When Al and Caroline Mueller took over their family farm in 1947, they didn’t set out to be “organic pioneers.” They simply tended their Missouri homestead with the tools—horse manure and hard work—that they had been raised on. When other farmers switched to chemical weed killers and fertilizers, the Muellers kept farming the natural way.
Today, the Mueller homestead is home to the EarthDance Organic Farm School. Located in Ferguson, Missouri, near St. Louis and surrounded by suburban tracts, EarthDance is a verdant oasis thanks to nearly 70 years of organic cultivation. The school educates adults and students in the practices of organic cultivation, while also running a community supported agriculture (CSA) venture.
EarthDance is the brainchild of Molly Rockamann, a St. Louis native who first visited the Mueller farm in 1996, when the farm was already one of the oldest organic operations in the country. In 2007 she joined farmer John Wilkerson in tending the acreage, selling organic fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets.
But for Rockamann, who had already studied and apprenticed at organic farming, working the land wasn’t enough. “I found this place to be a gem in our region with a really rich history,” she told the St. Louis Business Journal. “I saw there being a real need for education about organic farming and good food. I thought this could be a unique place to grow a community of people passionate about growing their food in a healthy way.”
With this thought, she founded EarthDance in 2008. Since then, the organization’s apprenticeship program has trained 150 people in organic, sustainable methods of growing. Many have gone on to form other farms or urban-agriculture ventures. The group also organizes youth programs for urban children, hosts classes and workshops, and even runs an artist-in-residence program on the farm.
In 2012, Rockamann’s group secured funding to purchase the Mueller farm, allowing the organization to launch an even more ambitious plan for hands-on organic education. Future plans include construction of a greenhouse, packing shed, livestock barn, commercial kitchen and an “art barn,” as well as turning the original Mueller farmhouse into the educational headquarters of the operation.
Her efforts have brought notice—she’s been named to Mother Nature Network’s “40 farmers under 40” list and was chosen as a Lady Godiva honoree. But while she’s grateful for the attention to her work, she is careful to point out that she’s only one of many who are leading us into a more sustainable future. “What propels the healthy food movement forward is not just one person at a time,” she says. “It’s a community of people.”