Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, co-founders of Unity School of Christianity, purchased 58 acres in rural Jackson County, Mo., in 1920. Unity Farm, as it was called then, eventually grew to encompass more than 1,400 acres and was a fully operational farm for five decades. Seeds of love are now being sown on this land by a committed group of volunteers through a project called The Gardens at Unity Village (The Gardens).
From Dream to Reality
Thanks to the efforts of this dedicated group, Unity's historic apple barn—one of the remaining landmarks from the original Unity Farm—and over seven acres of the surrounding land are dedicated to this volunteer garden project. The not-for-profit organization began in August 2009 and is committed to providing locally grown vegetables, fruit and herbs.
Drayton Riley, founding member and spokesman for the group, says its primary goal is to offer naturally and organically grown fruits and vegetables. He explains, “We also want to educate the public and will begin offering classes, demonstration gardens and living workshops to teach (others about) the value of locally grown produce and ‘green' practices. We aren't just selling a product. We're creating conversations and developing relationships to make each customer's visit an experience.”
Saturday, Oct. 10 the group will offer a rain barrel workshop. For a nominal fee, participants will leave with their own functional 55-gallon rain barrel to capture rainwater runoff for watering lawns and plants.
Saturday-morning visitors to The Gardens can be found eagerly choosing from a bounty of produce including fresh Missouri tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, peaches and other seasonal favorites. Customers can also get a complimentary recipe on Saturday mornings, featuring the produce being sold that day. Currently, the produce is purchased from local growers, but next year crops will be harvested by the volunteers. In addition, a two-acre orchard should begin producing apples in three or four years.
Unity Farm originally included orchards, berries, vineyards, vegetables, dairy cattle, horses and chickens for use at Unity's Inn and for sale to the public. In his pictorial book Unity Village: Images of America, author and historian Tom Taylor shares the following information about Unity Farm:
“There were over 5,000 apple trees with a harvest of 12,000 bushels a year equating to over 14,000 gallons of cider. At no time were chemicals used in Unity Farm cider. During peak production, the cider mill could process up to 600 gallons a day.
By 1928, Unity Farm had 6,000 chickens laying an average of 900 eggs a day. The dairy barn and milking house [housed] Guernsey, Jersey and Holstein cows. In 1955, there were 80 cows (40 being milked) producing 500 quarts of milk a day.
The dairy was closed in 1966 so Unity could concentrate its efforts on activities directly related to prayer, publishing and religious education. In May 1979, Unity leased the orchard operations … and the orchards ended production not long after that. Since that time, the barn had been used for storage.”
Paying It Forward
Riley is optimistic about the future. “Our biggest challenge now is the large number of deer in the area and finding funding or donated material to erect a sizeable fence to keep the deer from destroying the crops,” he noted. The nonprofit organization accepts donations of farming equipment, time and materials.
Members also intend to “pay it forward” by tithing 10 percent of the group's sales income to other not-for-profits. Recently Unity Village Chapel and Unity School of Christianity were recipients. In addition, surplus fruits and vegetables have been shared with Unity Inn and Harvesters, a local charitable food pantry.
People from around the nation are responding to the group's Facebook page, sharing personal memories of the farm and offering support through donations.
Plans are also underway for a fall festival on Oct. 17, which will include pumpkin painting by local artists and activities for kids. The day will also include the first annual membership meeting and a celebration party for members and volunteers. Details can be found on the group's Facebook page. The Gardens are located at 150 N.W. Colbern Road in Lee's Summit, Mo.
To receive the group's e-newsletter or to inquire about volunteer opportunities and items on its wish list, call 816-769-0259 or e-mail email@example.com.
To see historical images of Unity Farm, explore Unity Village: Images of America by Tom Taylor.
Whether you purchase your fresh produce at The Gardens at Unity Village or your local grocer, here is a Unity Inn seasonal favorite for you to try.
Unity Inn Butternut Squash Soup
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large butternut squash
1 stalk celery, chopped
½ large yellow onion, diced
¾ teaspoon chopped peeled garlic
¾ teaspoon diced fresh ginger
½ cup cooking sherry
½ bay leaf
¾ teaspoon French thyme
6 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder
3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ teaspoons Louisiana hot sauce
¾ cup heavy cream
Ground ginger to taste
Salt and pepper mix to taste
Roux (for thickening)
Split squash and remove seeds. Rub flesh with a portion of the oil and roast just until tender. Sauté onion, celery and garlic in remaining oil until onions are translucent. Add cooking sherry, bay leaf and thyme; cook and reduce until mixture is one-half the volume. Add spices, vegetable stock and roasted squash. Cook until all is tender. Thicken with roux. Place in food processor or blender and blend well. Add cream, Worcestershire sauce and Louisiana hot sauce. Check for seasoning. Adjust to taste using ground ginger and salt/pepper mix. Serve hot.
Approximately 8-10 servings