COLUMBIA — In the cool air of spring's first outdoor Columbia Farmers' Market, Deanna Thies adjusted a bag of spinach so the leaves were arranged just so.
She's been doing this a long time. Her family has been bringing produce to the farmers' market since 1995, when Thies — 14-years-old and hard-pressed for work — decided to start her own fruit and vegetable business called The Veggie Patch.
"We always had a garden," she said. "With the help of my parents, I was able to take this to a larger level."
The business started as a supervised agricultural experience with the National FFA Organization. Thies created a business model where she would cultivate some nearby residents' land in exchange for some of the produce she grew. The rest she sold at the Columbia Farmers' Market.
It didn't take long before the whole family was involved, and nearly 20 years later, The Veggie Patch is still going strong. The family's inventory has blossomed too; they offer a bevy of heirloom tomatoes and 40 types of winter squash.
"People call us the squash people," Thies' father, Jim, said.
On Saturday, Deanna and Jim Thies were also selling dried peppers, sweet potatoes, spinach, lettuce, cilantro, arugula, rutabaga and deer antlers (they make great dog toys, Jim Thies said).
"We stay real diverse," he said.
As the season continues, they will rotate other fruits and vegetables into their booth, such as broccoli, carrots, eggplants, melons and strawberries.
The demand for their produce has convinced the family to expand their business this year to include community supported agriculture, a program where consumers buy produce directly from farmers. People who purchase a share of their summer harvest receive a box of produce every week from May to October.
"Some of our products we sell out of very quickly," Jim Thies said. "This way (customers) can reserve the produce they want."
Deanna Thies still helps out at the market, but she also teaches at Boonslick Technical Education Center and works as an FFA adviser to students who have their own supervised agricultural experiences.
With Deanna Thies working a full-time job, Jim Thies handles most of The Veggie Patch's daily operations. He retired in 2010 from teaching at Glasgow Public School, but retirement isn't quite the right word for his lifestyle.
"Is it a lot of work?" Jim said. "Yeah, it's a lot of work, but it's kind of like a hobby."
Supervising editor is Adam Aton.