Back in 1995, Deanna Thies, then 14, began a project for Future Farmers of America (FFA), growing and marketing vegetables.
Her sister, Jana, joined the business in 1998, and the sisters expanded their sales and production of heirloom and specialty squash until they earned their graduate degrees from the University of Missouri. Since then, their ambitious endeavors have blossomed into a fulltime farm business for their dad, Jim Thies.
In 2010, Jim retired from teaching agriculture education at a high school in Glasgow, Missouri, and committed himself to fulltime production at The Veggie Patch.
He and his wife, Paula, moved the farm to a six-acre plot in Cooper County, 15 miles west of Columbia. Deanna, now 35, has followed in her dad’s footsteps, teaching agriculture education at Boonville High. Jim fills in as a substitute for Deanna when she is out of town, and, in turn, she helps with marketing. “She is still very active at the Columbia Farmers Market, assisting me in sales and promoting our production and farm,” he said. Paula also helps out at the summer market, when she is not busy with her full-time job at the University of Missouri.
Still, for the most part, the farm remains a “one-man operation,” producing a diverse array of fruits and vegetables.
In fact, Jim strives to bring an average of 12 different vegetables to the outdoor and indoor market each week. His specialty is heirloom tomatoes; he grew 48 varieties last year. “We have regular customers that come from south of Jefferson City just for the heirloom tomatoes” he said. Besides their popularity among his customers, “I will always produce them because they are my favorite tomatoes.” In addition to tomatoes, the farm produces a wide variety of winter squash, vegetables and berries. Jim also recently expanded his potato crop, adding new varieties.
Though leeks and lettuce grow in his hoop house, “95 percent of what we produce is in open field,” and “most of our production is done without the use of pesticides,” he said. “We do this by constantly scouting our crops for pests and carefully evaluating what control measures need to be taken. If we do need to treat a crop for pests, we make every attempt to use approved organic-based products, but at this time we are not certified organic.”
Because the farm is “backed up against the wetlands, the deer are the biggest pests.” Through trial and error, Jim discovered that deer do not like fennel and dill, so he inter-plants the herbs into the beet and carrot beds to deter the deer.
In 2014, The Veggie Patch started a CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture).
“We provide our shareholders with three recipes every week in the summer months, centered around the vegetables in the box that week.”
He generally has about a dozen CSA members, and plans to continue the program. The CSA “benefits the customers, because they get to choose what they want in their boxes. We had berries in the boxes for 15 of the 24 weeks last year.” The Veggie Patch has sold produce in other venues, as well, but nearly everything comes to the farmers market. “It’s fun. I like the market, and I’m excited about the future of the market.”
As for farming, he said, “I have been doing this for a long time,” Jim said, “and every day I see the beauty in the crops,” in doing a good job, and facing the challenges that farming offers.
Jim Thies shared this favorite family recipe for asparagus and spaghetti squash quiche, from tastykitchen.com. For other recipes and a complete list of what grows at the Veggie Patch, check out theveggiepatchmo.wordpress.com.
Writing by Marcia Vanderlip.