When you ask Clay & Jen Stem, the proud owners of Stem to Table Farm, why they sell their microgreens at the Columbia Farmers Market, they’ll tell you, “It’s all about the COMMUNITY! Columbia has such a strong sense of community and we are honored to play a part in that.”
Columbia Farmers Market allows Clay & Jen the opportunity to educate people on the powerful nutritional benefits and incredible flavors of the microgreens they grow.
“Microgreens are not a well known food group to many, but they are great on anything: salads, sandwiches, wraps, eggs, rice, quesadillas, tacos, or simply throw a handful on the plate. They can be up to 40 times more nutritious than their adult counterparts. Tiny but mighty! People often think you have to do something fancy with them …wrong! Seriously, just throw them on top!”
In addition to informing customers about the benefits of microgreens, Clay & Jen enjoy sharing their process with their customers, “We grow using organic principles. We do not use pesticides on any of our products. We compost our own waste from soil used in microgreen production and our own household food waste. This compost is utilized to feed our outdoor garden operation.” At their booth, Clay & Jen are happy to provide samples so customers can taste their various microgreen varieties for the first time.
Believe it or not, according to the Stems, “Microgreens are finicky and require a lot of attention.” Clay runs the farm full time and begins each day around 4:00am and finishes around 9pm. Jen works full time as an Occupational Therapist at University Hospital and then comes home to help on the farm. “We plant twice a week and cultivate nearly 65 flats of microgreens weekly. The farms weekly cycle includes soil preparation for the 65 flats, filling flats with soil, measuring seed, planting, daily watering and monitoring temperature and humidity, rotation, harvesting, packaging, delivering to restaurants and grocery stores, washing and sanitizing flats, bookkeeping, accounting, and participating in the market.”
The family farm offers several core flavors of microgreens which include: Pea, Radish, Broccoli, Sunflower, Powerhouse Mix, Kale, and Alfalfa. They also grow approximately 15 specialty varieties that are largely utilized by local chefs. Luckily, they usually have a supply of specialty varieties available at market on a limited basis. These include but are not limited to: basil, fennel, cantaloupe, dill, red amaranth, rainbow chard, nasturtium, and leeks.
In addition to visiting with their customers at the market, the Stems have enjoyed getting to know the rest of the vendors. “We love being part of the Columbia Farmers Market! The vendor family is full of love and support. We have built friendships and relationships with so many of the vendors. Plus, the staff at CFM is so supportive and always have warm smiles on their faces.”
By selling at the Columbia Farmers Market, “It allows our customers to put a face with our product. When they buy our microgreens at the market or in stores, they know who we are. Plus, selling at the market gives us the opportunity to personally thank our customers for their support. When customers buy local, it puts those dollars spent right back into the community. It also lessens the environmental impact caused from large scale processing and transportation, reducing the use of fossil fuels. Oh, and of course, community!” In addition to building relationships at the market, since joining the Columbia Farmers Market in 2017, they have successfully grown relationships at multiple businesses and restaurants in the community. “We are proud to sell our microgreens at all 3 HyVees in Columbia, Lucky’s Market, both Clovers, and the Root Cellar. Each of these businesses have been very supportive in keeping our greens on the shelf. Clay has built many wonderful relationships with amazing local restaurants in town.”
The following restaurants consistently utilize Stem to Table’s products in their culinary creations: Peachtree Catering, Tellers, Country Club of MO, Old Hawthorne, Columbia Country Club, University Club, Barred Owl Butcher & Table, Top Ten Wines, Sycamore, Meriwether Café, Coley’s American Bistro, Park, 44 Stone Pub, range free, Uprise Bakery, Missouri Legacy Beef Beefstro, Addison’s, Sophia’s, Chris McD’s, Grand Cru, Bleu Market & Bakery, and Sake. They are also proud to provide microgreens for several pop-ups including Beet Box, Pasta La Fata, DrinKraft, and Cassava Mama Tortillas. They also enjoy donating product for various special events and organizations.
Clay & Jen believe it’s important to teach their sons the skills necessary to run a small family farm. Chase (15) and Grady (13) are involved in all aspects of the business from soil preparation, planting, harvesting, packaging, and selling at the market. “One of the reasons we started our farm was to educate our children about community. We wanted to show them that social and environmental change can happen through small scale, natural farming and have huge impacts. Our teenage boys likely won’t admit it, but when we stay quiet and simply listen to some of their conversations, it’s obvious that we’ve succeeded on some level. They appreciate that we support local when we dine out, understand that food doesn’t just come from a shelf at the grocery stores, and they are able to communicate with people through conversation and not just texting!” When not participating in school or sports activities, Chase and Grady are happy to help on the farm wherever needed.
Just as Clay & Jen have passed along the love of farming to their sons, Clay’s farming inspiration derived from a close family friend, a grandfather-like figure in his early years. Howard Palmer was a cattle and tobacco farmer just east of Lexington, Kentucky. Clay spent several summers growing up on the farm with Howard and his family. Howard became a mentor to Clay. As a young man, Clay helped tend Howard’s large vegetable garden. Thus, the dream of becoming a farmer was planted within Clay at a young age. The seed would remain dormant for several years, as Clay believed the farming lifestyle impossible, due to his belief that farming required a huge investment of land and equipment.
A position at Stephens College Equestrian Center brought the family to Columbia in 2007. Years later, Clay & Jen’s eyes were opened to the possibility of small scale farming. They spent many months researching, testing, developing, and honing their microgreen skills. With their newly discovered farming skills, they joined the Columbia Farmers Market in the spring of 2018. Prior to that, the family participated in Orr Street Farmers & Artisan Market.
Like many of the farmers at the Columbia Farmers Market, Clay & Jen have diversified from selling just one product. “We are also beekeepers and make our own lip balms and fragrances. Our honey is used in our lip balms.” The beeswax used in their products is sourced through the local Boone Regional Beekeepers Association, wherein they are also active members. When available, they sell their honey at market as well. They also grow several varieties of cherry tomatoes and edible flowers which add flare and flavor to delicious dishes around town.
When not on the farm, Clay & Jen are also involved in the Smithton Middle School PTSA and support their kids in their sporting activities. Chase plays soccer for Hickman High School and Grady participates in Track & Field at Smithton Middle School. “We love cheering on our boys from the stands!”
Help cheer on the Stem to Table family by visiting their booth every Saturday morning at the Columbia Farmers Market!