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Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With ... Shona Swearingin

Owner, El Shaddai Farm

Posted online

What’s the size and scope of your farm?
We’re on 13 acres here; about a fourth of an acre is the garden. I grow vegetables for Craft Sushi. We do cucumbers, peppers, jalapeno peppers, greens. We’ll be doing the daikon radish this year, and carrots and green onions, and then also microgreens.

How did that relationship come together?
I was doing the farmers market. We actually were The Plant Bus, my daughter and I. I also brought vegetables to set up there. [Craft Sushi co-owner] Michael [Cho] was coming through there one day and looking for people that he could purchase from for the restaurant. He really liked the vegetables that I had. I started growing full time for him last year.

Does an exclusive partnership like this allow your small farm to be sustainable?
I have done a small CSA or garden boxes in the past. The problem with that is the way I had set it up, people just purchase by the week, but a lot of these people go – they’re always gone on vacations and all that. This makes it nice. I make a couple deliveries a week, and it’s something steady. And really it’s a wonderful thing that people can go in there and buy fresh vegetables, can get that on their bowls or the rolls. I think more of the higher-end restaurants will bring in local produce that they sell, but Craft Sushi, that’s more of an economical place that people could really get some very good nutrients. With our commercialized food system today, it’s just not sustainable. When you pick vegetables, the minute you pick them, they begin to lose their nutrients. It’s the best if you can just buy it local, get it fresh.

Farming is tough business. We’ve seen smaller, urban farms close or pause operations in recent years, like with Urban Roots Farm and Green Thicket Farm. What’s it like running a small-scale operation?
Well, for me, it’s just me. I probably will need to hire a couple hands this year since I’m taking on more vegetables. I’d say it’s easier running a small farm than a bigger one. Then you have more people you’re managing and just more to do. Weeding takes a lot of time. I like to keep my prices fair. We’re on well water so the water doesn’t really cost me other than electricity to pump the water. So besides seed and then my fuel to deliver, there’s not a lot of expenses.

Tell me about the farm property you operate on.
As far back as I have found is 1842. It’s possible it’s older than that. We actually have a log cabin that was the original homestead. Ammon Knighten built a new home in 1906. Before that, it was his wife’s parents that owned the farm. They inherited this farm. Then the Pauls bought this place. He was the main manager of Sears Roebuck store here in town. We have a gristmill, too, where they had a grain mill down there; there’s just remnants. We were told that people would bring their grain here and grind it and store it.

Do you have plans or goals to grow your farm or add more clients?
I would like to continue to grow for restaurants and possibly more greens. I really enjoy doing that. It makes good money and it’s easier to do. I’ll continue to add more vegetables that they serve at Craft Sushi.

There’s a long history of agriculture in the Ozarks. How would you characterize the farming community today?
I think we’re going back to farming. We’ve got Springfield Community Gardens and Millsap Farm. You got the Amish farmers. I think people are wanting to get fresh vegetables and good quality vegetables. More and more people are looking for that so that it seems to be growing, the small farms. That’s really what we need more of.

What do you think is driving that?
People are finding out how the big commercial farms work with the chemicals they use. With vegetables that come in, they gamma ray it, which is radiation to kill the bacteria on vegetables. These kind of farms around here, we don’t spray [chemicals]. It’s all more organic. I’m not certified organic, but I grow organically. I use the no-till method, which is what most of your smaller community gardens are using. We don’t really use much machines. We apply compost on our beds and just broad fork; we don’t disturb the soil with machines and tillers. There’s a lot of biological stuff going on in the soil. Soil is living, and that destroys that when you’re using the tillers and the plows. With fertilizing, I’ll do a fish emulsion, use natural fertilizers. I make my own fertilizers. I put weeds in a bucket and put water over them and let them break down and it turns into a lot of good nutrients that you can water the garden with.

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