Ava, Mo.: A Gardening Culture

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Ava, Mo., farmers market vendor Peter Weiland, left, visits with a new resident.
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The Ava, Mo., farmers market is one of Missouri's oldest.

Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2013 installment of 9 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard of.

Ava, Missouri. Located deep in the Ozarks of south-central Missouri, Ava is surrounded by forests, streams and spectacular natural beauty. The town offers no big-city amenities, but it is a welcoming community that one resident calls “a great big neighborhood.”

“I was born in Taiwan and moved to the United States when I was 9,” says Yun Hsia Queen, who lives north of Ava on a farm with her husband, Chris, and their five children. “If I had to choose one word to describe this place, it would be ‘generous,’” Queen says. “I’ve moved around quite a bit, and having lived in places where people were actually mean to me, I can honestly say I’ve never known such kind and genuine people — the best I’ve ever met anywhere.”

MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers would be especially happy to encounter a community of perhaps the most passionate gardeners one could meet. Just about everyone you run into is a gardener. If they don’t garden themselves, they’re probably at the Ava Farmers Market on Saturday mornings to take advantage of their neighbors’ garden offerings.

“The market is one of the oldest in Missouri,” says Arne Ahlstedt, president of the Ava Growers’ Market. “This spring we had our largest market ever, with more than 50 vendors.” Ahlstedt says developments at the market have mirrored demographic changes in the community since he first moved there in the 1970s, with food booths now including a mix of Asian, Hispanic and down-home American cuisine. Diverse religious groups are represented in the Ava area now — “Amish, Greek Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventists, Mennonites, and First, Second, Third and maybe Third-and-a-half Baptists,” Ahlstedt says with a laugh — and their presence has led to a radical acceptance rather than factionalism.

“There’s always been an independent spirit here — a sense that, as long as you watch out for each other and tend your own business, you’re welcome. What’s changed is the makeup of the community,” Ahlstedt says. “The newcomers are eager for knowledge and full of questions about the old ways of doing things.”

These new perspectives have also shown up in local gardens. “Radical” vegetables such as bok choy and daikon radish have nudged their way into the market in recent years, Ahlstedt says. “At first the old-timers looked at these 18-inch radishes and said, ‘There’s no way we could eat that — it would be so hot.’ But now they come by and ask, ‘When’s that daikon coming along?’”

Stats: Ava, Missouri

Population: 2,993
Climate: 42” annual avg. precip.; January avg. high: 44 degrees Fahrenheit; July avg. high: 87 degrees F
Median household income: $21,899
Median home price: $109,000

K.C. Compton is senior editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publications, The Herb Companion and GRIT. A huge fan of the food chain, from molecules to meals on the table, K.C. is passionate about the idea that most of what we need to be healthy can be found in the garden. Find her on .