Liz Graznak runs Happy Hollow Farm, growing certified organic vegetables amid a sea of conventional row crops in rural Moniteau County, Missouri. Through Graznak’s hard work, vision, and magnetism, Happy Hollow is the gravitational center of good food and good community for rural neighbors, customers, and fellow farmers. In recognition of Graznak’s outstanding organic practices and her efforts to expand awareness of organic food and build community around it, she has been named the Organic Farmer of the Year by the board of the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).
This prestigious award recognizes one Midwest farmer/farm family each year for innovative farming practices and the outreach they do to teach others how organic farming works. Graznak will receive the award Feb. 22 at the kick-off of the Growing Stronger Collaborative Conference on Organic and Sustainable Farming, a virtual event that combines the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, GrassWorks Grazing Conference, OGRAIN Organic Grain Conference, Midwest Organic Pork Conference, and Organic Vegetable Production Conference. For conference information, see bit.ly/GrowingStronger2021.
Happy Hollow Farm
Graznak launched Happy Hollow Farm in 2009 with 18 members in a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) model where consumers buy shares in the farm and receive a weekly box of produce. Today, she and her crew deliver 85 share boxes, provide two tents of produce as a cornerstone vendor at the Columbia Farmers Market, and supply produce to local restaurants and natural foods grocers.
The bedrock of Happy Hollow Farm is the CSA, though community-centered agriculture would be a better description. Unlike many subscription-style CSAs, Happy Hollow requires members to work two half-days a season. Far from a burden, the work requirement bonds the farm and its members, who cherish the workdays.
Jeanne and Mark Heuser have been members since 2010. They said they love the freshness, quality, and flavor of Happy Hollow produce. Jeanne’s connection to the farm has carried over into other work. She and Graznak are working together to lay the groundwork for a regional food system with the formation of the Moniteau County Neighborhood Alliance. The goal is to support community health and economic wellbeing through education and advocacy. Their first project with University Extension is to promote access to safe food and build the community of food growers in their region.
Jeremy and Amanda Root, who live in Columbia, raised their two daughters on Happy Hollow’s CSA boxes. They love the exposure to new varieties and the rhythm of seasonal eating. “It’s the relationship with the farm that is precious to us,” Jeremy said.
One thing that sets Happy Hollow apart from other vegetable farms is its year-round production cycle. While many farms have produce 32 weeks a year, this one provides produce 52 weeks a year. In the summer months, the farm provides the very best versions of peak-season veggies in a crowded marketplace. Winter sales of fresh greens out of the high tunnel offer a unique and valuable product that is in high demand.
“No one else has fresh, local, organic produce in December,” Graznak said, proud that her farm fills in the gaps.
Maintaining organic certification is important to her. The label indicates third-party accountability, and customers have confidence the farm is following organic rules. It opens up wholesale markets, and importantly, it forces Happy Hollow to do the paperwork that is so valuable for tracking how each crop is doing year to year.
Farm neighbors JT and Mary Cassil were skeptical at first that Graznak could “run a truck patch” on land that had been owned for more than a century by the Cassil family. Graznak’s hard work and fresh produce won their respect.
“She’s got a product that anybody would want. Her produce is beautiful,” JT said. “Liz takes care of the land. It means a lot to me.”
Every aspect of the farm presents an opportunity for Graznak to activate her vision. She wants to raise the best vegetables, using the best land practices, being the best boss and best possible neighbor she can be, all while building a community of organic eaters and producers in her region. Her work ethic has been instrumental to her fitting into this rural community that wasn’t used to seeing lesbian couples settling down to farm. Graznak’s wife, Katie, works in Columbia. They have two children, Sylvia, 7, and Ellowyn, 1.
Graznak has a passion for farming and the community she has stitched together. While she doesn’t downplay the difficulties of farming, she also sees the beauty that comes from building a community around good food and shared health. Her inner fire appears outwardly like joy in action. It leads her to erect high tunnels and teach classes, to deliver the best food to her CSA members in handmade cedar boxes, and to check in with her employees while they are harvesting lettuce. She lives out the reality that good agriculture requires community—one that is healthy, intertwined, and prosperous.
The Organic Farmer of the Year award is a project of MOSES, a nonprofit organization that encourages organic and sustainable agriculture by providing farmers with education, resources, and practical advice. For more information, see mosesorganic.org.