Maude’s Market: Spreading local food in Monsanto country
Maude Bauschard sells local and sustainably produced groceries and runs a weekly community-supported agriculture (CSA) box from a small store she calls Maude’s Market.
This wouldn’t sound like much if she were living in a city on one of the coasts, but Bauschard lives in St. Louis, Mo., or what she calls “the heart of Monsanto country.” Literally: The city is home to the world headquarters of Monsanto, one of the world’s leading producers of both herbicide and genetically engineered (GE) seeds.
“So any sort of action — even just using organic feed — anything along those lines,” she says, can feel subversive. Especially lately, as Bauschard says the company has been running a campaign to promote their prominent role in the city.
“It’s called STL Grown. They’re advertising that they support change projects and the city itself, and agriculture in the area; and it’s true. They put money into the botanical garden, public art, etc. and they employ a lot of St. Louisans,” she says.
When Bauschard was laid off from a progressive nonprofit in Washington, D.C. a few years ago, it was no accident that she chose to return to the city where she was raised — even if it meant the work she wanted to do would be going against the grain.
She set up shop (literally) by opening her store around a year ago in a diverse, mainly working-class part of St. Louis called Dutchtown. She describes the area as a food desert, because while there are plenty of corner stores, the nearest full-service grocery store is over mile away. I wanted to “connect the struggling rural economy with the struggling urban economy,” she says. And she had another motive.
Bauschard’s grandparents live on a farm an hour outside the city, but they no longer grow food on the property. Her five-year plan involves familiarizing herself with the local market so that she’ll know exactly what to plant when it’s time to start farming there again (currently the land is rented out for a combination of grazing land for cattle and hay production; Maude and her grandparents want to see it farmed by the family again). “Before I invest in creating an organic apple orchard, for instance,” she says, “I’d like to make sure there’s enough demand in the area for organic apples.”
Bauschard herself grew up in the St. Louis suburbs, so it wasn’t particularly visible to her when the nearby Chesterfield Valley went from being a fertile track of land along the Missouri river and “the place where all the truck farming took place” to one of the county’s fastest growing suburban communities in the last few decades. But, “that development has been absolutely enormous,” she says. “Especially for my grandfather — who was born in a house on the [family farm]. For him it has been a dramatic change.”
On the bright side, Bauschard says she has also seen the sustainable food community grow in the short time she’s been back in town. “Slow Food St. Louis is very active; there’s a group starting a Slow Money chapter, and there’s interest in funding healthy food projects from various foundations in the area,” she adds.
And while she supports quite a few local, organic, and small-scale farmers through her store and CSA, she is well aware that the majority of the farming that remains is likely making the folks who run Monsanto very happy. “I buy from Yellow Dog Farm because they use organic and sustainable growing practices. But at the same time there’s a large CAFO pork producer right there in the same county.”
Has Maude’s Market been a success? For a core audience, yes: 50 people receive her CSA and Bauschard has a waiting list she’d like to accommodate. But for many in the neighborhood, who haven’t been familiarized with the value of local food, it’s still a stretch. So she sees education and outreach as a big part of her job. And she will regularly make recommendations and explain how to cook the foods she has in the store. Recently, she recalls selling a woman a new product (a local lentil mix) at cost because she wanted her to feel comfortable trying new things. And she makes sure to highlight special Midwestern foods like paw paws and pasture raised pork.
She also tries to balance specialty items with a strong base of familiar, fairly affordable foods like potatoes and carrots. While the fact is that she won’t be able to compete with big box stores, she says, “It’s really not much more expensive, considering what people pay in the corner stores around here. And when they see they can get things like green tomatoes here they get really excited — because they won’t have seen those in a store for like a decade.”