Big hearts and ingenuity of the husband-and-wife duo Jay Vang and Nou Lee power The Backyard Farmer. Aptly named, the farm is tucked behind the family home in Sedalia. Just beyond the back door, colorful Koi fish swim lazily among the water lilies of a shaded pool. That serenity, coupled with the warm smiles of Jay and Nou, makes this family farm feel a bit more like paradise than a suburban backyard.
When asked why they transformed the space into a functional farm, they talk about their family. Every dollar earned from their backyard enterprise goes toward paying for their five children’s college tuition, books, and lodging at the University of Missouri.
At market, family members are eager to share a recipe or a cooking method. The children, Jenny, Vicky, Nicholas, Daniel, and Crystal, help staff the booth if their parents are busy with the farm.
When searching for The Backyard Farmer at the market, scan for Nou’s specialty: beautiful sunflowers in abundance. She claims that the farm is a hobby for her husband, Jay, but his love for growing tomatoes seems more like an obsession. He grows enough tomatoes to bring 300 pounds to the market each week. His larger tomato varieties include Red Deuce, Big Dina, and Purple Cherokees. For smaller cherry tomatoes, he likes to grow the yellow Sun Sugar variety and the red Super Sweets.
“Tomatoes are my all-time favorite,” Jay said. “I eat right from the garden. There is no need to wash. I just eat the cherry tomatoes and big tomatoes as I work.” Vegetables sold at market are the same ones that feed his family, he said. The farmers never spray any chemicals on any part of their lawn or vegetables.
Jay’s farming methods include raised beds, a greenhouse, two high tunnels, and a hydroponic system for tomatoes. The tomato plants climb trellises more than 20 feet tall. At market, in addition to Jay’s tomatoes and Nou’s sunflowers, there are Asian fruits and vegetables, zucchini, and several different flower bouquets. Good variety keeps customers engaged, Jay said.
Jay and Nou find joy visiting with their customers.
“I enjoy seeing all the people,” Jay said. “If we don’t sell a thing, we’re happy enough to be at the market and talking with the customers and vendors. They get to know you and what you sell. I always tell my customers, ‘If you don’t like something, we’ll reimburse you.’ But most customers come back and buy more next week!”