Driving down any Missouri highway, it’s not hard to notice that corn and soy beans have a strong presence in our state. But if you look beyond those fields to the small farmers living in and around the Show-Me State, you’ll find that we have extraordinary access to a great variety of local crops. Thanks to a recently released book by Maddie Earnest and Liz Fathman, Missouri Harvest, we now have a resource to guide us to the fresh veggies, fruits and dairy, as well as the meats, nuts and honey that are grown and produced right here in our own backyard. “I was just so encouraged when I wrote this book about all that’s happening in Missouri—we’re doing a lot of things right,” says Earnest, who also is co-owner of Local Harvest Grocery and Café.
Earnest explains that the goal was to create “an introduction to the bounty available in Missouri.” Chapters featuring types of foods are subdivided into the seven regions of the state. A guide in the back lists restaurants and stores that offer local produce and products, as well as farmers markets and CSAs. “We wanted a book that people could take with them while driving across the state, but we also wanted it to be a good resource for their own area,” she explains. “This is especially wonderful for people who want to know where their food comes from.”
Within the pages of Missouri Harvest, readers will learn about the farmers in Missouri through personal stories and anecdotes— because getting to know where your food comes from also means getting to know who the producers are, according to Earnest. “I hope that people might actually want to go visit a farm,” she laughs, “because I think you then see how much work it is and what the real value of our food is. It gives you a different appreciation for it all.”
Readers also will discover many options when it comes to local offerings like award-winning artisan cheese-makers Baetje Farms and Green Dirt Farm. “And Missouri is the largest producer of black walnuts in the world,” Earnest says. “Hammons Products Company community-harvests its black walnuts with buying stations set up around the state. People collect and take the walnuts to the stations. Many use this opportunity as a source of income or as a fundraising project. It’s an interesting, beautiful story about a wild-harvested crop.”
Earnest grew up in Arkansas in a family that had a strong love for gardening. And as a student at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., her appreciation of food continued to grow and develop. “It’s a small liberal arts school, and when I was there, they were starting to source food locally—and that was in 1987! That idea was really interesting to me.” Earnest later moved to St. Louis in 1991 for graduate school at Washington University. Earnest and Fathman met in a step aerobics class about 10 years ago and stayed in touch through the years. “She’s an anthropologist and a writer, and I knew she had taught classes that addressed issues of food and food systems when she was a professor at Saint Louis University,” Earnest says. “When the opportunity to write a book came up, I knew she would be a wonderful person to work with, and she had a lot of insight into the history of agriculture and food. She also will tell you that she approaches it from the consumer’s point of view, which was nice.”
As noted in the foreword by Food Inc.’s Joel Salatin, many small farmers in Missouri have ‘town jobs’ to supplement their farming incomes, and according to Earnest it wouldn’t take many more customers to allow them to farm full-time. “It’s important to know that we can be the difference—our shopping for local foods could be the tipping point for some farmers.” And another point Earnest hopes readers take away from Local Harvest is that eating local is pretty easy. “People think it’s too hard or don’t know where to start,” she explains. “But it can help with their overall health. There are so many things that we feel powerless over, and one of the great things about buying local is that you can really feel like your purchases are making a difference, day in and day out.”