Sam McLemore enthusiastically stood behind his booth Saturday morning at the Starkville Community Farmers Market selling his homegrown plants and produce and chatting with every customer that passed by.
McLemore’s business, Bountiful Harvest Farms, produces organically grown fresh vegetables, herbs, flowers and thousands of strawberries every year. During the week, he grows and harvests his crops, so he can bring them to the Community Market at Fire Station Park on Saturdays.
While McLemore’s harvest originally began for him and his wife, he said over the years, he has loved bringing plants to the Starkville community and inspiring others to create their own gardens.
“Everybody needs to grow something,” McLemore said. “I think it helps your mood. It helps you in all sorts of ways, and they just taste delicious, like basil.”
What started as a desire to grow a few products expanded to a new career for McLemore and a love for giving back to his community.
Originally from Port Gibson, McLemore first came to Starkville to attend Mississippi State University for landscape contracting. There he met his wife, Isabel, and the two married soon after graduating, calling Starkville their home ever since.
In 2011, after a few years of contract work, Sam was inspired by a college adviser to take up community supported agriculture farming, which allows consumers to directly subscribe to a weekly share of grown produce. Originally distributing to 10 families, BHF now sees around 75 to 80 weekly buyers.
“He came home one day and was telling me about this idea he had,” Isabel said. “I was like ‘If you want to do it, let’s try it.’ We started in our driveway, and we’ve just expanded, and it’s been great.”
Sam runs the business with a few others who assist in harvesting, and Isabel oversees all administrative work. They have had a booth at the Community Market since 2013 and moved to their six-acre property on Pat Station Road in 2015.
The produce is all naturally grown without any herbicides or pesticides, Sam said.
One of BHF’s most notable products is its strawberries. Every summer, customers can come to the farm and personally pick strawberries from the branches. This not only provides fresh fruit but an unforgettable experience that many can enjoy.
One of the best parts of BHF, Sam said, is getting to create relationships with individuals in the community that he otherwise never would get to meet. He said his farm is supported by Starville residents, providing him the means to continue his passion of growing and giving.
“It’s really awesome to provide fresh food for other people,” Sam said. “They’re really excited to get it from you. There’s a certain joy in connecting with customers and connecting with the community.”
Sam said he also appreciates creating relationships with local business owners. Many restaurants feature his products such as Commodore Bob’s Yacht Club and Proof Bakery. Notably, Sam harvests red hot peppers for Restaurant Tyler, which uses the peppers to make its Mississippi Red Hot Sauce every year.
“Last year was our largest year to harvest for them, and this year will be even larger,” Sam said. “We have seven different varieties of peppers that will be going into that. … Just having the option of being able to sell different in-season items, and they feature them on their menu — I really like seeing what they do with it.”
While COVID-19 caused many businesses to struggle financially, Sam said BHF saw an increase in individual sales because many people were not going out to restaurants or grocery stores and would buy products from the farm to cook their own food.
He said he is grateful for the success of BHF over the past 10 years but knows without the support of the Starkville community, none of his achievements would be possible. While his job may be hard at times, he said it is even more rewarding.
“(The community market) provides a great stepping stone for small businesses that are just getting started, and for us as farmers, it provides us an outlet for our produce,” McLemore said. “We just need more farmers in the world. We need more people producing food locally. Any way that I can encourage people to grow more food, whether it’s on their own or starting a business doing it, I want people to farm.”