From the time Dennis Cramer was 12, he helped his parents in the family’s sizeable garden south of Ashland, Missouri. Then, for many years after he left home, he made his living working in the asphalt and road construction business. As a sideline, he has raised cattle on his 80-acre farm in Hallsville, north of Columbia.
About 10 years ago, he decided to get back to the garden, and began a greenhouse “experiment” raising tomatoes. Two years later, his experiment was so successful that his wife, Barbara, began to sell tomatoes at three farmers markets, including the Columbia Farmers Market.
Cramer has since expanded his tomato varieties, and also grows cucumbers, peppers, beets, spinach, lettuce, and basil within about an acre of greenhouses. His specialty is heirloom tomatoes, which are relished by market customers—and by his cattle. “The cattle love the tomatoes,” he said, “and they come running when we pull the suckers from the plants. They love the leaves, too.”
Even so, “60 percent of what we grew last year was sold at the Columbia Farmers Market,” Cramer said. And when the market closes at noon on Saturdays, “we give any leftovers to the local food bank.”
While the greenhouse farm business, keeps him “busy, and out of trouble,” Dennis, who is 73, also owns a trucking company. Even so, these days, he said, “I don’t do much but fool with tomatoes.” Barbara, who drives a truck for the company, is at the market on Saturdays during the growing season. Three years ago, Dennis began accompanying her. “You won’t get rich selling tomatoes at the market, but you sure get to meet a lot of nice people.”