Liz Graznak offers a seven-month long apprenticeship program at Happy Hollow Farm for those hoping to learn the ins and outs of a farm featuring a CSA program.
Photo courtesy of Happy Hollow Farm

by Enrico Villamaino

What do you get when you combine a dedicated lifelong gardener, an invaluable apprenticeship, years of savings and an incredibly supportive spouse? Happy Hollow Farm.

Located in Jamestown, MO, Happy Hollow is the dream realization of Liz Graznak. A native of Columbia, MO, Graznak grew up at the knee of her grandmother. “She loved gardening,” she said. “I’ve been gardening all my life because of her.”

After studying both environmental science and German at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Graznak moved on to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, to pursue graduate studies in plant breeding. It was during her time at Cornell that she discovered something she has been passionate about ever since.

“I joined a Community Supported Agriculture program,” she said.

She saw how CSA programs connect the farmer and members by allowing the members to subscribe to the harvest of their local farm and receive deliveries of produce.

Graznak explained, “It opened my eyes and helped me to become invested in local agriculture. It really convinced me that this was something I wanted to be doing with my life.”

Discussing CSAs with local farmers at every opportunity, Graznak was told time and again that the best way for her to be able to have her own CSA-dedicated farm was to apprentice at one. “They said I had to learn the process by working at a CSA organization…really learning everything inside and out, from top to bottom,” she said.

After graduating from Cornell, Graznak served as an apprentice for a year at the Accokeek Foundation in in Accokeek, MD. She commented, “It’s right across the river from Mount Vernon!” – the historic home of George Washington. Accokeek Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to responsible agriculture and land stewardship.

After her time there, she returned to her hometown and settled down with her wife, Katie Graznak, also of Columbia. She then spent six years at a local garden center, eventually rising to the position of general manager, all while prudently saving to be able to purchase her own farm.

Finally, in November 2007, Graznak was able to finance the purchase of 82 acres of land, and Happy Hollow Farm was born. Graznak is proud to point out, “Even in that very first year, the USDA named us a certified organic farm. And we’ve maintained that certification every year since.”

Now actively cultivating seven acres, Happy Hollow grows over 100 types of vegetables. “Basically any that can be grown in our part of Missouri, with the exception of potatoes and sweet corn,” Graznak said. “We also started offering cut flowers four years ago.”

Happy Hollow’s CSA program has thrived. “We went from under 20 members in our first season to over 50 in our second. We now have about 65 members,” she said, detailing that Happy Hollow’s CSA program has different tier levels to better fit the needs of its members. It also allows for customization so that different members can receive different weekly produce. “Some people may want eggs, others flowers, still others vegetables,” she noted. “We even have a partnership with a local pig farmer and offer pork as part of our delivery to our members.”

Happy Hollow also takes part in the Columbia Farmers Market, the largest growers-only farmers market in the state. It operates year round and has over 80 vendors participating.

Eager to give back to the CSA community that gave her so much, Graznak has made sure that Happy Hollow offered its own internship program since its first year of operations. Drawing from applicants across the U.S., the program gives its participants the same valuable insights into the business that Graznak has utilized to great success. Apprentices serve seven-month terms. “We want them to get a taste of this kind of work in spring, summer and fall,” she stated.

Graznak is also adamant that “none of this would have been possible without Katie’s support.” Busy with her own work as an occupational therapist, Katie supported Liz for the first five years of Happy Hollow’s operations, until the farm started to cover its own costs. On top of it all, the couple are also raising two young children. Liz laughed, “We’re very busy.”

Never one to rest on her laurels, Graznak is always looking ahead to what’s next. Recently awarded a grant from the USDA, Happy Hollow is in the process of becoming a 100% solar-powered facility. “We actually had to expand our barn so that we could fit all 79 solar panels on the roof,” she said. The expanded barn has also created new opportunities at Happy Hollow – housing for anywhere from two to five employees/apprentices is now available.

Graznak added, “We’ll also be using some of the additional space to offer Airbnb lodging at our farm soon.”

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