Couple creates food hub in southwest Missouri to help families during ‘difficult times’

By: - December 30, 2021 6:00 am

Gary Burney was a retired Baptist pastor who preached in Arkansas and Oklahoma for 45 years, and Anita Burney is an entrepreneur who live on a homestead in southwestern Missouri (photo submitted).

Anita and Gary Burney moved to Back Acres Homestead — or as they jokingly call it, “Back Ache-rs’ Homestead” — in southwestern Missouri three years ago to find a quieter life. 

Just a few miles from both the Arkansas and Oklahoma borders, the Burneys’ homestead features a lovely stone house, chickens roaming, a garden, some bison next door — and lots of open space for dreaming. 

That can be dangerous if you’re a creative entrepreneur like Anita.  

“I love starting new businesses,” she said, “but I also like to see them be successful.” 

Gary, a retired Baptist pastor who preached in Arkansas and Oklahoma for 45 years, and Anita believe their homestead will soon be a place where, “we will begin the journey of helping families during these difficult times.”

Anita has been selling her artwork at the local farmers’ market, and these past two years she watched as the farmers’ market, like many all across the country, took on a new role — becoming a lifeline and a safe space to shop outdoors for their community. 

“Up to the pandemic, it seemed like everybody was just taking for granted that there’s always going to be food on our tables and shelves in the grocery store are always going to be full,” Anita said. 

She also saw how often farmers had to throw away the produce that they worked so hard to grow after the one market day was done.

“I just got to thinking that we needed a hub or some kind of a way that we could connect farms to the local families around here,” she said.

So after the market’s season ended in August, Anita began researching food hubs and decided that it was just what her community needed. Officially launching this spring, customers wanting local produce and meats will be able to order them on their new Farms to Families at Bear Mountain website all year. 

It’s an opportunity to make people feel safer about getting their food during the pandemic, prevent tasty local produce from going to waste and to expand that sense of community that the farmers market offers every week, Anita said.

 Tracey Johnston, who owns Bourbon Creek Cattle with his wife Carol, said the Burneys will be giving them a big lift in getting the word out about their beef products. 

“They are so committed to this,” Tracey Johnston said. “When I first sat down and talked to them about it, I could just sense their excitement of trying to be one the new food hubs out there.”

How it works 

Tracey Johnston, owner of Bourbon Creek Cattle, cares of one of their newborn lambs (Photo courtesy of Bourbon Creek Cattle).

One of the first things that Anita did in planning for the food hub was set up an e-commerce website, where customers will be able to view and order the products. 

Right before Thanksgiving, she started meeting with local farmers, bakers, crafters and anyone with products “related to food or farms.”

Those partners will give Anita an itemized list of what they have available each week.  

“The growers can contact us and say, ‘This week, I have four bushels of peppers,’” she said, “or ‘I’m gonna have a whole lot of cucumbers next week.’”

The Burneys’ job is to put the inventory on their website and let people know what they can expect. From Saturday to Tuesday, people can get on their website, scroll down through the products and make an order.

“When they make an order, we immediately send that order to our business partners or merchants,” she said. “And they fulfill that order, and they bring products to us to our location on Wednesday.”

Pick-up days for customers will be Thursday or Friday, and they will have designated pick up locations in northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri. They will have delivery service in a 20-mile radius. Or customers can always pick up at their homestead on Saturdays. 

They are currently in a “soft opening” phase to make sure they work out any kinks by the spring, when their produce offerings will really start booming.

A local restaurant has said they are interested in using the local Angus beef for their menu, as well as provide prepared frozen dinners and pies that customers could pick up at the food hub anytime.

“If somebody drives up here, and they pick up 20 pounds of hamburger meat, I can say to them, ‘Hey, do you need an apple pie to go with that?’”

Anita, who used to run a portable-building business for 10 years, has already got her eye on a lofted barn that they’ll use for the hub’s structure — which will be up by spring. 

Surviving and thriving

For 45 years, Gary was a Baptist pastor in the Arkansas and Oklahoma area. He is currently a business professor at Ecclesia College in Springdale, Ark. And before the pandemic, the couple would lead bible-study group trips to Israel. 

When they moved to the homestead three years ago, they fell in love with the farmers market community. Aside from the food hub, they also started a Facebook group, where people can exchange ideas about growing and storing food. 

Anita recently posted a meme that said, “Grandma survived the Great Depression because her supply chain was local and she knew how to do stuff.”

The pandemic has shifted the conversation, she said, and has more people thinking about how they can provide their own families with food.

“That’s also what we want to do,” she said, “is share with people how they can grow their own foods, even if they live in an apartment. We’ll give them ideas on how to grow foods and how to eat healthy at the same time.”

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Rebecca Rivas
Rebecca Rivas

Rebecca Rivas covers civil rights, criminal justice and immigration. She has been reporting in Missouri since 2001, most recently as senior reporter and video producer at the St. Louis American, the nation's leading African-American newspaper.