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May 31, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
The sound of clucking chickens and friendly dogs welcomes visitors who enter Pierpont Farms in south Columbia.
Angela Hemwall and her husband, Rob, moved to Columbia eight years ago. They began Pierpont Farms in the hopes of practicing sustainable agriculture to support their family.
After having two children, Boonville native Angela, 45, became interested in doing what she had once done with her father and her grandmother: farming. The Hemwalls founded Pierpont Farms in 2004.
Besides working with the slow food movement, the Hemwalls also participate in Community Supported Agriculture, meaning they sell “shares” of their produce to nearby residents and restaurants. Their work with CSA recently appeared in the HBO series The Weight of the Nation, which put the spotlight on the family and its 34-acre farm.
What’s a typical day at the farm like?
Exhausting. It’s different every day. Picking, planting, weeding, wiring over and over again.
How do your children participate? Do they help plant, harvest, etc?
They don’t participate enough. We’re working on that. They’ve been picking cherry tomatoes and raspberries in the last couple years. I don’t want to force them to do work and make them hate it, but then, on the other hand, they need to start making their own money.
Who are the customers of Pierpont Farms?
People who care about where their food comes from and who don’t want pesticides and herbicides sprayed all over their food. People who want to know who grew their food and where their money is going, that it’s going back to the community, and that it’s supporting a small farm, a family and local business.
What are your experiences with the slow food movement?
They pick a school and raise funds to do different projects. We end the project with the school coming to plant and pick things. We cooked them asparagus this year, and they loved it. It was all gone, and they came up for seconds. A lot of kids didn’t know what it was.
You can’t do things as cost effectively as big farms. How does that affect your production?
We’re producing as much as we can and selling it all. For instance, selling to MU: We’re smaller, so we can’t do the quantity they would need or as cheap as they’re used to paying. That’s a negative, I guess, but it has to do with the fact that food is so cheap. People are taking advantage of illegal immigrants to harvest their food, so it’s cheap. We don’t do that. We want to provide a living wage to people who are working here. I’m more interested in that than producing large stock for a big buyer.
Can you explain how a typical Community Supported Agriculture program works?
People buy shares up front before the season starts so we have money to buy supplies and seeds. Then it’s sort of a contract in a way. They come out once a week when the season starts and pick up their share of the farm’s goods. We start at the end of April and go through October.
Is your farm the only one of its kind locally?
Oh, no, there are a number of farms like it, and everybody is a little bit different. Some are certified organic. We aren’t certified, but we are organic. I don’t want to do the paperwork to be certified. Happy Hollow Farm on the other side of the river is mostly all CSA. Owner Liz Graznak is the one who taught me all about what CSA actually is. She’s a great grower. I didn’t get to go on an internship because I had children, so I worked with her a little bit, and she’s great. We’re all doing the same thing, growing for people who live here.