MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Economic concerns are front and center in voters' minds in the waning days of the presidential campaign. That's what our co-host, Melissa Block, has been hearing firsthand this week in Missouri. Melissa has been traveling along the Mississippi River in this critical swing state, talking with voters. Today, a visit with a young couple struggling to make a living off their organic farm. They're thinking hard about their future and the country's future.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
They are Bryan and Christina Truemper, 33 and 34 years old, with two children, one-year-old Maia and three-year-old Behren.
Mr. BEHREN TRUEMPER: May you hold me? May you hold me?
Mr. BRYAN TRUEMPER (Organic Farmer): I'm going to pick kale and Swiss chard.
Ms. CHRISTINA TRUEMPER (Organic Farmer): He's going to pick kale.
Mr. BRYAN TRUEMPER: I can't hold you and pick kale.
Mr. BEHREN TRUEMPER: Daddy, please?
BLOCK: The first frost coats the fields as the Truempers harvest crops to bring to the last farmers' market of the season.
Mr. BRYAN TRUEMPER: I'm kind of looking forward to that.
BLOCK: Having it be the last one?
Mr. BRYAN TRUEMPER: Having - yeah, having a Saturday at home for the first time in seven months.
BLOCK: The Truempers named this Farrar Out Farm in Frohna, Missouri, hilly farmland a few miles off the Mississippi River. Now they're gathering fall produce, all organically grown: sweet potatoes, chard, brussels sprouts. They also raise chickens, pigs and turkeys, including heritage breeds like these chattery Bourbon Reds.
(Soundbite of turkeys gobbling)
BLOCK: Bryan and Christina Truemper had never farmed before. They met when they were both working at a restaurant nearby, and they started thinking about the demand for locally grown food. Six years and four acres and countless back-breaking hours later, here they are.
Mr. BRYAN TRUEMPER: We live on the brink of poverty. 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. You know, one of the nice - you know, sustainable agriculture is nice and all. But if you don't pay your bills, and you can't make a living, you're not sustainable.
Ms. TRUEMPER: We still have debt from starting the farm, and we're not really getting ahead on that. Our feed bills this summer just sky-rocketed. And in July and August, which are usually our most profitable months, we were maybe breaking even on selling a chicken.
Mr. BRYAN TRUEMPER: And we had skunks killing chickens a while. Since we do raise free-range chickens, they got into the pens. And one night we lost over 50 of them. And that was an entire week's worth of chicken sales.
BLOCK: What do you all do for health insurance?
Mr. BRYAN TRUEMPER: We don't have health insurance.
Ms. TRUEMPER: The kids do.
Mr. BRYAN TRUEMPER: The kids do through Medicaid, but we don't. We work carefully.
Ms. TRUEMPER: We try not to get sick.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: They joke about it, but this is serious stuff. The Truempers say $500 a month for health insurance is simply out of their reach. When gas prices were at their peak this summer, they were spending $200 a week just to drive their produce to farmers' markets in St. Louis, two hours away. They don't have cable TV. 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.
Ms. TRUEMPER: Our son has special needs, and should we lose government health care, we'd be really hard pressed to take proper medical care of him. You know, I'm very grateful to the government for providing health care for our children, and yet I'm torn by it. I feel like I should be able to provide that for them. And right now, I can't. We work really hard. We're educated. We have our own business. But in a lot of ways, we don't make ends meet.
BLOCK: Christina, what are your hopes, maybe your fears, looking forward?
Ms. TRUEMPER: I really don't know what to expect from the next four, eight, 12 years. It does seem like there's a possibility that we hit a huge depression. 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 own firewood, 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.
BLOCK: Do you think about that as well, Bryan?
Mr. BRYAN TRUEMPER: Sometimes, I just - I don't know. I think I have more faith in the system and that it'll work, and people are going to have money, and they're going to spend it. And we don't have to come to that point.
Ms. TRUEMPER: You have more faith than I do. That's good.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: How much of a difference do you think a change in the presidency makes?
Mr. BRYAN TRUEMPER: I think it's a change of mindsets. I think it's just going to help maybe improve attitudes and people's faith in how this country is run.
Ms. TRUEMPER: I honestly believe that both candidates really care - really care about this country and this country's welfare. I guess I feel like 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.
BLOCK: Christina and Bryan Truemper, they are hoping for a bountiful Thanksgiving on Farrar Out Farm in Frohna, Missouri. I'm Melissa Block.
NORRIS: You can find photos of the Truemper family and Melissa's other stories from Missouri at npr.org. And tomorrow, Melissa ends her trip with a conversation with young conservatives in the town where Rush Limbaugh grew up.
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