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Well Fed Neighbor: Can a grass-roots alliance bring back the hay days of locally grown food?

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Grow Local! Buy Local! Eat Local!
The banner on a national web site of national Well Fed Neighbor Alliance resonates with lots of consumers who have seen headlines about contaminated and even deadly fruit and vegetables, recalled beef, pork and chicken, or who just prefer the taste of food harvested fresh from a field or garden the same day you eat it instead of 1,500 miles away.

Now the partners in Well Fed Neighbor in Springfield have an answer, with plans for more stores (Joplin and Ozark) and even production facilities. Meanwhile, Wal-mart has plans for up to six stores in the area, three already in formal planning stages. Other chains have their own schemes in response to the call for locally grown food.

“We have dreams and plans for our food to be grown and processed right here in Missouri creating food independence, jobs, and restoring a way of life for those who choose it,” says Suzan Baxter, who partnered with Ruell Chappell to create a new store at 1925 B East Bennett, just east of Glenstone.

Ruell Chappell and Suzan Baxter

Ruell Chappell and Suzan Baxter may hardly see each other some days, but on a recent Sunday, they stopped long enough for a hug in the produce aisle.

Baxter’s roots are farm deep: “I have worked in the horticultural field for 20 years and was raised by wonderful parents on a northeast Missouri farm,” says Baxter. “My parents believed in being stewards of the land and never used any practice or chemical that would be harmful to man or beast. My parents were very proud to be Missourians and Daddy would always tell me stories about how Missouri grew more food than any other state and how every town had processing plants.” With a passion for farming, Baxter hopes to bring back those days. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri in horticulture. For two decades, she has been studying new ways to grow food and teaching others.

“I am so blessed to do every day what I love,” says Baxter, but the fire in her blue eyes suggests she has a greater mission.

Well Fed Neighbor: “Many young women in their 30s and 40s don’t know how to cook.”–Suzan Baxter

Somehow she still has time to cultivate 30 acres for produce, irrigated by a seven-acre acre lake north of Buffalo. With 440 acres, she plans on a spring crop of strawberries, blackberries , raspberries, gooseberries and rhubarb. And an Amish family is raising 500 free-range chickens for her.

Baxter has learned another lesson: “Many young women in their 30s and 40s don’t know how to cook.” “We will be teaching evening classes on cooking, canning, hoop house growing, hydroponics, nutrition, soil, marketing, and any subject if an interest or need arises. We have compiled a list of classes and instructors that will be held at Well Fed Neighbor starting in October and we will post them on our Facebook page.” Although Chappell has limited gardening prowess and no experience in running a food store, he has enough media savvy and name recognition as a member of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils band to be considered partlegend, part-activist. Together they have a passion that is contagious.

“Ruell is very good at marketing and I know how to grow and we both have extensive business experience so it makes for a great duo.”

A few days ago, a Missouri Joint Legislative Committee on Urban Farming toured the store along with others that sell or consume home-grown foods.

“There is definitely an increased level of interest by legislators. A local food system creates jobs and Missouri needs jobs,” says Baxter. “The only impediments to growing and processing locally we have found is the food safety laws written for the large producer making it very difficult for the small business.”

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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