Local Food Fair brings Missouri family farm-raised food to Columbia |

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To caricature artist Emily Lessner, pigs and people don’t look that far apart.

“I was thinking about drawing people as chickens, but I didn’t think I could do it,” she said.

Lessner was one of many community members contributing Thursday to the Local Food Fair, hosted by the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. The goal was to raise awareness about healthy ingredients found in neighborhoods.







Tierney Lonberger, left, and Avery Cooper help Scott Jamison replant the plant of his choosing on Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Columbia.

Tierney Lonberger, left, and Avery Cooper help Scott Jamison replant the plant of his choosing on Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Columbia. Lonberger and Cooper helped out at the event for a service learning program through MU.



The pig/human hybrid caricatures were inspired by MRCC’s Patchwork Family Farms’ main product: pork.

“I get better as the day goes on,” Lessner said. “It’s nerve-wracking when everyone sees them.”

The fair included free meals from a Fresh Harvest Grill food truck, a gardening demonstration and a soil tunnel for visitors to crawl through. Booths with various activities for adults and children alike lined the MRCC parking lot.







Junhyeong Jeong takes a photo of pig caricature artist Emily Lessner, left, and Song Jo on Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Columbia

Junhyeong Jeong takes a photo of pig caricature artist Emily Lessner, left, and Song Jo on Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Columbia. Lessner spent her time drawing caricatures of attendees faces on pigs’ bodies.



The tunnel, made of styrofoam, was hand-painted with Missouri native wildflowers and organisms that keep the soil healthy, like snails and turtles.

Mitch Feyerherm, an onsite soil evaluator, gave lessons at the tunnel on the difference between Missouri clay soil and other sandy soils. He said the contents of a soil can make a big difference in the nutrient value in food.

“The clay can actually hold a lot of nutrition and nutrients, but the texture of the actual structure, especially with big clods, it can be really difficult for people to grow things,” he said.







Dylan Epstein, 6, walks through the Soil Health Tunnel on Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Columbia.

Dylan Epstein, 6, walks through the Soil Health Tunnel on Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Columbia. The Soil Health Tunnel was a mural showcasing the life that happens underground.



Fair-goers were able to take home plant starts for their home gardens. Workers handed out plants such as parsley, kale and basil in their plastic pots — or people could get them potted in a slightly larger container that would last longer.

“Of course, any good farm, whether it’s a livestock farm or a vegetable farm, is based on the soil health,” said Kira Kirk, Growing the Local Food Chain program coordinator.







A crowd of people line up for food on Thursday

A crowd of people line up for food Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center’s Local Food Fair in Columbia. The fair offered free food from different vendors like the Fresh Harvest Grill.









Lydia Jefferson scoops popcorn into a bag on Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center's Local Food Fair in Columbia.

Lydia Jefferson scoops popcorn into a bag Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center’s Local Food Fair in Columbia. Jefferson is an environmental student at the University of Missouri and was volunteering at the fair.



Growing the Local Food Chain program, along with MRCC, works to increase access to family farm-raised foods for families and youths in particular, Kirk said. The fair was a celebration of the program’s mission.

“Local food brings local jobs and supports the local economy,” Kirk said. “A more robust local economy is important in both rural and urban areas.”

MRCC is a statewide organization founded in 1985 to represent farmers. The organization challenges corporate monopolies of the food supply and creates alternative food systems, according to its website.







Jamie Blair reads to, from left, Blakely, 4, and Kinley, 7, on Thursday

Jamie Blair reads to Blakely, 4, and Kinley, 7, on Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Columbia. It was the first Local Food Fair that the center put on.



“Missourians want the decisions made about their food by family farmers living on the land and consumers, not by corporate executives in board rooms thousands of miles away,” according to the MRCC website.

One such initiative is Patchwork Family Farms, which provides local pork products to Missouri restaurants and grocery stores.

Fresh Harvest Grill prepared the meals at the Local Food Fair using Patchwork Family Farms meat. The food truck grill specializes in healthy foods using local ingredients.







Employees of the Fresh Harvest Grill cook food on Thursday

Employees of the Fresh Harvest Grill cook food on Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center’s first Local Food Fair in Columbia. The group worked with Missouri farmers to put on the event. 



Layah VerDught, the coordinator of Patchwork Family Farms, said the fair is meant to spread the word on buying local.

“We’re just trying to create this community and supporting each other,” she said. “We’re trying to get the youth involved in that and showing them how important it is.”

At the fair, it was important for VerDught to supply fresh pork from local hog famers.

“The animals are raised outside with fresh sunshine, fresh air and quality feed necessary for good health,” VerDught said.







Malachi Hanna, 3, paints a pot on Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center

Malachi Hanna, 3, paints a pot Thursday at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Columbia. The event held numerous activities for kids.



Children were invited to paint paper pots with bright acrylic paints. Hay bales laden with colorful quilts were placed in a quiet area so children could hear local stories on agriculture. Kirk said educating young people on the nutritional value of local foods is important to the MRCC mission.

“Columbia is unique because we are an urban area very close to rural areas,” Kirk said. “So I think getting the whole community in both rural and urban areas together to eat local food at the same table is what really makes a difference in our local food chain.”

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