EarthDance Organic Farm School is honored to be included among the 14 organizations that have been awarded funding from the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant for its Pawpaw Project, a major move to increase consumer interest and local, organic fruit production in the state. Pawpaws are the largest native North American fruit and well-suited to organic production, but under-produced on a commercial scale. Co-Farm Manager Matt Lebon states that “This [project] will make us one of the first commercial growers of all pawpaws in the Midwest.”
The Pawpaw Project will involve infrastructural and educational development both on and off the farm. At the EarthDance campus, the new pawpaw orchard will be a demonstration site for local farmers, who will be offered workshop training on region-specific fruit production and a class on the market potential and cultivation of pawpaws. The orchard will also serve as a teaching site for participants of the organization’s Farm & Garden Apprenticeship Program. Current and future farmers, then, will learn a successful model for crop diversification and gain a market niche (paw paws) that will allow them to compete with non-local commodity growers.
Consumer education is as much a part of the project as grower education: the orchard will be featured in public farm tours; fruit will be used for a promotional pawpaw taste testing at the Ferguson Farmers Market; and EarthDance will sell paw paws to local restaurants, grocers, and wholesalers. The Pawpaw Project will increase public awareness of the pawpaw’s nutritional and environmental value while meeting the demand for local, organic fruit.
Sara Hale, proprietor of Fair Shares, a 400-member Combined CSA, agrees that such a demand exists within the community but has yet to be addressed: “We get so little organic fruit in our area, and we have members ask about it all the time. We are always trying to encourage more of our farmers, especially sustainable/organic growers, to grow fruit.”
Pioneering a new, local model of pawpaw production will require collaboration, and EarthDance is grateful to be enlisting the expertise of several partners, including Guy Ames of Ames Nursery and Orchard , Eric Lovelace and Lupe Rios of Forrest Keeling Nursery, and Miranda Duschack, Lincoln University Agricultural Extension Agent with the Innovative Small Farmers Outreach Program, who will be serving as consultants, guest educators, and promotional partners throughout the project.