As manager of the Missouri Grown program within the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Christi Miller kicks down barriers and builds connections between growers, farmers, ranchers and processors with agriculture consumers of all types — including farmers markets, mom-and-pop retail, grocery stores, direct sales and schools.
Producers get more revenue out of new connections, and consumers are introduced to new products they might enjoy.
Miller, who lives in the Eldon area, is also a cattle farmer. She also serves on the Eldon R-1 School District’s Board of Education and is a 4-H leader.
An ultimate goal for Miller would be to see school lunch trays entirely composed of Missouri-sourced products.
She acknowledged “that’s a very vast dream” that’s a ways off from being realized, but Miller and her team help Missourians start somewhere — maybe with the cherry tomatoes at a salad bar, for example.
One barrier to connecting consumers with Missouri-sourced agriculture products — urban and rural — is a lack of consumer knowledge about the options available to them.
Miller encouraged people to look for labels on products indicating they are Missouri-grown.
The website for the Missouri Grown program — missourigrownusa.com — also helps consumers locate product sources that are close to their communities.
Miller said the program also works closely with the Buy Missouri program, which operates within the lieutenant governor’s office.
Miller had not worked in state government before taking on her current role four years ago.
“I’m a farm kid” — raised in Morgan County in a family of horse and cattle-raisers — and an agriculture journalist by trade, she said.
She lived out of state for a number of years, ran communications at a rural electric cooperative, and had been living with her husband and two teenagers in Columbia before moving to the Eldon area four and a half years ago.
Miller said she had continued to commute to Columbia each day before the position at the Missouri Department of Agriculture opened — closer to home and at “a place I was always interested in.”
Work has changed, of course, in the current times, with her team of five working remotely.
“One of the ways the Missouri Grown team has pivoted during this time has been to assist Missouri agribusinesses who prepared a proposal to participate in the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program. Missouri food distributors who are part of that program will purchase produce, dairy and pre-cooked proteins from Missouri farmers and ranchers,” she said.
The Farmers to Families program was given authority under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to buy and distribute up to $3 billion of agriculture products to families in need.
At her family’s home, beyond raising cattle, Miller’s two teenagers show cattle on the state and national levels, and she’s very involved with them.
While she did not show livestock growing up, Miller said, she was raised in a team-roping rodeo family.
Are teenagers or cattle more difficult?
The cattle kick harder, Miller said.