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Taking a risk: Chris Brandt

Boonville gardener seeks loan for organic farm business
Sunday, November 6, 2011 | 4:31 p.m. CST; updated 6:12 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 6, 2011
Chris Brandt is working to create her own organic farming business outside of Boonville. Brandt currently supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to friends and family members but hopes to use a microloan to expand her farm and possibly open a store.

Since the mid-1990s, wherever she lived, Chris Brandt always had a garden. And it was always a place, she says, where she felt a certain measure of solitude and reassurance amid her chaotic life. She spends hours a day in her garden in Boonville, which contains more than 40 varieties of fruits and vegetables. She grows most of her own food and has plenty left over for her church.

“I’ve been living this way. It just never occurred to me make it a job,” she says of her plan to start an organic farm. 

Brandt, 47, spent most of her adult life concentrating on her role as a mother. She hasn’t held a job since 1998. Her circumstances have given her little choice: she has to do something. 

By the beginning of 2004, Brandt had long since moved past one set of hard times. She had her first child when she was 18. She married the father of her child, who she says was abusive and an alcoholic, because “that’s what you did back then.” She relied on drugs to cope. They had two more children. She left him when she was 27. 

Her second husband, who she met in 1995, is an intelligent, caring man, she says, a man so considerate that he took her children out for dinner to ask if it was OK to go on a date with their mother. They married in 1998 and built a house in Boonville. He worked as a manager at a grain processing plant. She stayed at home with her three kids and his two. They wanted to start a farm together.

That farm is now her own endeavor. 

In 2004, while her husband was at work, a crane’s cable snapped under the weight of its load and struck him in the back of the head.

He went back to work shortly afterward but started behaving erratically, she says.

At times, he seemed fine. His speech was unaffected. He could carry conversations. Other times, he’d stare right through Brandt after a long day, she says, like she wasn’t even there. He’d play solitaire on the computer for eight hours and run over small trees in their yard with the riding mower.

Several months after his accident, he stopped working, she says, and began a two and a half year period of visiting various specialists and undergoing occupational therapy.

In 2005, they lost their health insurance. Worker’s compensation checks paled in comparison to his salary. They began struggling to pay medical bills. Struggling to pay their mortgage. They almost lost their home. A credit counselor recommended bankruptcy.

Adding to the sorrow, her first husband died of a heart attack at the end of 2004. 

 “It was just,” she pauses, “depression in the family.” 

“It was an eye-opening experience to be 40 years old and be going through all this and realizing, ‘What’s gonna happen?’ I mean, what about the kids? If I die today, what would happen?” 

In 2007, her husband began working again, and at times, working too many hours. In 2009, he became overwhelmed, she says, and although she’s not sure either of them fully understands why, he left. 

They’re still married, they still talk, she still loves him, and she doesn’t blame him for leaving. But he hasn’t come back. 

She won’t give up hope that he’ll return. But even if he did, she says, he wasn’t going to be able to financially support them.

She started putting more thought and research into how she could open her farm, and when she read about the center’s program in the Boonville Daily News, she saw an opportunity.

So she talked to local farmers and looked into state grants. She researched the costs of growing new plants and raising chickens, and she says she has more than 20 area families interested in signing up for her to deliver organic produce, along with recipe suggestions. She also plans to set up shop at the local farmers market.

It will take a few years to purchase all the equipment she needs and establish herself, she says, but she aims to start planting fruit trees and berries on a plot of land separate from her garden in the spring. She has 20 acres, eight of which would be used for the farm.

She's excited about the challenge, but she never imagined she’d be in this situation. Never imagined she’d be building their farm alone.

Can someone with little work experience and no college education make this happen? She wasn’t sure at first, and she still worries about the costs associated with launching a business. But she’s confident in her own resilience, and she’s confident this is happening for a reason.

“I believe I can do this,” she says.

Next page | Nathaniel Brinkley, Fayette photographer, dreams of handicap-accessible portrait studio

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