houses tender seedlings. In the backyard, Michael has set up rows of straw bales with planting techniques that echo the trendy square foot gardening movement. Nothing goes to waste.
The Kieles shopped at the Neosho Farmers' Market nearly every Saturday of the 2015 season. This time around, they're rolling up their sleeves and getting ready to contribute the bounty from their personal gardens. Customers can expect to see a variety of organic produce ranging from the familiar, like red radishes, elephant garlic, and salad greens, to more unusual items like walking onions, Chinese yard-long long beans, and purple basil. If it's rare and somewhat whimsical, Michael tries to make room for it in his garden. His favorite perennials are hot peppers like the Thai, serrano, chiltepan, padrones, and more. He and his wife grind these into the 'Kiele V Spice Chilie Powder,' a spicy and sweet condiment that will be available by late summer.
When he's not experimenting in his vegetable beds, Michael works in Redings Mill, managing the largest privately-owned chert glade in the country. Part of his job is stewardship, and he devotes a lot of time to saving or propagating rare, native Missouri plants. A few projects that he takes particular pride in include milkweed, which he raised during the winter in small milk-jug "green houses," delicate Confederate violets, and an unnamed hybridized iris that he is in the process of patenting.
The Kieles have lived in Neosho for nearly two decades, but still spend a lot of time in Michael's native California. When you stop by their market booth, be sure to ask Michael about a few of these trips, like his most recent visit to the giant coastal redwood forests or backpacking the majestic John Muir Trail through the Sierra Nevadas. Whether he's trekking through the wilderness or dirtying his knees in his own backyard, Michael just can't get enough of the outdoors.
Managing a 40-acre diversified farm isn't easy, but having six kids and turning it into a family-wide effort sure helps. When Nandy and Seng Yang decided to buy land outside of Granby, Seng agreed to handle the bulk of the farm work. He manages 50 cows and tends 1.5 planted acres of potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, lemongrass, radishes, cilantro, green onions, garlic, sugar cane, and more.
"My husband was raised as a farmer and he's used to it. This is nothing to him -- but torture to me!" says Nandy.
While Seng manages the farm, small chores like watering and weeding are delegated to the kids. Nandy teaches fifth grade during the week but on Saturdays, she sells her family's produce at the Neosho Farmers Market.
"I love it because I don't have to do so much in the garden. The best part about the farmers market is meeting new people and seeing what everybody else has. Just the atmosphere it has is cool."
Nandy and Seng have sold their organic produce at regional farmers markets for the past three years. In the past, you may have seen them at Joplin, Diamond, and Aurora. In addition to the Neosho Farmers Market, they will also be selling at the Farmers Market of the Ozarks in Springfield on Tuesdays and Thursdays.