Every Sunday morning from May to October at 9am a bell signals the opening of the Omaha Farmers Market in Aksarben Village. Lines form in front of vendors’ tents with the early birds hoping to get first pick of fresh produce, meat, eggs, and cheese among other delicacies. With attendance growing each year, consumers continue to learn how to incorporate fresh food into their daily meals at home, and local restaurants create menus around seasonal items available.
The time, effort, and risk involved in farming and producing are all great. But for most it’s a passion that keeps them going, especially during adverse times. Terra and Matt Hall who own Rhizosphere Farm in Missouri Valley met while working on an organic farm in Oregon, where the organic farm movement was in full force. Knowing they wanted to do it on their own, they decided to move back to the Midwest and try growing food in the prairie. They started in 2009 by renting half an acre of land in Waterloo, NE, and were surprised at how quickly their produce grew in popularity. Then in 2013 they purchased six acres of their own in Missouri Valley. “We’ve been farming here ever since, and it’s been incredible to have our own space,” Terra said.
Their focus is on the “simple sale,” which means a majority of their income comes from the local Farmers Markets, working a seven-day loop from the end of April through September every year. Their stand is piled high with giant heads of lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, kale, asparagus, herbs, and more. Although the fresh produce is slightly more expensive than at local grocery stores, Terra said consumers want food that has been harvested the day before versus having traveled on a truck for days. “There’s an inspiration with the customer base,” she said. “It’s hard work, but when there’s a line every week, it makes us want to continue doing it.”
Kevin Loth with Shadow Brook Farm in Lincoln started with the organic farming movement in California, then moved to Lincoln in 1995 to start his own operation with his wife. They began with fresh produce and later added a small herd of 15 dairy goats for their Dutch Girl Creamery cheese operation. Today, they have 150 dairy goats, which will increase to 200 next year, and produce a variety of European style artisan cheeses. Similar to Rhizosphere Farm, Shadow Brook makes a majority of sales at the Farmers Markets. But they also sell directly to local restaurants as well as work with Lone Tree Foods, which connects local farmers with wholesale buyers.
Dario’s Brasserie is a big supporter of local farmers and regularly purchases items from a number of local producers, including Shadow Brook Farm. The restaurant uses Shadow Brook’s cheese on its artisan cheese plate, the Dario’s Cheeseburger, and uses both their cheese and greens in its chicken salad. “Local vendors play a big role in our daily operation,” said Dario’s Chef Josh Essay. “There’s a huge advantage to using seasonal, high quality produce from surrounding farms. It’s better quality, has a longer shelf life, and often you’re getting it the day after being harvested.”
Although more restaurants open each year that use locally-sourced food, and crowds continue to grow at the local Farmers Markets, it’s still a tough business. “We’ve seen a lot of people get into farming over the years who end up quitting because it’s so hard,” Terra said. “But we’re all trying to be more innovative and share with each other so that we can all be successful to help meet the needs of the growing food community.” Supporting local vendors is so important, and working directly with consumers and helping educate them is what both Terra and Kevin say they love most. “I enjoy it when customers get to know me, my family, and I get to know theirs,” Kevin said. “That direct connection is the best part of this business.”