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Growing again: Knox County vegetable farmer lands at Nayborhood Farm

Dusty Sanor stands in front of two high tunnels at Nayborhood Farm near Knoxville.
Jane Carlson
Tri States Public Radio
Dusty Sanor at Nayborhood Farm, 1412 Barefoot Road, Knoxville.

After a short hiatus, a Knox County vegetable farmer is back in the produce game.

“A lot of people are excited for me personally, because I’m back doing the things I should be doing,” said Dusty Sanor, farm operations director for Nayborhood Farm near Knoxville.

But people are also excited about the food Sanor grows.

She ran Spurgeon Veggies for about 12 years in another part of the county and was a fixture at farmer’s markets and her own farm stand, before deciding to move on.

“It was for personal reasons and it was rather sudden and it was not intentional. I didn’t necessarily want to leave,” she said. “I was looking to kind of hand off some of the management to some of my employees, but I wasn’t looking to get out of it completely.”

That sudden departure had Sanor feeling a bit lost. She ended up at a desk job for the first time in her adult life.

When Sanor graduated from Monmouth College in 2010 with a degree in biology, the economy made it hard to find a job.

So she starting working with her then mother-in-law on a backyard Community Supported Agriculture operation that later blossomed into a full-fledged vegetable farm.

Farming had never been in her sights, but it clicked with her.

“Once I started doing it I found that I really enjoyed doing the outside physical work. I also really enjoyed connecting with people and building our customer base,” she said.

After leaving Spurgeon Veggies, Sanor said she quickly learned a desk job was not for her.

Meanwhile, Chris Nay had purchased 95 acres of land on Barefoot Road near Knoxville and named it Nayborhood Farm.

His plan was to launch a farm-to-table community experience where people from nearby Oak Run and Galesburg could gather to eat pizzas made from ingredients grown right there on the farm.

“He built the pavilion that’s right out there that you saw and got a wood-fired pizza oven that’s on a trailer that we can move around. And then shortly after, found me,” Sanor said.

She started working at Nayborhood Farm a couple months ago.

She dug in immediately to build a website and launch a CSA, using her passion and expertise to evolve and expand Nay’s vision for community and local food at the site.

“It’s a farm but it’s also a place to bring your family and hang out for an afternoon, or something like that. And it makes a lot of sense,” Sanor said.

The growing area is on a wide hill surrounded by trees, a short jaunt from the pizza pavilion and a small pond.

Two high tunnels are perched in front of the garlic Nay planted last fall, one that’s already filled with kale, lettuces, and radishes and another that will house some early tomatoes.

There are also plans for a pumpkin patch and a guest house on the property.

John Lane, who is working at Nayborhood Farm, said he was drawn to the conjunction of local and food and people gathering.

“If this was just a production vegetable farm, I’d still be interested but not as interested as the idea of getting people to come out here and have an experience outside of town,” he said.

For Lane, it’s also an opportunity for people to experience food that’s in season.

At Nayborhood Farm, that could be pizzas with green onions and kale in the spring before the season of herbs, peppers, and tomatoes in the summer.

Sanor said growing and eating local food is about quality and variety.

“Because we’re not shipping everything all over the place, it doesn’t need to be able to last for a week in a truck,” Sanor said. “So we can grow like fifty different varieties of weird heirloom tomatoes that are super soft and only good for like two days. But for those two days, they are just divine.”

Shares are still available for the Nayborhood Farm CSA. Membership comes with discounted wood-fired pizza.

They also plan to host pizza nights open to the public at the farm and participate in community events such as Café in the Park and The Taste of Galesburg.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.