Growing up while growing produce

Herald-Leader Staff WriterAugust 6, 2013 

At an age when most children eat fruits and vegetables bought at grocery stores, Coleman and Callaway Stivers learned where potatoes and squash come from, and how much work it took to bring them to the table.

They started farming when Callaway was 7 years old. He and his brother managed a garden in their backyard and ate all the produce themselves. Soon, they were planting more than they could eat, and they started giving away the extras and eventually selling them around the neighborhood.

"It has been great to watch them grow up," neighbor Laura Zimmerman said after buying some vegetables from a wagon that Callaway was pulling around.

The business has moved well beyond the neighborhood.

Callaway, 14, is the youngest individual seller at the Bluegrass Farmers Market, where customers get closer to their food, buying it directly from the people who planted and harvested the crops. Although many of the other vendors bring their whole family out, Callaway is the only one who is entirely independent.

At the market, Callaway sells a variety of goods, including honey, squash and blackberries.

"I love coming here. They've always got good stuff," said Dave York, a weekly shopper at the market.

Callaway picks his produce the night before or the day of the market, where he operates under the name Stivers Brothers Home Grown Produce and Honey.

This summer, Coleman, 17, attended the Governor's Scholars Program, and Callaway has had to do the farming, delivery and accounting by himself, with a little transportation help from his mother, Melanie Stivers, and grandfather Charles Byers.

"I enjoy seeing my grandchildren farm. It is a real good experience," Byers said.

Byers, a former agriculture professor at the University of Kentucky, owns the land that Callaway farms on. But his grandson does the work.

"Callaway is responsible for everything out here," Byers said. "If he doesn't come out, I don't pick anything for him."

"It is a lot of work," Callaway said. "I spend a few hours out here when I come."

Aside from the money that Callaway makes, he is learning how to run a business. He learns what sells and what doesn't, how to interact with customers, and advertising and bookkeeping.

Callaway will even give neighbors recipe ideas so they can cook with their new food right away.

"It is not a lifelong business, but for the boys to be in charge of something like this is a pretty big deal," Melanie Stivers said.

When Callaway isn't working on the farm or selling vegetables, he's designing a new logo for the business or building a contraption in his garage, always keeping busy with his hands and experimenting with scrap materials he finds around town.

Back at home, Callaway was called inside from the garage by his mother to help with the cooking.

"Whenever we don't sell everything or something isn't fit to be sold, we keep it and use it for our own dinners," Melanie Stivers said.

She has survived two aneurisms and has made a healthful lifestyle her goal. As a vegan, she eats a lot of the vegetables Callaway grows.

"Most people don't understand how hard farmers work," Byers says. "There's no real appreciation for it. Farmers markets help celebrate farming. ... The consumer is right there talking to the person who picked their food, versus in the supermarket."

Knowing all the work it takes to get food from the ground to the market to their plates, the Stivers brothers appreciate it all the more.

Tessa Lighty is a University of Kentucky student and a 2013 Herald-Leader photography intern.

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