Steve Hamra and Hamra Farms
Steve Hamra, of Hamra Farms in Sikeston, Mo., started selling his hydroponically grown lettuce to restaurants and grocery stores about six years ago. Looking for new markets, he then became interested in selling to schools around Stoddard County. “When I first started, there weren't really any farm to school programs in Missouri, so I learned about programs in other states and began approaching schools in my area,” Steve says. By the 2009-2010 school year, Steve was selling to 13 schools and looking for more to work with.
The hydroponic growing technique Steve uses is not altogether common, though it does allow him to grow year-round. Hydroponics involves using a heated greenhouse to grow plants in a soilless growing medium. Plants are delivered a flush of mineral nutrients and water through a set of tubes on a regular basis. Using this technique, Steve produces as much as 1500 heads of bib lettuce per week, along with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.
Hamra touts several advantages of buying his produce over some of the produce shipped in from thousands of miles away. First, his produce is delivered to schools within 24-48 hours after it’s picked, which means that it has a longer shelf life and more nutrients than non-local produce.
Hamra Farms also uses alternative pest control methods. Instead of using harmful sprays to control pests, Hamra uses lady bugs or a fatty acid solution which clogs the pores of the pests and causes them to suffocate.
Lastly, Hamra claims that buying his produce will save schools money—a unique statement given the claim that local food costs more. Hamra goes on to explain, “Schools end up throwing away much of the fresh produce they buy from faraway places because it goes bad before they can use it.”
Hamra encourages schools to look at the money being lost due to food waste. To his knowledge, the schools supplied by Hamra Farms rarely throw his produce away. He is also willing to make deliveries at any time if the produce runs out before the next scheduled delivery.
Hamra is optimistic about the future of farm to school, especially for small farmers. “With a little bit of encouragement and support from the state, I think more farmers would be interested and see this a win-win for their farms and the community.”
For more information about Harmra Farms, please contact Steve Hamra or call 573-380-2389.