Sasha and Jimmy Rhea complement their family farm with sweet berries, pasture pigs and free-range chickens
At Rhea Farm in Fair Grove, Mo, Sasha and Jimmy Rhea have a whole field dedicated to strawberries, along with several other all-natural enterprises that feed their family and community.
Jimmy grew up immersed in agriculture, and Sasha gained an interest in small scale sustainable farming in college, when she worked for Millsap Farm in Springfield, Mo.
Their personal farming journey together started with a small strawberry patch they grew in town in a supportive next door neighbor’s backyard. In 2015, they had the opportunity to grow their dream even bigger with a 15-acre farm in Fair Grove, Mo., where they currently reside with their two children, Warner and Annalee, a small herd of pastured pigs, and their flocks of free-range laying hens and pastured broilers. Jimmy also works off the farm as an aircraft mechanic to further support their farm and family.
Rhea Farm has about an acre for garden production. This encompasses the strawberry patch, as well as a high tunnel that the Rhea family received a grant for through the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The tunnel is utilized to grow vegetables such as greens and tomatoes for the family, as well as producing vegetables, plant starts and hanging baskets to sell to customers at the on-farm stand during berry season, which typically runs May through June. The strawberry patch is considered the star of the farm. When production allows, customers are able to come pick, weigh and purchase their own berries, or the berries are harvested by Sasha, Jimmy and their seasonal pickers to fill pre-orders, and orders from restaurants, breweries and other farmers who add the berries to their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares and farm stands. Rhea Farm uses organic methods to grow their berries. Any inputs used for their produce, such as soil amendments or pest control, are from the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) lists. Growing berries organically requires a great deal of physical labor, Sasha said, but it matches their lifestyle goals and fits a growing niche market in their area.
Sasha and Jimmy also raise pastured pork, both for their family and to sell to customers on the hoof. They currently have two Berkshire/Gloucester Old Spot sows and a few piglets. The pigs are moved around the farm to fresh grass with the use of temporary electric fencing. Another meat enterprise at Rhea Farm is Freedom Ranger broilers – this is a project that Sasha particularly enjoys.
“Our meat chickens are second generation non-GMO and organic fed,” she said. “We typically butcher around 60 a year for ourselves.”
Her Freedom Ranger flock is housed in a portable chicken tractor that is moved to fresh grass twice a day. She hopes to expand the broilers to sell to farm customers, along with the berries and pork.
Rhea Farm primarily markets their products through word of mouth, roadside signage and via their farm Facebook page.
Other area farms, such as Millsap Farm and Urban Roots Farm, carry Rhea Farm strawberries in their farm stands for much of the berry season as well. The farm tends to draw repeat customers, thanks to Sasha and Jimmy’s high standards and product quality.
Their future farm plans include adding other varieties of berries, such as blackberries, to create diversity, selling broilers, finishing their new farmhouse, and moving towards the goal of the whole family farming full time.
“Above all, we want to grow slowly so we feel like we can maintain our growing practices,” Sasha said. “Clean, organic food is what we are after and if we can’t manage to grow to that standard then something has to give. Food, soil and water quality is our key concern when it comes to farming.” Sasha said.