When you grow up on a cattle farm, there’s always something to do—haying, milking, putting up the neighbor’s hay when a storm comes rolling over the Ozark foothills.
For Grace Ames, that was life growing up on her father’s farm in Cassville, just north of the Arkansas border. Everybody in her family farmed and maintained multi-acre kitchen gardens besides. “I would go over to my uncle’s house and before we could do anything fun, it would be like, ‘OK, we’re picking corn for an hour first,’” she says.
That’s the right background for her current job at Colonial Gardens in Blue Springs, where she’s in charge of “farm, food and fun.” That means in the course of a week she could be waking up before dawn to attend the birth of a calf (Sterling Moo-homes) and then running a farm-to-table dinner and planting blueberries.
“I’ve literally gone from covered in farm dirt to in a dress for an event in less than five minutes,” she says.
Colonial Gardens has a large natural foods market, where you can buy everything from heirloom tomatoes to Clear Creek fruit brandy. They also sell a wide variety of home goods ranging from hammock chairs to Smithey cast iron pans. You can buy planting potatoes, bird feeders, garden hoses and very fine St. Louis-made salamis.
“The unifying theme is that we really are trying to do things to make a healthier world,” she says. “But I’m not going to lie, occasionally I’ll find something and be like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know we had that.’”
Ames interviewed at Colonial Gardens in February 2020, when the natural foods store in Springfield where she’d been working closed. She ended up passing on the job to stay in Springfield—she’d moved there at age eighteen for college and started her career at a fine dining club—and instead took a job running the deli department for a traditional grocery store chain. “It sucked the life out of me,” she says. “I came home crankier and crankier every day. I was working with frozen food and I was pulling in crap full of preservatives, which is just so far from who I am as a person.”
She eventually came back around to Colonial’s owner Tory Schwope, who also owns a massive multi-state tree farming operation, to say she was finally ready to make the move. “I didn’t tell anybody that I was going to do this,” she says. “I called him and said, ‘I know I’ve said no a couple of times, but is there any way you’d take me for this position?”
She’s since set about building the garden’s culinary and events program, which includes field trips, you-pick berries, yoga classes and dinners that use lots of ingredients grown on Colonial Gardens’ eighty-acre site. On a typical day, you can find her at the Gardens—on or off the clock.
“Truly, I love my job so much that I love starting my day here with coffee,” she says. “Even on my days off I will often come here.”
Night: “If I’m staying local, I am just going to grab a beer and some snacks at East Forty Brewing. They actually work with local farmers, too—they use pumpkins that we grow for their pumpkin ale. We have sold them ginger before, tomatoes for their tomato soup.”