Jenn DeRose is passionate about local food. She has a degree in sustainability from Washington University in St. Louis, and as program manager of The Green Dining Alliance, she helped area restaurants lower their environmental impact and diverted several hundred tons of waste from landfills, among other achievements. Now the manager of Known & Grown, DeRose leads the organization's efforts to support and promote environmentally responsible farmers within 150 miles of St. Louis. In collaboration with Chris Wimmer, a farmer specialist at Known & Grown, DeRose connects with farmers to discuss and highlight their principles, practices and products.
Founded in June 2019, Known & Grown is still a new brand. What inspired its creation? It’s a program of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment – a 50-year-old advocacy organization – and the St. Louis Food Policy Coalition. The two organizations realized that there are lots of farmers in the St. Louis area going above and beyond, whether it’s avoiding synthetic chemicals or not confining their animals, and they weren’t getting the attention they deserved. [Known & Grown provides brand marketing for the farmers.] It’s a twofold approach: We promote the efforts of sustainable farmers and talk to the public about why these things are important.
What is the “St. Louis foodshed,” and how does Known & Grown impact it? The foodshed is [everyone in the region who] plays a role in getting food to our plates, from growers to distributors and restaurants to eaters. We focus on farmers that are using sustainable practices within the foodshed. We acknowledge that there are farmers caught in industrial agriculture trying to find a way out – we don’t want to exclude them from the conversation. Although these industrial farms aren’t involved in the program, we provide advice and guidance for farmers looking to transition.
What does “local food” mean to you? We decided to put a strict definition on what “local” means. People often use it to describe food that traveled 300 miles – sometimes more – to get to someone’s plate. We thought that was unacceptable and misleading, so we defined local food as [food] produced within 150 miles of where it’s sold. Good stewardship of the land means building up soil health and caring for animals. We’re especially concerned about the number of factory farms cropping up. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of farmers are being pushed to do. They say bigger is better, and it’s causing a lot of problems for the environment and public health. We want to celebrate farmers doing things that are environmentally and socially responsible.
How does Known & Grown support farmers? [Chris Wimmer], our farmer specialist, has decades of experience, so he has great ideas on how to help farmers transition to sustainable practices, which can improve yields. We provide opportunities for farmers to connect with each other and share tips and best practices, and, with the help of Rae Miller, a local food coordinator, we connect farmers with restaurants and chefs to try to get [them] to source more locally. It’s been really successful. We also share policy updates at the local and federal level, [especially] during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. On our website, you can learn about the farmers [with whom we work], how to buy their products and how to visit their land. Consumers can help build a more resilient food system one bunch of kale at a time.
What does the future look like for Known & Grown? We already have 43 farms in the program … We want to expand to 80 farms in the next year. Beyond that, I think it would be amazing to have this program in every city across the country. We’ve been systematically disconnected from food to the point where we have no idea what we’re eating. There should be the equivalent [of Known & Grown] everywhere so people can know their farmers.
3115 S. Grand Blvd., Suite 650, St. Louis, Missouri, knownandgrownstl.org
3 REGIONAL FARMERS IN THE "ST. LOUIS FOODSHED"
Stuart Farm in Gerald, Missouri, consists of pastures, native grasslands, bottomlands and woods, which are managed with the soil’s and livestock’s health in mind. The farm uses sustainable practices to humanely raise its cattle, hogs and chickens, and its products are sold at farmers’ markets in the St. Louis area. stuartfarm.com
Located in Eolia, Missouri, HartBeet Farm grows a wide range of vegetables and herbs – from beets, carrots and kale to dill, lemongrass and marjoram – without pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. Its wild harvests include mushrooms and berries, and it produces its own maple syrup. The family farm is also committed to growing wild flowers to enrich pollinator habitats. hartbeetfarm.com
Rosy Buck Farm owners Holly Evans and Randy Buck volunteered on farms around the world before settling down in Leasburg, Missouri, to start their own. The couple grows fruits and vegetables using rigorous conservation practices such as soil testing, crop rotation and no-till farming as well as heavy mulches to encourage biodiversity in the soil and to keep weeds at bay. rosybuckfarm.com