KFU Board Member Jill Elmers named Woman of Impact by Lawrence Business Magazine
“Jill Elmers: Woman of Impact” story by Anne Brockhoff, photo by Steven Hertzog - reposted courtesy of the Lawrence Business Magazine - link here.
Farming, in the collective imagination, is a solitary enterprise. Farming, in Jill Elmers’ world, is anything but.
To be sure, Elmers spends plenty of hours working solo on her Moon on the Meadow operation east of Lawrence, near the Lawrence/Douglas County line. But she approaches farming with a spirit of cooperation that prioritizes engagement with producers, organizations, civic and governmental leaders, and others throughout the community.
“I consider myself part of the food system, and that system is made up from all different kinds of people,” Elmers says. “I’m always more interested in collaborative work than in doing something on my own. We can move mountains when we work together.”
Not that it’s easy. Farming is notoriously grueling, and produce growers such as Elmers have little time during the season for anything other than planting, managing, harvesting and marketing their crops. That Elmers has through the years carved out time to serve on numerous organizational and advisory boards, and participated in countless food-policy discussions—all with an eye toward putting more sustainably grown local food on Douglas County plates—is impressive, Kevin Prather says.
“The day-to-day operations (of farming) are pretty all-encompassing,” says Prather, who with his wife, Jessi Asmussen, owns Mellowfields Farm, in Lawrence, and is one of Elmers’ business partners. “But she still makes time for all these other aspects.”
From Bucket List to Dream Job
Elmers is originally from St. Louis, and she considers herself a Midwesterner at heart even though her family moved to Dallas when she was a grade-schooler. She earned an electrical engineering degree from Valparaiso University, in Indiana, then worked in Chicago before a newspaper ad for an acoustical design company drew her to Kansas City. She then moved to Lawrence. Elmers didn’t have an agricultural background, but self-sufficiency had always appealed to her. When she had the chance to take a sabbatical, she decided to check “organic farming” off her bucket list by spending a summer working for Mark Lumpe on his Wakarusa Valley Farm, south of Lawrence.
Elmers was hooked. She accepted Lumpe’s offer to continue farming a small parcel of his land and, in 2000, launched Moon on the Meadow. She bought 3½ acres in 2006; a year later, she started a CSA (community-supported agriculture) group. In 2013, she flipped her career to farm full time and do audio-visual design consulting on the side.
“I love growing food, and I love the community around the food system,” Elmers says. “It’s like having your dream job. I wake up most mornings feeling very happy.”
Elmers grows certified organic flowers, tomatoes, beets, greens, potatoes, asparagus, strawberries, cauliflower, peppers, garlic, fennel, ginger and more. Some is planted in open plots; she also has four large high tunnels (unheated, plastic-covered structures sometimes called hoop houses) and seven smaller ones to extend the season and help control for the unpredictable weather that climate change has brought about. Elmers sells much of her harvest at the Lawrence Farmers’ Market, where she has been a vendor for 21 years and now chairs its board of directors.
From that vantage point, Elmers sees how the pandemic and rising inflation affect both producers and consumers. The first sparked increased demand for local food. To meet it, the market has been “recruiting vendors like crazy” and is considering the possibility of a permanent location, she says. The second has some locals relying more regularly on the area’s farms for fresh produce.
“This is the first year ever in my life when people come to the market and say, ‘This is the cheapest place to buy food,’” says Elmers, who also offers delivery of online orders within Lawrence city limits. “If we can figure out how to keep (food purchases) here, we’re all going to be better off.”
The Power of ‘We’
We. It’s a word Elmers uses a lot when describing her operation, especially when outlining the contributions made by her five seasonal employees. Those workers are often, in fact, apprentices, some of whom she met through the Growing Growers KC program, which connects beginning farmers with established sustainable operations.
“In the farming world, it feels like there’s a lot of competition, and I don’t understand that,” Elmers says. “If I know how to do something, why am I not teaching everyone else? Why are they not teaching me?”
That many of her apprentices have gone on to grow similar products and sell them in the same venues as Moon on the Meadow might worry some people. Not Elmers.
She knows that “people in this area eat way more fruits and vegetables than local producers can grow,” says Tom Buller, who is executive director of the Kansas Rural Center (KRC). “She’s not interested in elim