SMITHVILLE — Double A Farmers Market Co-op and A Meal That Counts partnered together in one downtown Smithville location with an innovative business model that is aiding vulnerable populations while also offering year-round opportunities to buy fresh food items from local farmers.
The partnership is drawing local and state attention, resulting in Gov. Mike Parson traveling to Smithville to thank the owners for their efforts.
“… The last eight months, needless to say, has been a difficult time for the people in our state,” Parson said referencing the COVID-19 pandemic during his Smithville facility tour in October. “It’s been difficult … going through this and making sure that everyday people get a chance to eat, to have the services that they need, whether it is health care or it is food. … So many times we only hear the bad things in these situations, but I’m telling you, good people do good things every day and I’ve got to see that firsthand. … Every little bit counts when you’re going through a crisis and it makes a difference in somebody’s life. That’s why I’ve come here today, really. What I came here for is to say thanks. Thank you for what you did, thank you for bringing farmers together. I know one thing about the people of Missouri, they are good-hearted, hard workers and we all come together to get through a crisis.”
Coming together is what the business model is about.
“We have a great partnership,” Co-owner Jamie Dodrill said of herself and partner Ken Perdue. “I came and brought A Meal That Counts, which is the nonprofit that comes with us. Smithville is near and dear to my heart … so I brought the nonprofit here. When I brought it to (Mayor Damien Boley’s) attention, he suggested I put a market in it.”
A Meal That Counts
The nonprofit runs much like Meals on Wheels, Dodrill said, although special dietary restrictions are not catered to. Through A Meal That Counts, veterans, seniors or those homebound can get a free delivered meal.
Dodrill’s passion sparked in Lee’s Summit, where she volunteered for One Good Meal.
“I went into homes where our seniors are eating cat food, and that is just absolutely heartbreaking,” Dodrill said. After some time with One Good Meal, workers encouraged Dodrill to start her own program to spread services to other areas. The result is A Meal That Counts.
Veterans and seniors deserve to be taken care of after all they’ve done for the world, the co-owner said.
“I don’t want the seniors to feel stressed or feel like they have to pay for it,” Dodrill said of meals, noting many seniors are on fixed incomes with some making a little as $15,000 annually. “Regardless of your stance in life, whether you were a clerk or a suburbia mom that made pies and the kids came to your house to hang out, (seniors have) always made their mark somehow. (They are what) significantly allowed other children to be brought up and learn to be a farmer or do construction. They rounded these people. How could (anyone) even remotely think about forgetting about them?” she questioned while tearing up.
“I have teamed up with Price Chopper and their catering department,” Dodrill said. “They have created a menu for us.”
Each meal comes in a microwavable container. Leftovers are used in freezer meals available at the downtown facility for children.
“Any child who comes in wanting a meal can have one for free,” Dodrill said. “No questions asked.”
Passionate to grow her nonprofit, Dodrill said the greatest challenge moving forward is identifying those in need. To overcome this, Dodrill is working with the American Legion and other groups and individuals to identify and feed the food insecure.
Those who are or may know a senior, homebound individual or veteran experiencing food insecurity can reach A Meal That Counts by calling 518-9520.
Double A Farmers Market Co-op
The Double A market side is where Perdue is leaving his mark. For years, Perdue has been an active farmer and entrepreneur around Smithville. His connection with other area farmers is the basis for the cooperative side of the one-of-a-kind organization in the heart of town.
The market offers fresh produce year-round, with some profits helping keep A Meal That Counts running.
Perdue has brought in 14 vendors so far.
“If you know anything about farmers or anything about your countrymen, you know they all work off a very big trust system,” Dodrill said. “For them to come in and trust us with their product in our store, their livelihoods, … it says a lot already for what (Perdue) has done in the community.”
In addition to farmers, gardeners and artisans with preserves, honey and spices contribute to the farmers market cooperative weekly. The business is also working to have fresh meat and raw milk available in the future.
Meeting goals for Missouri EATS
Since Smithville launched the Missouri Engage-Act-Transform pilot program nearly two years ago, the community’s goal has been to strengthen the community food system, creating self-sustainability. Part of that strength includes the year-round farmers market, and despite coronavirus, Double A has delivered.
“A lot of our groups have deliverables that had to be put on hold because of coronavirus,” Mayor Boley said of Missouri EATS, a partner program with the University of Missouri Extension. “It’s great to see that (Dodrill and Perdue) were able to press on and get it done.”
Also part of being self-sustaining is educating youth. Dodrill said students from Children First Montessori are growing micro herbs that will be part of the market.
The market will also provide educational opportunities like how to can items that will bring young and old populations together.
“We plan to host events where seniors can come in and say, ‘This is how you water that and pressure-can tomatoes or salsa’ and things like that.”
To ensure there is produce year-round, one partner farmer has a greenhouse where produce can grow during off-seasons.
Dodrill and Perdue said they are also practicing a no-waste policy. This means when produce gets close to being overripe, they turn it over to local canners to make preserves, salsas, pickled veggies and the like. Things that cannot be used to eat, go into compost.
“I believe that you can support 90% of your needs within a five-mile radius of where you live,” Perdue said.
“I’ve always been an advocate for helping the mass amount of seniors who are retiring and give them purpose because they have obviously left their career where they were making an impact. Now they can come in and help educate the next generation.”