People who have lived for generations off the land through hard times in the Ozarks are "ahead of the game," in being self-sufficient, Rachel Luster said at a community meeting Saturday, April 23.
Luster organized the meeting to discuss forming a local food producers and artisan co-op market, a school garden project and a Missouri Arkansas chapter of Slow Food USA. More than 20 people attended the rainy afternoon meeting at Juggbutt's coffee house in Alton.
After highlighting her goals, Luster asked those in attendance to introduce themselves and their interests.
Most grow some food, including fruit, vegetables, beef, dairy, poultry, eggs or goats. Some grow a variety of products and are interested in a way to sell or trade their goods locally.
Erwin Burke, who operates a chiropractic office in Alton, said he believes in the barter system and is eager to see Luster's idea take form.
"I truly believe we need to live off the land, and get back to living like they did in the 1700s," Burke said. "We need to simply our lives."
Burke said he chose the Ozarks to move to from California because he was looking for an area that could sustain itself. He believes in eating organically and intends to live to be 125, rather than cutting his life span in half with chemicals and toxins.
Debbie and Mike Slack, of Crow's Nest Farm, said their goal is to raise 80-90 percent of their own food. Besides raising cattle and grass-eating hogs, they have started the Ozarks Sustainable Living University to give free classes on homesteading skills in Thayer and West Plains.
Another person at the meeting, who was active in Slow Food USA when he lived in Texas three years ago, said he now has a farm with sheep, dairy goats, birds and a garden.
Susie Price said she moved to the Ozarks from Oklahoma to raise her dual-purpose goats because the area is economically depressed.
"People here have never known anything but poverty," Price said.
Luster agreed, and said rural Oregon County people have known for generations how to save seeds, preserve food and live self-sufficiently.
"The quality of life is so much better here," Luster said. "All value isn't monetary. There are opportunities here that aren't everywhere."
Luster said she now has one sweet potato plant that has been handed down five generations, proven to be disease- and bug-resistant for this area.
When Luster wanted to learn to plant healthy tomatoes or keep bugs naturally from her corn, she asked her neighbors.
Her neighbors advised putting a tablespoon each of sugar, lime and Epsom salt in the hole along with the tomato plants and putting a drop of mineral oil on corn tassels to deter bugs.
"That's the kind of information you can't get anywhere but right here, from people who have lived here," Luster said.
To provide locally grown food to her family, Luster buys from several farmers. She travels Oregon County to buy, or trade for, milk, eggs, meat and whatever else she cannot grow or gather herself.
"I have a cow in my freezer that I traded fiddle lessons for," Luster said.
Luster said her goal is to find a building where food growers and artisans could come together to sell or trade their products. The cooperative would also be a place to learn from others.
Tracy Ledgerwood, wife of Presiding Commissioner Patrick Ledgerwood, said they also want to help county residents survive together. They have eggs and a garden and are interested in the barter system.
The group talked about the vacant Couch Mercantile store building that has been closed for at least 30 years near Highway A. Luster said she heard the building had been donated to the county.
In a follow-up interview Monday, April 25, Southern Commissioner John Wrenfrow said the building had not yet been donated, but is unsuitable for establishing a cooperative.
If the county is given the building as discussed, it will be torn down so the road can be straightened, eliminating two 90-degree turns, he said.
Wrenfrow said he understands what Luster hopes to accomplish, and believes a better building could be found.
"I'll be looking, too," Wrenfrow said.
"That's the kind of space that could make a really big impact," Luster said at the meeting.
The goal is not to make money, but to provide a place for people to get whole, unprocessed foods and learn to take care of themselves by living off the land.
"The more we can keep money circulating in the county, the better off we'll be," Mike Slack said.
Speaking of the soil, water, woods and it's ability to grow food, Luster said, "Everything we need is right here."
Luster said she plans to have similar meetings the fourth Saturday of each month at Juggbutt's.
To discuss the food cooperative, contact Luster at 417-280-1633 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first free sustainable living class will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at the Assembly of God Church in Thayer.
Alton will have a community health fair from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at Alton Elementary School.