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Sunflower Savannah has been growing sustainable, organic produce for more than two decades

Food trends come and go, but the farmers – the backbone of the restaurant industry – live on. Open since 2000, Sunflower Savannah, a family-owned and –operated farm in Beaufort, Missouri, is a producer with a rich history and strong tradition. Run by husband-and-wife team Billy and Sam Wiseman, the farm produces St. Croix lamb, Cayuga duck eggs and roasting birds, heirloom tomatoes, garlic ramps, quince, garlic and more – all in the most sustainable way possible.

Sam Wiseman’s parents worked the fields in southern Missouri when she was young, and that experience profoundly shaped her views on food.

“I knew what watermelon was really supposed to taste like and what strawberries are really supposed to taste like,” she says. “I’ve always just been drawn to growing.”

She started by just growing tomato plants for personal use, but this passion soon grew into a full-fledged business.

“Farming, for me, is like a miracle. You put a seed in the ground, and you get 12 pounds of cucumbers,” she says. “It’s just an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction.”

The duo behind Sunflower Savannah are proud to grow vegetables that you may not be able to find elsewhere. In partnership with Slow Food Grants from the Ark of Taste, the operation grows 40 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, as well as crystal apples and four types of long beans. And of course, it also sells sunflowers.

Everything produced on the farm is Certified Naturally Grown, a grassroots program for small farms that is an alternative to being Certified Organic. A farmer-run organization, CNG involves farmers inspecting other farmers' operations to look at the soil and additives and ensure everything is organic.

“It’s actually a little bit higher standard than organic because there’s a couple of things you can’t do that organic can do,” she says.

The farm only adds natural products, like ladybugs and beneficial nematodes, to the soil to help control pests.

The sustainability focus extends to the entire operating ethos of the farm.

“Everything on the farm has a purpose,” Wiseman says.

The chickens eat bugs and parasites that would make the sheep sick, and the sheep provide compost for the garden. The Wisemans' first greenhouse was even made out of recycled sliding glass doors. Objects only find their way into the garbage once they become entirely unusable.

All of this effort is made in the pursuit of a better-tasting product. For Wiseman, out-of-season vegetables and fruit that are mass produced only have a fraction of their true flavor.

“Then I think that’s why kids don’t like certain vegetables and a lot of people don’t like tomatoes,” she says. “Whenever you get a taste of what a tomato is supposed to taste like, that changes your mind.”

Because they sell at local farmers markets, the Wisemans regularly get to interact with customers and help them understand how to cook with produce, which is one of their favorite parts of the job.

“This older gentleman came to me last year when we had tomatoes, and he bought a few tomatoes from me. And then he went home, and I didn’t think anything else,” Wiseman says. “Then, the next week, he came to me, and he literally started crying and said, ‘You know when I bit into this tomato that I bought from you last week, it reminded me of my father and the tomatoes that he used to grow.’ And he was really overwhelmed and feeling kind of embarrassed because he teared up, but it was such a gift to me for him to say that to me. So I just want to be able to do more of that.” 

The Wisemans plan to keep growing and experimenting with different crops. They also welcome field trips to the farms to help children understand where their food comes from.

You can find them at the Tower Grove Farmers Market on Saturdays. You never know what heirloom plant variety will be available the next time you stop by their stand.

Sunflower Savannah,

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Managing Editor

Mary Andino is the managing editor at Feast. She loves making gnocchi, talking with farmers and makers, and promoting sustainability.

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