First-generation farmers Kris and Stacey Larson have two great love stories to tell their future grandchildren—one about how they met, the other about how they found their shared passion.
Each spouse loves farming, and each intentionally chose to make farming a career. But the couple didn’t follow a traditional path: unlike many farmers, neither grew up on a farm. Instead, each discovered farming in college.
The best part: This all happened before they ever met.
“We both independently discovered it,” Kris Larson said. “I was volunteering on a local farm a few hours a week, and Stacey had joined a farm as a farm apprentice.”
He said his volunteering led him to consider farming as a full-time job. The couple met and fell in love after they got into farming, and they eventually opened Riverbend Roots Farm together. The business sells items at the Webster Groves Farmers Market.
“The volunteer work was so inspiring that we currently run a farm apprenticeship program,” Larson said. “It’s a really well-developed program that will give anyone who wants to the opportunity to learn about farming.”
The couple also offers a number of classes for that purpose.
A new generation of farmers
Kris and Stacey Larson married in 2003 and have two kids, a 6-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl.
“They’re often at the farmers market,” Larson said. “They love helping, and that’s another reason we like the Clayton market—there are always things for them to do at the market with other vendors.”
The Larsons have owned Riverbend Roots Farm in Alton, IL, since 2010 but have been farming for 12 years.
“This will be our seventh year in the area,” Larson said. “We started by just being inspired by the idea of growing our own food. That was the initial spark.”
As time went by, the couple had to decide if they were going to choose farming as a career. They decided to go for it.
“We are a small-scale farm, about five acres, and we serve our customers directly,” he said. “We use a business model that allows us to make a full-time career and income, which is not always the case.”
Farming depends a lot on the elements, he said, so the farm struggled a bit last year because of poor weather.
“It’s a good job, but it’s not without disappointments that can come at any time,” Larson said. “But it’s an honest job, an honest day's work and it’s incredibly challenging in a positive sense.”
Farming demands the best of a person, he said but it’s well worth the effort. Serving customers directly is rewarding on many levels.
The Larsons grow a variety of seasonal vegetables. During the fall, the Larsons expect to have squash, carrots, peppers, greens, eggplant and more.
“We’re always encouraging folks who may not have been in the habit of shopping farmers markets to give it a try,” Larson said. “The food is a lot less expensive than the impression usually is, and we’re a lot more competitive with prices than you think.”
Couple participates in community-supported agriculture program
While he’s working to increase his farmers market presence, Larson said, about 75 percent of Riverbend Roots’ business comes from a community supported agriculture program (CSA).
“It provides a direct link between us and a lot of our core customers, who then get access to the best of our produce at the peak seasons,” he said. “In return, they buy in bulk, we get their payment up front.”
That allows the farmers to make money in the winter and spring, allowing them to purchase supplies for planting seasons.
The Larsons’ CSA membership is primarily composed of individuals and families, he said. The CSA model is growing across the entire farming industry because it works.
“It helps small, local farms stay financially solvent and not have to go into debt, and it gives people what they want—fresh vegetables," Larson said.
There are several drop-spots throughout the St. Louis area, including one at the Ethical Society of St. Louis in Clayton.
“CSA members get the freshest produce at the peak of maturity,” he added. “We market it more in the wintertime because it sells out quickly, and we focus more on farmers markets in the summertime.”
Go to the Riverbend Roots website to learn more abou the farm, its CSA and its apprenticeship program.