Rural Food Network: Growing and Keeping Food in Gasconade County, Missouri

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $22,405.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Jennifer Miller
River Front Produce
Lee Miller
River Front Produce
Betty Nolte
Nolte Hills
Alan Nolte
Nolte Hills
Joseph Nolte
Truck Patch Farm

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: ornamentals, trees


  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture

    Proposal summary:


    Alan and Betty Nolte: Alan and Betty are long time nursery producers with over 30 years in the greenhouse/nursery business. Prior to 2008, Nolte Hills production centered upon trees, shrubs, ornamentals and bedding plants. In order to keep the business viable during the current economic climate, the Noltes developed additional income streams. They successfully produced tomatoes in a greenhouse setting for 3 years. They recently expanded their production to include indoor and outdoor production of vegetables. In 2010, the Nolte’s received a SARE grant for the production of grafted tomatoes, using an indoor tomato trellising system in an outdoor plot. They are in the process of completing that trial and the introduction of that system has been a success. Additionally, in 2010 the Nolte’s received an NRCS cost share for a high tunnel. This has allowed them to produce vegetables in early Spring and late Winter, adding 6-8 weeks on either side of the growing season.

    Joseph Nolte: Truck Patch Farm, 55 Wildflower Lane, Linn, MO 65051

    Joseph was raised on the farm/nursery of his parents, Alan and Betty Nolte. Joseph left the farm and after he and his wife had two children, he went back to vegetable production to teach his daughters good work ethics and to teach them the “value of a dollar.” Three years ago the family began vegetable production in earnest with a small garden. They now farm 3 ½ acres with their primary crops of tomatoes, sweet corn, pumpkins, peppers and squash marketed at their stand in Linn. Joe is very interested in working with his father to bring local foods to the Gasconade County region. He states, “I have come full circle from working on my father’s farm when I was young to watching my daughters doing the same on our farm.”

    Lee and Jennifer Miller: River Front Produce, 6202 East Eric Ln, Columbia, MO 65202

    Jenn was raised in the Gasconade County area and has been farming since she was a child. Jenn is a Registered Nurse, bringing a background of record keeping and statistics to the farming arena. She is an experienced grower. She and her husband, Lee, grow a variety of vegetables including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe. Lee and Jenn man the family farmers’ market stand at the Columbia Missouri Farmers’ Market. Their marketing techniques and overall understanding of the market will allow them to guide this aspect of the proposed project.

    This group will be termed “Coordinators” for purpose of this grant.


    Gasconade County, Missouri is designated as a food desert, USDA – ERS Tract FIPS code: 20973960400) with 18.3 percent of the people of the country having low access to food. Cities with population centers include: Bland, Rosebud, Owensville, Morrison, Hermann, Gasconade and Mount Sterling. The county encompasses 526.09 square miles. Within this area there are only 12 grocery stores that offer a selection of produce. The majority of the goods available are either imported from other countries or other states. There are two farmers markets known in all of Gasconade County. One has eight vendors, the other has three. This data establishes not only the existence of a rural food desert but also the need for locally produced goods. Additionally, the county is economically depressed with a poverty rate of 13.9%.

    As the citizens of Gasconade County reside in a food desert, area farmers are transporting their produce to out-of-county markets to connect with buyers. At the present time farmers travel to a farmer’s market approximately 100 miles from Gasconade County to participate in a twice-weekly market in Columbia, Missouri. Other markets are located in St. Louis which is approximately 125 miles from Gasconade County. Farmers spend a full day in travel; incur fuel costs and vehicle expense to deliver to these to various locations. Due to the amount of produce grown in the area, there are excess goods for which there is no designated market.

    At the present time, there is no link between small farmers and other producers (eggs, poultry, and meat) to potential customers. The purpose of this project is to create a network to connect farmers, producers, and customers. Nolte Hill’s will be defined as a distribution center for area farmers, thus established a supply chain for local markets. As a distribution center, Nolte Hills along with local producers will begin building the Gasconade County Rural Foods Network (herein “Network). The development of the Gasconade County Rural Foods Network will assist small producers in developing a market for their locally produced foods.  

    The proposal will be carried out over a period of two years.

    Year One:

    1. The Coordinators will conduction a feasibility study. This study will explore potential markets, the demand for local foods and the current suppliers to area grocery stores and small market through a series of surveys. Surveys will be conducted through telephone, internet and face to face interviews.  
    2. The Coordinators will contact area farmers/growers to investigate the interest level of a Network.   Number of area growers to be contacted: 50+.   (There were 867 farms listed in Gasconade County according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture data, NASS). This outreach would be achieved with a series of informal meetings to be held in Hermann, McKittrick, and Rosebud.   Informal polls have found that the local farm community is interested in supplying food to the local demand. However, the majority of those farmers report lack of knowledge in the manner in which to approach these marketing opportunities. The Network would serve to bridge that gap. Presentations and print material will be the primary means of communicating the information. 
    3. The coordinators will develop a list of needed goods and communicate these needs with the farmers who commit to the Network. Standards for quality will be set forth and sustainable practices will be defined by the Coordinators.
    4. A meeting of all those contacted in Step 3 will be held at a central location. Producers will advise the coordinators of their intent to grow and project quantities.
    5. The Coordinators will investigate other small scale food networks to come to an understanding of their business structure, their daily operations and the pros and cons of such a network.
    6. Behind the scenes work will include the development of the accounting system, planning a distribution route.
    7. A coordinated branding effort will be developed including logo to establish an identity for the group. Participating farms will have the use of the logo. Promotional items (labels, brochures) will be made available to participating farmers.
    8. A formal meeting of the producers will be conducted. This meeting will include Business Development Specialist, Farm Outreach Workers and Farm Specialists from the University of Missouri and Lincoln University. The inner workings of the Network will be reviewed with continued communication with farmers regarding expectations of the Network, payment schedules, delivery demands and other requirements of operation.
    9. Year One will culminate with a local foods presentation to area groups interested in local foods.

    An area chef will do a cooking demonstration using local foods. Nolte Hills will host the event, offer tours of their farm. Area producers will be invited to participate and set up their market stands. This event will make the connection between local consumers and farmers.

    1. Year Two:   Nolte Hills will be established as a collection/distribution site. Equipment will be required. Rental of a refrigeration unit, freezers and a refrigerated delivery truck will be required. Sorting bins and racks will be purchased.
    2. The Network's production year will begin in January, 2013 (for those with high tunnels/greenhouses), with the first deliveries in to the distribution center in March, 2013. Coordinators will sort, weigh and group incoming vegetables in bunches, bags, or boxes according to the type of produce. 
    3. Communication with store owners, (phone calls, emails) will be ongoing and orders for the first 2-3 stores will be taken.
    4. Order fulfillment will begin March, 2013.
    5. For the first 2-3 months of actual distribution, 2-3 stores will be serviced while fine tuning the system. 
    6. During that time period any problems within the system will be managed and by June 1, 2-3 more stores will be added and in September 2-3 more.  At the end of the first year approximately 10 stores or farmers markets will be served. 
    7. Store owners and shop keepers will be contacted on a regular basis to ensure the delivery system is functional and that they are satisfied with the system and the overall Network operation.
    8. In store promotions of locally produced foods will be used as a marketing tool (10 stores)
    9. In store promotions will offer a means of connecting with customers to develop a one-on-one relationship with the public (know your farmer)
    10. During these promotions contact information will be recorded, establishing a mailing list for the Network.
    11. Taste testing and sampling will allow consumers to taste locally produced foods, further distinguishing these foods from the commodity products currently available.
    12. Shoppers will be surveyed for interest in farm tours or other events sponsored by the Network.
    13.  The network will develop a website to communicate the mission of the group. A map of the region directing consumers to area merchants supplying local foods will be one component of the website. A weekly market update page will be included.   This website will assist in creating an identity for the group as well as providing a means of communication.
    14. At the end of year two, an evaluation will be conducted. This evaluation will interview the participating storekeepers, farmers, and customers inquiring as to the effectiveness of the Network, the profits or benefits gained as a result of the Network, and overall satisfaction in their dealings with the Network.

    The outcome of this proposal will be multifold.  Consumers will have the opportunity to learn more about products produced in their area; dollars spent will stay within the area communities, providing a new source of revenue for depressed communities; those who typically do not have access to high quality food will have the opportunity to purchase at a market stand or join the CSA.  Growers, meat producers, poultry/egg producers, and others will have a new opportunity to market their goods.  With Nolte Hills as the hub, orders can be placed and then delivered through this system.  This project will have far reaching effects to other area farmers.  The Nolte’s will establish a fee for their brokerage service. 

    Other organizations which will serve as consultants and/or support to the project:  University of Missouri Extension, Lincoln University Extension, area libraries, area food groups (new and existing) Missouri Rhine Valley Association, McKittrick Food Circle, Dierberg Educational Foundation, Hermann Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Osage County Rural Development Association.  This proposal is centered upon labor and research.  Associated costs are centered largely upon labor involved with educational forums, presentations, open house and other community events. 

    The potential for future development of the project will include area schools in a Farm to School program. If there is sufficient demand, the Network will explore a location for a Farmers’ Market Store/Stand in a location within Gasconade County. This outreach will make local foods accessible as well as develop a physical presence of the Network.

    The data collected from this project will serve as a feasibility study for the purposes of the formation of a permanent food distribution chain in the Morrison, Missouri area. This fore-work will establish the overall need for local foods, the consumer buy in and the grower interest. Upon successful completion of this plan, USDA funds will be sought to purchase needed equipment such as permanent coolers, freezers and transport for goods. The project will become self supporting, with the support of the USDA funds for start up, then through the brokerage fees charged to the producers.   The coop model will be employed and this project will serve as a guide to other communities that face similar challenges. The problem of supply and demand, as well as local food access is not unique to Morrison, Missouri. The final outcome of the project will be a repeatable process which could be applied to any community facing rural food desert issues.


    Research will be based upon the study of other food networks to learn about their operating structure, methods of information delivery, and the development of community presence. A 2006 SARE project: “Appalachian Grown: Toward Regional Community-Based Food System” addressed this area in Appalachia. That project was directed at a “buy local food campaign.” This project dealt with a rural food system that was already established. The development of the network was not discussed. Therefore, this proposal takes us to Square One, the development of a network, the steps required to build such a network, and a roadmap for other rural communities to follow. During the formation of the Gasconade County Rural Food Network, the previous work done in the Appalachian study will be considered for research done on the topic of their “buy local food campaign” which will compliment the Gasconade County project.


    Outreach will be shared throughout this project. The preliminary research will be targeted audiences which will be participants in the development of the Gasconade County Rural Food Network (GCRFN) namely, consumers in rural and food desert specified areas in and surrounding the Gasconade County, Missouri region. In addition to the consumers, the producers/farmers of the area will be contacted to notify them of the development of the GCRFN and the potential to market their goods. The third audience is the merchants of the area, including small markets, grocery stores, and farmers’ markets. The fourth targeted audience in the area are Bed and Breakfast operations, restaurants, chefs, and wineries. As tourism plays such a large role in the local economy, this untapped marketing opportunity will offer numerous outlets for area producers if they are made aware of the inventory available, the quality of the inventory and the true value of locally produced goods.

    When the project comes to a close, reports will be made to area food groups noting the viability and the future of the project, to other communities who wish to establish such a network, to small farmers’ groups and farmers’ forums (Route 66 Farmers’ Market Group at St. Clair, Wright City Farmers’ Market, O’Fallon Farmers’ Market and others who inquire as to the success of the project. Opportunities to publish material through Lincoln University’s Innovative Small Farmers Outreach Program newsletter and other print material will be utilized The group will participate as a member in the Missouri Rhine Valley Association, which covers a five county area, making it a far reaching opportunity for the dissemination of information. Research will be provided to Lincoln University and the University of Missouri Extension in Gasconade County. Reports will be posted on the Nolte Hills website and the Rural Food Network site (RFN site pending development).   SARE will receive requested updates and a final report.


    The project will be evaluated in the following manner:

    1. Hard data will be collected in the number of potential customers reached through outreach activities. Names, addresses and phone numbers will be collected. Data will be collected regarding the number of potential customers contacted who actually go on to participate in the RFN programs and become a participating customer. We will ask those who participate in the RFN through a farmers market to present an ID card to let us know they are a part of our recruitment efforts. Our presentation to area communities will alert our potential customers as to the research involved and the necessity of the documentation of their participation. These customers will be noted as our buying (retail) customers.

    2. Further measures to calculate data will come through the contact of area businesses who will participate in the RFN. First, numbers will be compiled as to the number of business who would be targeted as participants, second the number who are targeted and contacted, third the number who are targeted, contacted and then participate in the network as our buying (wholesale customers).

    3. The number of producer/farmers participating in the project will also be documented. Types of outreach, the success or failure of those activities will be recorded. Target goals will be set to fulfill the orders made by customers listed above (1 & 2).   These producer/farmers will be noted as suppliers.

    Targeted goals will be set for each category.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.