Missouri Farming Couple Worries About The Future

Bryan Truemper, who holds his one-year-daughter Maia, lives on a four-acre farm in Frohnah, Mo. i i

Bryan Truemper, who holds his 1-year-old daughter Maia, says his family "lives on the brink of poverty" on their four-acre farm in Frohna, Mo. Andrea Hsu/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Andrea Hsu/NPR
Bryan Truemper, who holds his one-year-daughter Maia, lives on a four-acre farm in Frohnah, Mo.

Bryan Truemper, who holds his 1-year-old daughter Maia, says his family "lives on the brink of poverty" on their four-acre farm in Frohna, Mo.

Andrea Hsu/NPR

Bryan and Christina Truemper are struggling to make a living off their organic farm in Frohna, Mo. They're thinking hard about their future — and the country's future.

They worry about the economy and their finances running the four-acre Farrar Out Farm, and they hope a change in the presidency will make a difference.

In the week before the election, NPR traveled through Missouri as part of a series of stops along the Mississippi River to take the depth of voters and gauge how the economy is affecting them.

On a recent day, the first frost had coated the fields as the Truempers harvested crops on their hilly farmland a few miles from the Mississippi River. They gathered organically grown fall produce — sweet potatoes, chard — to take to the farmers market in St. Louis.

The farmers market will be the last of the season. Bryan, 33, says he's looking forward to having a Saturday at home for the first time in seven months.

The Truempers had never farmed before they started Farrar Out Farm, where they also raise chickens, pigs and turkeys, including heritage breeds such as bourbon reds.

The young couple met when they were both working at a nearby restaurant. They began thinking about the demand for locally grown food, and — six years and countless back-breaking hours later — here they are, with their children, 1-year-old Maia and 3-year-old Behren.

"We live on the brink of poverty," Bryan says. "We don't make a lot of money — we barely get by, and supporting a family, it's really been a challenge to find out how to make four acres make a living for us. Sustainable agriculture is nice and all, but if you don't pay your bills and can't make a living, you're not sustainable."

Christina, 34, says the family is still in debt from starting the farm.

"We're not really getting ahead on that," she says. "Our feed bills this summer just sky-rocketed. In July and August, which are usually our most profitable months, we were maybe breaking even on selling a chicken?"

Extreme Struggles

To make matters worse, skunks were killing their chickens, Bryan says. One night, they lost more than 50 birds — an entire week's worth of chicken sales — when skunks got into the free-range pens.

They don't have health insurance, though Maia and Behren are covered through Medicaid. Bryan says they work carefully, and his wife jokes that they try not to get sick.

They might joke about it, but it's a serious matter. The Truempers say paying $500 a month for health insurance is simply out of their reach.

When gas prices were at their peak this summer, the family was spending $200 a week just to drive their produce to farmers markets in St. Louis, two hours away.

They don't have cable TV, and they're fixing up a used mobile home to live in on their farmland.

The Truempers worry about the collapsing economy and above all, about their children. Behren has special needs, and his mother says if they lost government health care, the couple would be "really hard pressed to take proper medical care of him."

"I'm very grateful to the government for providing health care for our children, and yet, I'm torn by it," Christina says. "I feel like I should be able to provide that for them, and right now I can't. We work very hard, we're educated, we have our own business, but in a lot of ways, we don't make ends meet."

A Shaky Outlook, With Hope

Christina says she doesn't know what to expect in the next four to 12 years.

"It does seem like a possibility that we hit a huge depression," she says. "I feel a little insulated from that because we raise our own food. And at a very fundamental level, I know I'm going to put food on the table for my family. We're going to be able to cut our fire wood and we have our own well. And it helps me feel safe that I could barter food for other things that I need. I really hope it never comes to that, but I have thought about it and I do think about it."

Bryan says he has more faith that people will have money — and that they'll spend it — so that it "won't have to come to that point" for the family.

But the Truempers hope that a change in the presidency could make a difference.

"It's just going to help improve attitudes and faith in how this country is run," Bryan says.

His wife agrees with him.

"I honestly believe that both candidates really care, really care about this country and this country's welfare," Christina says. "I guess I feel that Barack Obama is so refreshing, so bright and so new and I'd really like to give someone with a lot of hope a chance to give us all a lot of hope."

And the Truempers are hoping for a bountiful Thanksgiving out on Farrar Out Farm.

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