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Farmers market vendor struggles with arthritis


Linda Geist
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9185
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Photo available for this release:

Gene Langford checks the temperature in his small greenhouse at Crooked Lane Farm.

Credit: Photo by Linda Geist

Published: Monday, June 29, 2015

Story source:

Karen Funkenbusch, 573-884-1268

WELLSVILLE, Mo. – Arthritis is like Gene Langford’s garden. Hard work, time and the right weather make it grow.

Langford, 67, is one of the 52.2 million Americans who have arthritis. The chronic disease affects one in five Americans and about 30 percent of farmers, says Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri Extension state health specialist and director of the Missouri AgrAbility Project, which assists farmers with disabilities to help them continue farming.

Langford is a pioneer in farmers markets. He began selling excess garden produce 25 years ago. That was around the same time he developed arthritis, but that didn’t stop him from later expanding his operation. His 10-acre Crooked Lane Farm at Wellsville now raises fresh garden produce, meat and eggs for a farmers market in Lake St. Louis.

Pain and inflammation of joints make it difficult to carry out daily activities like hoeing the garden, picking lettuce or carrying feed buckets to livestock. He is also in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, which was diagnosed in 2002. Fatigue, lightheadedness and weakness of limbs often make him call the day quits after noon. “Your brain says you can do it,” he says. “Your body says ‘no.’”

An Army veteran, Langford receives much of his medical treatment through the Harry S. Truman Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia. He also works with Funkenbusch to find equipment to help him continue his operation. Through MU Extension and AgrAbility, adaptive equipment will be implemented to improve his health and wealth. Some of the devices include a seat that rolls through garden rows, a four-wheel all-terrain vehicle to take feed to the cattle and hogs, and tools to plant and cultivate the garden.

He enjoys visiting with customers and provides them recipes for the produce. His clientele has become younger and more sophisticated about food sources through the years. Today’s customers want fresh-from-the-farm, locally grown produce and they want advice on how to prepare it from the person who grew it. “They pay attention to what they are buying,” he says.

Farmers markets have become more competitive too. More vendors are entering the market with a greater variety of products. Langford has changed locations several times in his quarter-century as a vendor to follow the crowd. When brick plants in Mexico closed, he moved to the St. Charles area. When he couldn’t find electricity for freezers for meat, he moved to the farmers market at Lake St. Louis area. “We went where the money was,” he says.

Some come to his farm, about 20 miles north of Interstate 70, to pick their own sweet corn and vine-ripened tomatoes. Nothing goes to waste, with Langford and his wife canning and freezing blemished or unsold produce.

Langford wants to continue farming as long as his health permits. Like the arthritis, it’s in his bones. “You’re in contact with the earth, fresh air and sky—God-given rewards,” he says.

For more information about AgrAbility, go to