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Columbia Missourian

A retired farmer's story of love and business

By Jen Pircon
November 12, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Ron Anderson has been working as a farmer for 25 years and since 1997, sold fresh produce throughout Columbia.

COLUMBIA — Ron Anderson’s motto is that he is “too blessed to be depressed.”

Spending 25 years as a farmer, operating a successful business in Columbia since 1997 and devoting his heart to his wife of more than 50 years — who is to say he isn’t living the good life at age 76?

After he retired from farming, Anderson began to operate Ron’s Fresh Vegetables, which has sold fresh produce and plants to Columbia residents and restaurants for more than 15 years.

He sells asparagus, beans, tomatoes, sweet corn, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, melons, peaches and other produce during spring and summer.

During the fall, he moves to squash, pumpkins, apples and mums. Throughout the year, he offers homemade jams and jellies.

His wife's death changed his plans

Anderson and his wife, Peggy, started the business together with a stand at the Boone County Fairgrounds, then moved to the intersection of highways 240 and 40.

In January 2009, the couple learned that Peggy had uterine cancer. She died the following December.

After the loss of his wife, Anderson redirected his business and opened a market on his front lawn behind Fairview Elementary School.

“I needed to be home, but I still wanted to work,” he said. “This was the perfect solution." 

He also sells his produce to some of Columbia’s best-known restaurants including Murry’s, Shiloh Bar and Grill and Grand Cru.

Although he owns 400 acres in New Franklin, Amish families in Clark produce most of the vegetables he sells. He visits them twice a week during the summer and once each week during the fall.

Tomatoes are his No. 1 seller, followed by corn and beans. He said he typically sells 150 pounds of tomatoes a week retail and 1,000 pounds of tomatoes a week wholesale.

To store it, he owns a refrigerated trailer to keep the veggies cold during the summer and thawed during the winter.

A love story that began in college

The Andersons' love story began at the University of Kentucky when they were both students. Ron met Peggy 30 days before he graduated.

“I knew three things,” he said. “She was the girl of my dreams, I had to make a big impression, and I only had 30 days to do it.”

During his last month of college, he took her on 30 straight dates. They married on Christmas Day 1958. She was 21, and he was 22. They spent their honeymoon in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

The couple moved to Columbia in 1966 and built their first and only home together on Plymouth Drive.

“This house is filled with so many memories,” he said. “I would never leave.” He still displays the Christmas decorations in the dining room that his wife brought out the December she died.

In 1976, they bought the 400 acres in New Franklin for corn and soybeans. He farmed the land on his own for more than 25 years before hiring a full-time manager.

The Andersons raised three children, all Hickman High School and MU graduates. The children still live in Columbia and now have eight grandchildren.

“Peggy was the best wife, mother and grandmother anyone could ask for,” her husband said tearfully.

To honor her, he named the patch in their backyard “Peggy’s Memory Garden.” His wife, who was also a skilled gardener, worked on her flowers almost every day until she became ill, he said. He spends at least $2,500 a year to keep the garden flourishing.

“If the garden died, a little of me would die with it,” he said. 

He wrote a romantic poem for her in October 2010 on a trip to Sedalia. Called "Memories of You," Anderson said he stopped 18 times to write down the lines he composed on the road.

He said he tries to keep in mind one of her favorite sayings.

“Give it five seconds and flick it,” Anderson said as he looks over his shoulder and pretends to be whisking something away.

“Peggy always was optimistic, and that is how I must look at my situation now.”

Just before she died, his wife inherited 500 acres in Kentucky from a family member. Anderson hopes now to pass on that land to their children.

“That way a part of Peggy stays in the family,” he said.

Building a business partnership

This winter, Anderson is embarking on business partnership with his friend, Hunter Coffman. An employee at Murry’s, Coffman met Anderson through the restaurant.

“Not only is he an amazing friend and an amazing person, but he is a father figure I never really had,” Coffman, 24, said.

Early next year, Coffman will plant 225 tomato plants in Anderson’s 30-foot-by-90-foot hoop house in New Franklin. Anderson will buy both what Coffman harvests and produce he needs from the Amish.

“I just thought I was helping this older guy lift these vegetables off his trunk,” Coffman said. “The next thing you know we were friends, and the next thing we were talking about was business.”

Anderson said hopes to continue the business for another 10 years if he is physically able.

“I love what I do,” he said. “If I shut down, I am going to miss a lot of people.”