When Colleen and Steve Meredith decided to start vending at the Lincoln University Farmer’s Market in Jefferson City, Missouri, five years ago, they first needed a name to sell their products under. Since Steve is from the Ozarks and Colleen is from New England, they settled on Ozark Yankee. “We figured it was the merging of two different cultures,” she says with a laugh.
As the former dean of the Department of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at Lincoln University, Steve wanted to support the school’s farmers’ market and its extension programs with local farmers. Yet although they farmed goats and chickens on their land in Jefferson City, they’d never sold their products commercially.
The market includes a winter and summer season, and so in order to vend before most produce was in season, they started making fudge and caramels with their goat’s milk. Colleen says the milk adds extra richness and complexity to the candies. “It’s very creamy, because goat’s milk is naturally homogenized, rich in fat and has a sweet flavor to it,” she says.
During their first year at the market in 2013, the couple sold just their fudge and caramels before expanding into organic vegetables, grass-fed and finished beef, free-range chicken and eggs.
“It was a big learning curve for us,” Colleen says of making and selling the goat’s milk candy. “I think we really learned as we went at the market. We realized early on that we need a lot of variety for the farmers’ market, because it’s hit and miss, who comes out. So we’ve expanded tremendously from when we started.”
Today, Steve makes the caramels and Colleen makes the fudge, which is offered in a range of flavors: peanut butter, coconut, chocolate, chocolate with walnuts and sometimes mocha.
“The people who come for the candy are religious about it,” Colleen says with a laugh. “They will come to the market specifically for that. We have some little kids who come, run up and want the caramels or fudge.”
In addition to their sweet treats, the Merediths also specialize in chickens and free-range eggs. In past years they’ve only sold whole chickens at the market, but this season they’re introducing some cuts and individual pieces as well. “A lot of our customers live by themselves and maybe don’t need a whole chicken, especially ones that are 3 or 4 pounds, which is what we’ve been growing out,” Steve says.
Their grass-fed and finished beef, meanwhile, is raised on a separate farm in Jamestown, Missouri. The couple raises Belted Galloway and South Poll cattle, which Steve says have smaller frames, allowing him to raise them in two years rather than three – and therefore turn a profit more quickly. At the market, Ozark Yankee sells ground beef, steaks, roasts, filets and specialty items like liver. (Plus dog treats and bones.)
In addition to candy and meat, the couple raise and sell a wide range of organic and heirloom produce, including lettuce, spinach, radishes, tomatoes, squash, turnips, cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, some herbs, cantaloupes, garlic and eggplant. Colleen says their variety of heirloom tomatoes are some of her favorites each summer.
“The heirlooms are a lot more challenging to grow because they have really thin skins, and they cost us a lot more to grow – but they’re worth it,” she says.
Look for Ozark Yankee at the Lincoln University outdoor farmers’ market when it opens for the season on Sat., April 21 at the Dickinson Research Facility parking lot on campus. The summer market runs every Saturday from 8:30 to 11:30am through the fall. (To learn more about the market, visit facebook.com/lincolnuniversityfarmersmarket.)
“The farmers’ market is great place for people to get food,” Colleen says. “They don’t realize how fresh it is; you get food that’s picked right away, the day before. It’s a really nice atmosphere, too – it’s a real community, and all the vendors take a lot of pride in their products. They grow food they want to eat and share with others.”
Ozark Yankee, Jefferson City, Missouri, ozarkyankee.wordpress.com