Since the inception of the award-winning Starkville Community Market, one of the weekly vendors locals and restaurants alike have come to rely on for fresh produce is Oktibbeha County’s own Lancaster Farms. Whether it’s providing fresh-picked goodness for local culinary events, faithfully interacting with customers at the Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, or setting up the annual Downtown pumpkin patch during the Pumpkinpalooza fall festival, Lancaster has become an integral part of the authentic culinary culture of Starkville. We caught up with the family behind this “family farm” to learn a little more about their operation and their thoughts on the local food culture. Here’s what we found out!
Eric and Anna Lancaster began Lancaster Farms five years ago and now grow over 100 different varieties of produce and 50 varieties of pumpkins. The farm, which is located on 50 acres in the Hickory Grove area of Oktibbeha County, defines the traditional notion of a family farm. While Eric and Anna handle most of the farm responsibilities, it is not unusual for extended family as well as the Lancasters’ three children, Payne, Davis, and Natalie, to pitch in. In addition to an alphabet of fruits and vegetables from broccoli, butter beans and corn to spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini, the Lancasters also produce their own jams, jellies, pickles and salsa.
“We enjoy being outside and growing food for our community,” Eric says. The Lancasters value their contribution to providing locally grown products for a customer base of friends and neighbors, but they readily admit that the process isn’t always easy. “We always have something to do,” Eric continues. Depending on the time of the year, they are breaking ground, planting, spraying, picking, or handling general upkeep of the farm, and Mother Nature always plays a factor. Such is the life of a farmer, and the Lancasters wouldn’t have it any other way.
Marketing and selling their harvest to local restaurants has become an additional endeavor for Lancaster Farms. They have sold produce and hand-made food products directly to consumers at weekly farmers markets in the area for a while, but most recently they have seen an increase in their sales to area restaurants and grocery stores as well. With the rise in locally owned restaurants who are committed to serving authentic cuisine made with locally grown items, Lancaster has been able to provide for their kitchens as well. Locals can experience the Lancaster bounty at restaurants across the Golden Triangle like Starkville’s Restaurant Tyler, The Veranda, and Central Station Grill, Anthony’s in West Point, and J Broussard’s in Columbus. They also sell to Vowell’s, and hope to increase their offerings to local grocery stores this year.
The Lancasters are proud of their contribution to Starkville’s growing culinary culture and the resurgence in appreciation of locally grown items across North Mississippi. Eric sees value in restaurant owners knowing who produced their ingredients, how they were grown and taken care of. Eric and Anna also take pride in providing for specific needs the restaurants express – items they may not be able to find with larger produce providers. That’s a benefit of working with local farming operations, and it creates a very vibrant culinary enterprise for a community. This give and take in the local economy benefits both the eateries and the farms, not to mention local families.
Eric describes this special community relationship best. “Knowing local growers allows customers to understand exactly where their food comes from. There’s something special about getting to visit a farm and see what’s growing.”