Shortly after returning to the Camdenton area in 1991, Nelson began planting tomatoes at Box Turtle Ranch.

Sandy Nelson, manager for the Farmers Market in Camdenton, believes the cost of food rises with each pair of hands it passes through before reaching a consumer, making a farm market one of the most economical exchanges between growers and buyers. Furthermore, food has greater nutritional impact when it’s fresh and ripe. That’s another reason a farm market is ideal. Growers travel short distances to their markets. Their vegetables and fruits arrive with minimal bruising and without the danger of “baking” in hot trucks. They are fresh, crisp, and tasty when purchased.

Shortly after returning to the Camdenton area in 1991, Nelson began planting tomatoes at Box Turtle Ranch. Soon she had more tomatoes than any one person could consume or give away so she began selling at the Camdenton market established in 1985 and managed by another at that time. 

When that manager and the successor moved on to other work, Nelson agreed to lead, but only if the market became a non-profit, a status allowing the market to apply for grants.

The terms of one of those grants awarded for 2017 paid two-thirds of the cost for recent marketing. Rack cards, post cards, and brochures now let people know where and when to find the Farmers Market in Camdenton. Brooklyn White, one of the vendors representing White Angus Ranch, added her graphic design talents to the project—a testament to the team-spirit on display at the market every Saturday, 7 am to Noon, beginning the first Saturday in May.

Box Turtle Ranch is widely known for tomatoes and peppers, and this year, the ranch is poised to produce at least double the number of both for sales at the Farmers Market. Nelson has converted to High Tunnel growing practices because of the many practical benefits a High Tunnel provides. Side walls can be raised like curtains to vent the tunnel and manage temperature. The tunnel also protects tender shoots well enough that they can be planted approximately one month earlier and will continue to grow about one month longer than in greenhouses. Best of all, the plant’s growth is not confined to the size of a pot. Because it’s planted in the ground, a plant can soar to its natural heights.

Furthermore, the tunnel protects plants from wind, hard rain, or hail loss. This year, Nelson planted approximately 400 tomato plants and 800 peppers in a High Tunnel 30-feet by 96-feet. The tunnel will allow her to bring produce to market ahead of others using other growing models—just one more reason she’s a fan of High Tunnels—so much so she’s already planning to expand with another in seasons to come.

Excess products from the Farmers Market in Camdenton go to organizations like Share the Harvest in Greenview. Some day in the future, Nelson would like to see regulatory change that would allow WIC and SNAP recipients to use the market’s economical, fresh products.

Those changes would require communicating with local legislators and advocating for change, two actions to which Nelson is not averse. She’s passionate about fairness—about equal access—and she has experience in leadership.

Sandy Nelson helped develop bylaws for the Missouri Farmers Market Association, formed in 2001. Though the bylaws have evolved so has the membership. In Nelson’s opinion, the next generation of market managers, vendors, and supporters are doing a great job of fulfilling the association’s goal to “connect the Farmers Markets of Missouri with resources and access to partnerships in order to build healthy, sustainable and vibrant local food systems in their communities.”

Another group with which Nelson became affiliated at its inception is the Lake of the Ozarks chapter of Missouri Master Naturalist. The group was a natural fit for a woman with a degree in biology and a life-long history of being outside. She has always been curious about living things from small insects to the human animal. She enjoys sharing what she’s learned as she continues to learn by asking others to tell her what they see. She wants others to take a second and third look, especially at animal behaviors and to seek ways in which humans can protect them from harm while providing place and space to thrive.

Currently, Nelson is a member in good standing for the Naturalist chapter, a member of the Board for the University of Missouri Extension Council, and the manager for Farmers Market in Camdenton. That’s in addition to farming.

The stand she owns and operates with Sally Bauder carries the same name as the ranch: Box Turtle. Supporters and fans expect spicy, savory jellies flavored with habanero or jalapeno peppers and garlic. Tomatoes, peppers fresh from the vine, homemade dog treats, delectable human treats such as Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, and fresh eggs from duck, quail, geese, and chickens are popular, too. It’s all available Saturday mornings in Camdenton.