On the Road 2011 – My Visit to Mansfield Missouri and St. Louis Urban Farming

After school is out and the spring planting is done, late May is a great time for a journey.  This year I took a week off and I set my sights on Mansfield Missouri and points east. I can not recommend Mansfield highly enough as a destination for Ozark travelers.  While there, I stayed at a family camp ground named Mansfield Woods.  This campground is run by three local sisters and they were terrific as were the grounds and accommodations.

Mansfield is the final home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the famous “Little House” series author.  She lived near Mansfield on Rocky Ridge Farm from 1894 until her death in 1957.  I visited Rocky Ridge Farm and took the guided tours and also visited the museum.  The museum contains many treasures including the actual fiddle that Pa Ingalls played in Laura’s books along with hand written versions of Laura’s manuscripts.  There are two homes at Rocky Ridge, one is the original farm-house and the other is the “Rock House” which was a gift from Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane, a famous journalist and author even before her mother began to write the Little House books.  The Rock House was meant to be a retirement home for Laura and her husband Almanzo.  The homes have been beautifully preserved and look much as they did when the Wilders lived  there during the first half of the 20th century.  An interesting thing I learned during my visit is that Laura wrote a column for a periodical called the “Missouri Ruralist” from about 1911-1924.  Her writings have been collected in a book entitled Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist:  Writings from the Ozarks and are quite interesting – revealing a side of Laura that does not come through in her autobiographical works.   In short, you can’t go wrong by visiting Rocky Ridge Farm if you are vacationing or live in the Ozarks of Missouri.  Also, I highly recommend the book mentioned above which is available at the Rocky Ridge gift shop or on line from Amazon.

 Mansfield is also the home of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a fabulous family-owned business venture that welcomes visitors (read more about Baker Creek below). 

Laura and Almanzo Wilder’s Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield Missouri. Rocky Ridge Farm is a must-see for any fan of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books. This is the place where they were all written. Counter clockwise from upper left. My 2003 Triumph Bonneville at the front gate of the farm after 300 miles of which 150 were in rain. The main farmhouse was expanded through the years and is open for tours. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside. The Rock House is also on Rocky Ridge Farm and it was a gift to Laura and Almanzo from their daughter, Rose. This is the house where “Little House in the Big Woods” and “Little House on the Prairie” and possibly some others were written.

The reason I was originally drawn to Mansfield Missouri was to visit Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. They are located just outside of Mansfield. Their seed warehouse, store and mail order operation are located here.  It’s a bustling family business with a lot to see and they welcome visitors.  Additionally, I saw a lot of folks working there which must be a terrific boon for the local economy.  I arrived there around lunch time and was able to eat at their restaurant which is only open for lunch.  While there I walked through their “Frontier Village” and visited their seed store.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – At Baker Creek the operation is set up to resemble a frontier village that features stores, stages and rustic demonstrations. Some of the out-front workers dress in period clothing and some appear as if they may be Amish or Mennonites. The photo at top is of the main entrance and hotel. The lower left shows a cute little shanty and the lower right is the door to the hotel and restaurant. If you are lucky enough to get there around noon, you can get a home cooked vegan meal for the price of a voluntary donation. I had a salad and some lemonade.

At Baker Creek the seed company was in full swing but the Frontier Village was dead.  I think the best time to visit for interactive activities is on the first Sunday of each month when they have special events.  For me, I enjoyed browsing in the seed store and seeing the rows and rows of seeds.  Actually quite a few were sold out due to the business of their mail order operation.  If you want an online peek into the Baker Creek Inventory, visit their web site which you can reach from this page (see links on right).

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Store. The seed store is the center of activity at Baker Creek. Stepping inside is like entering their fantastic seed catalog (which is available free from the web site). I purchased several packs of seeds and had a nice time chatting with the women that work there.

After departing Mansfield I traveled east, crossing the Mississippi at Ste. Genevieve.  After motoring around southwestern Illinois for a few days, I went to St. Louis to visit two of the local urban farmers who also happen to be my brother and sister.  My sister runs Adventure Farms which is headquartered at her home in the Richmond Heights area of St. Louis.  You can visit her blog by following the link on the right hand side of this page.  She is actively involved in urban farming, bee keeping and permaculture.  My brother lives near Forest Park and has carved out some beautiful gardening spots in his small urban backyard.  Visiting them was a treat that included a tour of their gardens, a birdwatching trip to Forest Park and a home cooked meal of fresh garden greens and a farm-fresh egg omelet flavored with locally gathered chicken mushroom.

Urban Farming in St. Louis. The photos in the left column were taken at Adventure Farm in Richmond Heights. The photos in the right column are from my brother’s home in University City.

These photos were taken at my brother’s and sister’s homes.  The left column shows the backyard of Adventure Farm where my sister Deanna raises a wide range of vegetables to help feed her family.  The middle photo shows her clever use of cattle panels as trellises for vine crops.  In a small yard like this – going up is a great option for optimizing crop yields.  The lower left panel shows her new bee hive which was successfully launched this spring.  While I was there the bees were busily flying in and out.  She tells me that the bees not only work in her own yard but can be seen flying off to other parts of the neighborhood – thus benefitting surrounding yards with their pollinating efforts.  The right hand column shows photos from my brother’s back yard.  He lives in an upper scale older neighborhood near Washington University.  This is not the kind of neighborhood where you can get away with a lot of messy farming, but he has tailored his yard well for food production while maintaining a nice appearance.  The top panel shows some raised beds that includes a covered sandbox for his kids.   The middle panel shows his use of a hinged cover to protect his beds from the local bunnies. In the bottom panel he has used a south-facing fence to support trellises for growing beans, peas and squash.

Overall, it was a fun trip.  Nothing beats hitting the road and visiting cool places except returning back home.   It’s always fun to return to the farm and see how things have grown and changed, even during a short time away. 

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2 responses to “On the Road 2011 – My Visit to Mansfield Missouri and St. Louis Urban Farming

  1. Phyllis English

    WOW, Doug I really enjoyed reading about your trip across the midwest and visitng with your sister and brother. You did a wonderful job at discribing the trip and the two farms. I’m so proud of all three of you kids of ours for all this urban interest. Must have been growing up with your farmer grandparents and parents. Nothing like getting close to the beautiful earth and getting DIRTY. Llove you….see you in CR.

  2. Pingback: Adventure Farm Participates in St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour | Urbanksfarmer's Blog

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