Mike and Carol Brabo own and operate Vesterbrook Farm in Clarksville, Missouri, and have provided premium quality and nutrient-dense vegetables, herbs, fruits, eggs, and meats throughout the greater St Louis area from their Certified Naturally Grown farm. They do this primarily through their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to an average of 150 families each season.
In late June 2017, they were the victim of herbicide spray drift contamination from a neighboring farm, that has forced them to cease all growing operations and halt deliveries to their over 100 member families. With almost zero income and significant bills to pay for operations for the summer growing season that can’t bring any income now, they are in a major crisis and need your support to survive until an insurance or court settlement will possibly provide the money to pay for their significant bills and total loss of income.
With significant delays in seeking compensation for their tremendous losses through a potential insurance settlement, funds are deperately needed right now to pay overdue bills for operations expenses they incurred before the spray drift incident and which they now have no income to be able to pay off, as well as to provide for basic living expenses that they need to survive.
In 1927 Everett and Edyth Jaeger purchased Vesterbrook Farm south of Clarksville, MO. In the following decades they produced quality eggs and fruits. In the 1990s their son Ben used his engineering skills to bring Vesterbrook Farm into the 21st century and provide a springboard for future family generations. While some row crops were produced, the main crop during this era was top-quality hay.
During this time Ben Jaeger’s daughter Carol, her husband Mike Brabo, and their two children studied and ministered overseas in Eastern Europe with Deaf people. While living in Europe, Mike and Carol developed a keen interest in developing sources of healthy nutritious food for their family and others using sustainable methods.
After experiencing serious health issues including thyroid cancer, Mike and Carol decided to make big changes in their lives, and experienced the challenges involved in finding healthy, affordable chemical-free foods to support their healing and health.
The Brabos moved to Vesterbrook Farm in 2008 to re-launch the family farm as a premier producer of Certified Naturally Grown vegetables, herbs, fruits, eggs, pork, lamb, and beef, selling weekly Farm Shares for hundreds of local and St Louis-area families since 2010. Early on they also sold their farm’s produce at several Farmer’s Markets.
Near the end of June 2017, a neighboring farm hired a company to spray herbicides to control weeds in their soybean field. The chemicals being sprayed drifted across Vesterbrook Farm and even into the greenhouses, causing visible damage to many plants and trees, and killing at least half of the farm’s honeybees. As a result of advice from an independent laboratory, the Missouri State Department of Agriculture, the Missouri State Department of Health, a veteran organic farm expert witness, a professional beekeeper, a holistic doctor, the Brabos’ insurer and attorneys, the Brabos decided they could not in good conscience sell any more crops from Vesterbrook Farm.
In addition, their Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) certification was revoked, which means they cannot sell organic/CNG produce for at least three years until mitigation measures can be implemented to ensure food can safely be grown ($82,000+ in additional costs). Their entire operation was based upon providing high quality, nutrient-dense safe food to health-conscious consumers, so this incident has significant long-term impact and costs, in addition to the near term emergency.
This has caused an immediate hardship not only to the Brabos but also for the 100+ families that depended on Vesterbrook Farm for their specialty crops, some of which had already paid in full for the entire summer season.
Their total losses in farm income will be over $1.5 million since they cannot regain their Certified Naturally Grown status and grow crops that are safe for sale for at least three years after mitigation measures are completed.
June 22-23 a neighboring farmer sprayed a cocktail of herbicides that, initially unknown to farm staff, drifted across Vesterbrook Farm. Farmer Mike and other staff witnessed with Spray Rig Tractor spraying both days.
The evening of Wednesday, June 28, Mike noticed some herbicide damage on the farm. At first he thought it was restricted to the fence line. However, he contacted the State of Missouri Dept. of Agriculture to have an inspection done.
On Wednesday, July 5, the MO Dept. of Ag inspector came. He showed Mike examples of herbicide chemical damage throughout the farm…which was more extensive than initially thought. He took a lot of pictures, and mentioned that his official report will not be ready for 60-90 days. (Later, the Dept. of Agriculture informed the Brabos it would actually take 6-8 more months).
On Monday, July 10, samples of damaged plant tissue were sent for evaluation to an independent testing lab, to find out exactly what was sprayed and at what concentrations.
On Tuesday, July 11, an expert farmer/instructor with 47 years organic-farm experience toured Vesterbrook Farm and evaluated the situation. His observations: “Herbicide damage over large areas of farm.” Even the potatoes under the ground that had herbicide-killed foliage had strange pink tones on the skin where the roots entered the tuber. His recommendation? “No vegetable, tree fruit or herb crops should be sold for human consumption for 3 years.” And that is IF there are no more spray incidents; each overspray pushes us back another three years. “Mitigation will take 3 years including cover crops, grazing, cutting, baling, spreading bales then allowing to decay/compost over time.”
The Brabos decided to do the morally right thing and ceased selling anything from Vesterbrook Farm not produced before the spray date to avoid any possible illness or harm to their members.
Wednesday, July 12, with tears, the Brabos and farm staff dumped 152 pounds of heirloom zucchini in the dumpster along with 94 eggs. 450+ pounds of peaches were harvested, then destroyed. The apple crop was also lost. Tens of thousands of seedlings that the farm staff was just about ready to plant had to be discarded. Peppers, tomatoes, herbs, and many other crops that were growing needed to be cut down.
Saturday, July 15 a our beekeeper investigated the farm beehives. When he came less than a month previously, the honeybee population was healthy. However, this time he was greeted by piles of dead bees, half the normal number, in front of the hives. He also noticed extensive damage on the trees and plants around the hives.
Tuesday, July 25: Plant tissue tests from the independent laboratory confirmed that chemicals drifted onto Vesterbrook Farm.
On August 5, 2017, Vesterbrook Farm’s Certified Naturally Grown license was suspended due to chemical contamination on the farm.
The Brabos are still reeling from the realization that they cannot grow any more chemical-free food crops on their farm for at least three years. They cannot even grow food for themselves, and they have no income to pay for healthy food, so their physical health is suffering on top of the stress and sorrow from this catastrophe.
Member Impact Statements
The members of the Vesterbrook Farm CSA are also suffering; and many, especially those who already paid for their CSA season, are experiencing financial hardship and negative health impacts. Here’s what some of them have reported.
I am at a loss for words as to the added worry of having to find clean food at the grocery stores. I now have to travel to several different stores to find chemical free food for our family. My son suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq and clean foods has been one way I, as his caregiver, have provided nourishment for his continued recovery. Research is available to identify the negative impacts of the money-making chemicals pushed on the public. We need good people like Farmer Mike and Carol who work tirelessly to help provide good and clean produce. Please help their effort to restore their farm and be made whole again. My weekly shares are very greatly missed.
We signed up for the Vesterbrook Farms CSA expressly because they offered healthy, clean, local food that would help us live better and support our community. Having struggled with gluten and blood-pressure issues, we felt this was a huge step toward being healthier. We were delighted with the quality, variety and abundance of the food we were getting for the money. When Vesterbrook alerted us to the contamination of their farm by an entity less concerned about these issues, we were disheartened and angry. An excellent (and fairly rare) resource in our state was ruined. To Vesterbrook's credit, they were instantly forthcoming about the situation. They could easily have hidden this issue, and provided us with food that was not, in fact, healthy. We appreciate their honesty and their commitment to their customers, even to the detriment of their business. Missouri needs more businesses like Vesterbrook Farms, and as voters, taxpayers, and people trying to live healthy lives, we strongly object to the idea that careless individuals might so easily infringe upon people trying to do the right thing.
--Sean V., St. Louis
Our family has clearly taken for granted the bounty that Vesterbrook Farm has provided for years. The absence of your food has affected directly our family routine, our pocketbook and our well-being. Due to a sulfite allergy in our family, we can only buy food that is sulfite free, and many businesses are unable to guarantee the absence of sulfites (in particular if the product has less than 2% of the chemical for all ingredients)—a health risk we cannot afford to take. This severely limits our food-buying options The price of the produce you provide is much lower than at the few stores which provide chemical-free food. In addition, the value is greater, as your food is fresh The kind and variety of foods you provide cannot be replaced by local establishments, in part because the heirloom and forgotten plants strains (white sweet potatoes, for example, deserve a huge revival) have largely been stripped from our grocery economy The travel time, cooking changes, seemingly infinite number of questions and lack of local, reliable research required to replace your produce have been an impediment to what for years became very simple for us—a weekly supply of healthy, readily available food. We’ve been forced to return to poorer health habits, allergic problems and a resultant limited diet, which is what we did in the “good ol’ days” before Vesterbrook. The fact is: The good ol’ days weren’t so good, and the devastation to our food supply harms all of us.
Not having our farm share has been detrimental to our family finances, resources and health. As a homeschooling mother of 7 children I do not have the time to go to the store often, especially to constantly seek out and buy produce. Even when I am able to go to the store, the produce does not mean my quality standards, even when labeled as organic. In addition, the financial cost truly hurts our grocery budget. We have spent more this month trying to feed our children healthy food and actually have received less food than we would have if we had still been receiving our farm share. As a nursing mother, my own personal nutrition is very important. I also have digestive concerns (IBD) that requires me to pay very close attention to my diet. My children suffer from focusing issues (undiagnosed ADHD) as well as diagnosed Aspergers and it is very critical that our diets remain free from pesticides, herbicides, artificial additives and preservatives. Because we simply can not afford to eat the way we need to (and the way the farm share supplemented our diets) I have noticed a tremendous behavior differences and struggles in my children over the past three weeks specifically more so than usual. We really miss our farm share.
--Dr. Alicia B.
The purpose of this fundraiser campaign is to provide Vesterbrook Farm and the Brabos with funds to pay their overdue expenses and living expenses until an insurance or legal settlement may be secured.