In the small town of Truxton, Mo., Lee Farms is a well-known business because of its personal touch and community focus. Georgia native, Rusty Lee, sells a wide variety of vegetables and meats to his Community Supported Agriculture and restaurant customers. Lee’s interest in vegetable farming began while in college. He now owns more than 50 acres and rents additional acreage to pursue his passion of growing vegetables. Lee often hires local labor, such as Clint Elmore, to assist with harvest and to maintain the vegetables with herbicides and fertilizers.
Lee is a southerner and the University of Missouri is what brought him to the Midwest. Born and raised in Thomasville, Ga., Lee graduated with a bachelor’s of engineering from the University of Georgia. After graduation, he attended MU to obtain his master’s in mechanical engineering. While at MU he met his wife, Theresa, a Missouri native whose grandparents’ farm is now the farm used in Lee Farms current operation.
“The farm that we have is small, but it works very well for us,” Theresa said.
During Lee’s college years, he rediscovered his southern roots in vegetable farming. Vegetable farming is more common in the South than Midwest because of longer vegetable growing seasons, so this interest was not typical of Missouri farmers. Most of Lee’s vegetable farming training is from hands-on work and on-the-job experience at various farms he has worked on throughout his life.
In the 10 years since Lee Farms was established, the selection of vegetables sold to CSA and restaurants has grown. When Lee’s business first began, his list of products was limited and included only a few tomatoes and potatoes varieties. Now the list boasts: squashes, sweet corn, pumpkins and green beans. Lee’s market has even extended to chicken.
Due to Lee Farms rising popularity, Lee chooses to market his products in the Columbia and St. Louis areas. They are sold through the White Tablecloth restaurants, a restaurant chain located in St. Louis, and CSA. Whole Foods recently became a customer when they decided to pursue more local than organic produce. Lee also sells some of his produce to the St. Louis farmer’s market because it is a direct marketing strategy to consumers. He does this to establish communication with his customers and to develop personal relationships.
“Selling to the community is important because it lets me relate to all of my customers,” Lee said. “I get to be around everyone and know exactly what they want.”
Lee uses pesticides and herbicides to prevent disease and ward off insects. This also makes his produce appealing to White Tablecloth and CSA. He also uses commercial fertilizer to maintain soil fertility and plant production year round.
For the past eight years, Lee has made a successful business with White Tablecloth and CSA. He sells his products to distributors who then supply the White Tablecloth restaurant trade. Then, Lee sells to restaurants because of their demand for high quality products and to gain more customers.
Lee Farms has become successful over time because of vast community support and dedicated customers who buy his fresh vegetables daily. Lee’s dedication to the community is what helps mold not just the future of agriculture but the future of the business world.