Crystal Dugas has become a full-time producer at her Webster County, Mo., farm
MARSHFIELD, MO. – “I get to spend my time in the sun, here in nature. I get to hear the birds sing,” Crystal Dugas said of her farm life.
She left her corporate job a few months ago and has since been operating Black Dog Farm fulltime. The produce farm used to be jointly operated part-time by Crystal and her husband Darren Dugas. But after seven years, it’s now Crystal’s full-time job — and she loves it. Darren helps out when he can, and their black dog, Oakley, stays busy “helping” in the garden.
Black Dog Farm in Marshfield, Mo., is a 6 1/4-acre produce farm that follows organic practices, but it is not certified organic. While certified organic status would be nice to have, Crystal admits the cost of certification would only lead to increased costs for the consumer, so they aren’t planning to certify anytime soon. What they do strive for is organic practices: planting heirloom varieties and never using chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The lush, spring-fed property has such good soil, they’ve never had to fertilize the ground, and the plants are watered with irrigation lines running from a spring-fed pond.
As for keeping the pests away, Crystal and Darren try to hand-pick bugs off as much as possible. They also use natural products like neem oil and bacillus thurngiensis (bt) for the control of worms and caterpillars, which has no effect on birds or beneficial insects, and is safe for humans on the day of harvest. They also use PyGanic, a derivative of chrysanthemum, to kill aphids, thrips and fruit flies.
Darren was a nurse for several years, and so the couple has always been health conscious. When it comes to food production, they try to stay mindful. Providing clean produce for their selves and others is a priority. Crystal and her husband are “transplants” from Louisiana. Darren came from a family of crawfish farmers, and Crystal from a family who lived on hunting and fishing. They both appreciate and understand the value in being able to provide local food for themselves and community.
Black Dog Farm provides a variety of fruits and vegetables sold at various locations. Some produce is sold at the Marshfield Farmer’s Market on Fridays, Wild Seed restaurant in Strafford, and Mama Jeans Natural Market in Springfield. Crystal said the most economical way for consumers to purchase their produce, however, is by contacting Black Dog Farm directly.
“Mama Jeans is our biggest buyer on cantaloupe. They can’t keep our cantaloupe in stock.”
– Crystal dugas
Crystal provides a unique way to get a mix of fresh, local veggies. She has a large reusable tote she fills with veggies for only $25. When customers return with the bag to fill again, she gives them a “sussie” with their next vegetable order, which is a small, unexpected gift in Louisiana-lango. She said sometimes that means an extra container of organic tomatoes as a thank you for both being a return customer and bringing the tote to refill.
The odd weather this year delayed some of the produce, but the plants are looking good. By the end of July produce should be available from Black Dog Farm. Twelve varieties of tomatoes will be ripening, along with tomatillos, Italian sweets, red, green and yellow bell peppers, jalapeno, poblano and cayenne peppers. Crystal will also have a few varieties of squash and zucchini. In the orchard there are apples, pears, plums, blackberries and strawberries too. A pumpkin patch is planned for the fall.
They have planted large and small red watermelons, and yellow and orange as well. They will also have cantaloupe. Crystal said there’s a big difference between cantaloupe consumers by from the store. That cantaloupe may have been picked too early, then held for a month in a cooler before purchased. At Black Dog Farm, cantaloupe picked when it’s perfectly ripe so its sweet scent can be smelled a few feet away.
“Mama Jeans is our biggest buyer on cantaloupe,” she said. “They can’t keep our cantaloupe in stock.”
As for the expansion of the farm, Crystal plans to dig a well in the near future to ensure a better water supply, and they are also hoping to open an on-the-farm stand.
The farm is an ever-growing production she plans to continue.
“There’s so much more here than in Louisiana,” she said.
She’s proud to call Missouri home and to be operating Black Dog Farm in the peaceful landscape of the Ozarks.