Eric and Pathoumma Meusch had a hard time finding good-quality, locally grown foods when they moved from Asia to Eric’s hometown of Rolla.
They grew their own food and soon received requests from friends and neighbors to buy food. They opened Meusch Farms in 2010. They shared their experiences at a recent “Grow Your Farm” workshop sponsored by University of Missouri Extension.
“Grow Your Farm” is funded by a USDA program to help beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers and veterans learn ways to begin or increase agribusiness and enterprise development, says MU Extension agriculture business specialist Tricia Barrett.
“I met Eric at an MU Extension retail farm market school in St. James,” says Barrett.
She invited the Meusches to share their experiences as community supported agriculture (CSA) operators at a “Grow Your Farm” class. Speakers at the class include farmers and producers who share their real-life successes and failures.
“This perspective really charges up the beginning farmers and ranchers in the class by showing them what is possible to achieve when you work hard and love what you do,” she says.
The Meusches met in Laos when Eric worked in fisheries management in Southeast Asia. They eventually tired of city life. They wanted a farm where they could raise their children and grow their own food. Their love of Asian food stayed with them when they bought a 240-acre farm along Dry Fork of the Meramec River.
Through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), they installed a grazing system and a high tunnel, which extends the growing season for high-value crops in an environmentally safe manner.
Plants pack greenhouses, high tunnels and numerous gardens on the farm. Some are farmers market mainstays like tomato, squash and lettuce. Others, such as Asian bitter melons, Thai eggplant and long beans, are novelties that appeal to Rolla’s foodies and international residents.
Last year they started selling seasonally through community supported agriculture. CSA members get a weekly share of vegetables and other products from the farm.
They graze 25 cow-calf pairs and sell grass-fed beef. They have ewes and lambs, a dozen goats and hogs. Beef sells in whole, half or quartered bundles. Pork sells whole or half hog. More than 200 free-range chickens provide meat and eggs.
“A lot of people are happy to find food locally grown,” says Pathoumma. Buyers feel trust about their food when they can see where it is grown, she says. “They learn that food just doesn’t come from a supermarket.”
The Meusches enjoy visiting with their farmers market customers. The market allows them to get to know people in the community.
“I treat my customers like family,” Pathoumma says.
They also introduce new foods to Missourians so they can sell foods they enjoy. “I encourage people to eat new things,” she says.
The Meusches love farming, but it is not without its challenges. In 2012, there was a drought. In 2015, 80 acres of their land flooded. It flooded again in May. They lost water hydrants, fences and gardens that grew 2,000 potato plants, 4,000 garlic sets and 2,000 onions.
Like other river bottom farmers, they expect occasional floods, but not as often as in recent years.
“How do you plan for a record-breaking flood every year?” Eric says.
Farming is labor-intensive and seasonal. Animals and plants need daily attention. The Meusches rise early and work late into the evening to avoid Missouri’s sweltering heat. They say that the benefits of being able to raise their 17- and 11-year-old children in the country outweigh the hard work.
“We don’t make a lot of money, but we have good food for ourselves and the community,” Pathoumma says. “Life is really short. You need to pick your lifestyle or your income.”
To learn more about how USDA helps beginning farmers and ranchers, contact Karen Funkenbusch at 573-884-1268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About USDA’s 2501 program in Missouri
MU Extension, through a grant from the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach to help veterans, Latinos and socially disadvantaged persons who want to farm, offers the program to increase agribusinesses and enterprise development. Karen Funkenbusch serves as director. Patricia Barrett, Debi Kelly and Eleazar Gonzalez serve as co-directors.
The USDA 2501 grant helps beginning farmers and others evaluate and plan their farm enterprise. Participants attend a set of practical seminars and field days to learn from MU Extension specialists, farmers and agribusiness operators. The grant comes at a critical time, Funkenbusch says. More than 300,000 veterans are expected to return to their rural Missouri roots in the next decade. “Many of them will seek work in agriculture,” Funkenbusch says. Latinos also represent one of the fastest-growing populations of new farm operators.
USDA helps fund this program as part of an $8.4 million set of grants to 24 states through the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the 2501 Program. USDA offers “Understanding the Alphabet Soup of USDA” near military bases and areas identified as “StrikeForce” and “Promise Zone” initiatives as part of the grant.