Norman and Verna Kilmer remolded a chicken house to accommodate their growing seed business
BARNETT, MO. – In 1989, Norman and Vera Kilmer opened their retail store to sell farm seeds to the community around Barnett, Mo. Milking a small herd of cattle on their farm and operating a repair shop for hydraulic jacks are some of the ways the Kilmers’ found to sustain their life on a dairy farm.
Norman was a part-time salesman for field seed corn to the farmers in his neighborhood and surrounding area. As a promotion to farmers who ordered field seed corn, the seed company gave each one a package of sweet corn for their garden. Their wives began requesting additional garden seed, which Norman was able to provide. He offered three varieties of sweet corn and one variety of shell peas. Norman contacted each of these ladies the following winter and asked what seed they’d need for the coming spring. He was able to pre-order garden seeds to meet their needs.
Norman remodeled a chicken house to display and store garden seeds at that time. Later, they attached a mobile home trailer to serve as office space. The aisles were very narrow and filled quickly in the spring. The joke was if you wanted to change your mind, you would have to go outside. In reality, there would sometimes be more than a dozen customers trying to get around each other. People encouraged Norman to build a new store, and after a few years, he did just that.
In 1994, Norman and Vera became shareholders in the Central Missouri Produce Auction, which opened to provide a place for commercial vegetable growers to sell their plants and produce. The growers needed more seed to plant to produce crops for the auction. In 1995, their vegetable seed sales tripled. In 1999, on the advice of Norman’s father-in-law, Abe Rissler, they decided to sell the milking herd and equipment. The hydraulic jack repair business was also sold to concentrate on building the retail and wholesale seed and garden equipment business. The family still owns the farm and now produces small bales of hay.
Morgan County Seeds LLC produces around 1,000 varieties of packaged seeds. They source seed from different areas of the United States, including California, Oregon, Idaho and Colorado. They grow two seeds for packaging locally. They do not offer GMO seeds, and Morgan County Seeds is one of the largest volume wholesalers and retailers of vegetable seeds in Missouri.
In addition to selling vegetable seeds, Morgan County Seeds have a packaging and shipping facility. Five or six years ago, they invested a counting machine which counts the seeds to go into the packaging, and have recently invested in a new packaging machine, which can package 13 to 17 packets a minute.
Along with the vegetable seeds and gardening equipment, there are around 5,000 SKU numbers of products offered for sale, including greenhouses, high tunnels, irrigation supplies, mulch, herbicides, insecticides and row covers.
As interest in commercial gardening grew, Norman asked Errol Ahler to drive a van to Columbia to a high-tunnel seminar. He then got Errol into driving vans for the community. As Norman and Vera focused on selling local retail and wholesale products, Errol offered to put a catalog online and created the online version of the Morgan County Seed Catalog. He also became a salesman for the company. Web orders are filled at the store and sent out from there via US Mail, UPS or FedEx. Customers include home gardeners, organic growers, greenhouse operations and commercial vegetable growers. They have testimonials from customers about their striving to give good quality and provide good service.
Morgan County Seeds LLC adheres to the Safe Seed Pledge, where they pledge, along with other seed companies, to protect the safe and genetically stable source of seeds upon which our lives depend. For quality control, seeds are tested every 10 months in house and by the state to meet federal standards.
After 33 years in business, Norman, Vera and two of their children, Esther and James, plus 10 employees work year round to provide their customers a seed and supply store. Vera and Esther can be seen running the cash register.
Norman and Vera seem content with their philosophy of life which Norman stated as, “We have no goal or ambition to get rich. We just want to make a living for ourselves and our family and be able to take care of our employees with a little left over.”
Store hours are Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They are closed Good Friday and Ascension Day.