When horticulture major Emily Scifers (B.S. ’06) began attending the University of Minnesota, she imagined a career designing long stretches of beautiful ornamental plants. Then she started talking grocery options with her roommates and everything changed. “Having these conversations was a revelation. I started going to conferences about food issues, and I felt like an explorer in a new land.
Scifers, pictured with her boyfriend, Ross Peterson, scrapped her plans to work with ornamental plants. Instead, she designed an individualized study program that would prepare her to start her own community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm. With CSAs, customers buy directly from the farmer by purchasing a membership, which pays for a full season’s worth of vegetables and provides farms with cash flow to cover preseason expenses, such as seeds and supplies.
In 2010, Scifers and Peterson took the leap into starting a CSA farm of their own on her parents’ land near Cape Girardeau, Missouri. They dubbed it Laughing Stalk Farm. “People think we’re crazy because it’s so hilly here and, unlike the Twin Cities, we’re the only CSA farm in the county,” she says. “We’re lone soldiers down here in the sustainable agriculture fight.”
Business is gradually growing. This season, 32 people bought memberships and 40 more are on the waiting list. The couple is planning to expand membership for 2015. Their farmers’ market booth is also popular.
But running Laughing Stalk isn’t a bucolic dreamscape: Rain this past year was ferocious enough to cause crop loss, and Scifers and Peterson have part-time jobs to supplement farm income. Also, they’re living in her mother’s house while they look for a farm to buy. “So, I’m 35 and I’m living in my mom’s basement,” she says. “But that’s all part of the farming adventure sometimes. Personally, I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point. I feel lucky to do what I love every day.”