This Patch of Earth

WORDS Liesel Schmidt
IMAGES courtesy Sulphur Springs Truck Patch

For Bryan and Meredith Moats of Sulphur Springs Truck Patch, life isn’t just about claiming their patch of land and creating their own dream—it’s about enriching that patch of land, feeding back into the community, and bettering the future all while respecting the past. It’s about sustainability and respect for the environment and their fellow man, and it all starts with mealworms.

To be more accurate, there’s more to it than that. And really, it goes back to the days when Meredith was working at Barnes and Noble after college and Bryan traded in the sunny shores of Hawaii for the green hills of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The two began playing music together, started a band and became close friends. “Everyone thought we were together, but we weren’t,” Meredith recalls. After realizing they needed to be together, they were only engaged four months before marrying. Nineteen years later, the landscape of their lives has changed drastically, including the direction of their professional lives.

With a background in community and radio work, Meredith is now currently the co-director of the River Valley Adult Learning Alliance, an adult education organization that helps adult learners and their families meet self-appointed learning goals that include obtaining a GED, learning a new language, finding better employment, and helping their children in school. Deepening her ties to the community, Meredith volunteers at the McElroy House in addition to serving on the board and helping with the programming there.

Meanwhile, Bryan is a graphic designer who volunteers with the rural fire department, writes poetry and is also quite the handyman. On occasion, he still does commission art pieces and design work.

But home life is where it all gets interesting. The parents of twin boys and a girl, Meredith and Bryan have a lot to keep them busy – and then there’s the farm, set on land that has been in Meredith’s family since the time of her grandfather. “He was the man who ran what’s called a ‘truck patch,’ which is a small patch of vegetables you can load up in the back of your truck and take to town to sell,” she notes. Hence the name of their farm and the resulting business: Sulphur Springs Truck Patch. But more than a legacy farm, they have created something far afield of anything run-of-the-mill…remember the mealworms?

“We have been gardening for many years and trying to figure out what works best for us. After a lot of trial and error, we landed on both an insect and flower farm, and we also grow some food for our family. Part of what we grow are mealworms, which we sell to reptile keepers, wildlife rescue agencies, and people who keep chickens,” says Meredith, going on to describe the climate controlled “mealworm farm” consisting of over two hundred growing drawers—a big step up from the three plastic drawers they used when the operation began. “The mealworms also produce a waste product called insect frass, which is an excellent fertilizer. We use the frass to transform the red clay soil we have here so that it is fertile enough to grow food and flowers. Additionally, we sell the frass to backyard gardeners and house plant lovers—frass is amazing for house plants, and we believe in the importance of building up the soil as a way of caring for the land. We also offer a flower club subscription, where people pay once a month and pickup flowers each week. They can return the Mason jar the flowers come in for points which go toward discounts. We also have cards we send with the flowers that give you updates on the farm, and all our bouquets are ‘donkey approved,’” Meredith goes on with a laugh.

That note, while cute, is in all actuality the truth. “We have a donkey named Jenna and she handles quality control. We also have a leopard gecko named Ed, who was given to us by someone who had rescued him and wanted him to find a good home. He’s always on hand to taste test our mealworms. We even take fun videos of him ‘reviewing’ our products.”

Perhaps it is their creative spirit, or their desire to be connected to nature. Or, that their children have given them new perspective and a love of whimsy. Whatever it is, the Moats family have created a business at their farm that does more than just grow one specific crop. And the mission that drives them is something about which they have infinite amounts of passion. “We believe strongly in taking care of this patch of land and creating food and flowers that help build and sustain community,” says Meredith. “We believe it is increasingly important to grow things locally and to support and play an active role in the local economy. I think COVID made it abundantly clear that supply lines can be delicate. It only makes sense to think about local food.

“Also, as the weather continues to be more volatile and we have periods of intense rain and drought, we need to think about innovative forms of farming, including new protein sources,” she continues. “As land prices stay on the rise and is increasingly developed, we also need to think about how we are taking care of our resources for generations to come. Our farm model strives to be circular, not linear. We aren’t just here to have a business. We are here to take care of this land and repair and look forward to a better future. Our mealworms are the economic engine of our business, but our mission is to find innovative ways to grow a lot of things in a small, rural space. Insect protein can help supply pet food companies and may someday be used for human consumption—it already is in many other parts of the world. The frass enriches the soil, and flowers help us find joy in uncertain times. It all feeds into each other.”

More than just speaking their mission, they clearly live it. “We strive to take care of this land and share our resources when possible. I think we live out our mission by experimenting and learning, sharing our knowledge, offering accessible and affordable flowers, creating new forms of accessible protein, making sure our dirt remains healthy and ready to grow food, and by thinking about our land not just in terms of our own family but in its connection to the larger community both past and present,” Meredith says. “We think of everything we do as multi-generational work. We learn alongside our kids, and we involve them in all aspects of the process, even though sometimes they don’t want to farm. We also honor the work my father and grandfather put into this place and acknowledge how their hard work and dedication allowed us the opportunity to now live here. More than that, we are working to try and honor the original owners of this land, the Osage Nation. We believe in supporting the Osage Nation language revitalization school because we think it’s the least we can do to honor this place, this land, and live out our ethics—which we believe give us a responsibility to the people who came before us as well as to the great, great grandkids we’ll never meet.”

In all that they do, the Moats use their work at Truck Patch and as a family to give back: to the Earth, to the community, to the past and the present. It’s an inspiring thing, and to think, it all started with a tiny mealworm.

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