Eats and Drinks with Dave
Of the Earth Farm and Distillery
Discover Kansas City’s hidden nooks and crannies as food, wine, beer and spirits lover Dave Eckert shares their wares with a healthy twist.
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With 26 varieties of apples and two varieties each of Asian pears and peaches, Ray County, Missouri’s Of the Earth Farm and Distillery is unique. Throw in a Katahdin flock of sheep and sine Berkshire hogs and the farm becomes even more diverse, interesting, and increasingly sustainable. I recently took a trip out to see the property and chat with co-owners Sarah and Jim Pierce. I was able to gain insight into the passion and commitment the couple has for the operation and get a more complete picture of what motivates the Pierces to sustainably produce a double-digit lineup of distilled beverages and locally raised grass-fed meats. Pierce gave me one example. “From and environmental prospective, we started raising Berkshire heritage hogs so we had a solution for our spent mash; spread it on the orchard and feed it to the pigs,” Pierce told me. Pierce considers their environmentally respectful operation a “three-legged stool with social, environmental, and economic conditions comprising the three legs.”
Pierce got the spirits bug while attending a conference in 2008. It was a Fruit Growers Conference and I was introduced to Eau de Vie, French for “Water of Life,” Pierce remembered. It was a taste of cherry Eau de Vie that put the hook in Pierce. “I took a sip, opened my mouth, and breathed in. It was like being in the middle of a cherry orchard. Then, I swallowed. There was no burn, just a tremendous depth of flavor and complexity. I had never tasted anything like it. I knew I had to pursue it,” Pierce told me. “Several years later, our flagship Apple Brandy was born.”
Sarah joined the operation in 2008. As a fourth-generation farmer, she brought a ton of knowledge, including strong animal husbandry skills and the ability to direct market meat. “My family had a farm near Cameron. We had hogs and cattle, so while he was growing fruits and vegetables, I was working with animals,” Sarah Piece said. Hogs and sheep were added to the farm in 2012, offering guests the chance to purchase grass-fed meat.
Of the Earth was growing and diversifying, and that same year Jim began distilling fruit spirits. Of the Earth now produces a dozen spirits, and through them all runs a single thread-purity and authenticity. “Part of my drive is to use raw materials that represent our Missouri terroir. It is essential to us that our product have no false flavors or are highly manipulated. Our apple brandy is a good example. It contains apples and yeast, period. Everything we do is honest, straightforward, and genuine. We think that enriches and deepens your experience when you’re sipping one of our spirits or tasting them in a cocktail,” Pierce shared.
In recent years, the Pierce’s moved their operation from the original orchard about two miles to a new farm. There, they’ve planted heirloom apple trees of varieties like Blue Pearmain, Stoke Red, and Bramley’s Seedling. Those trees are now bearing fruit. The Pierces were planning on using the orchard, in front of the remodeled distillery and tasting room, for a series of chefs’ dinners, but COVID-19 prevented that. Now, the Pierces are hoping to host the dinners next year. I would not bet against them as Jim and Sarah Pierce are nothing if not doggedly resourceful and environmentally respectful. Take a trip out to the farm and distillery sometime, located about ten miles north of Richmond on Missouri Highway 13. You’ll see, and taste, what I mean.
About the Author: Dave Eckert is a long-time journalist whose career spans nearly four decades. Over that time, Eckert has been a television anchor and reporter, including 5 years at KMBC in Kansas City, the host of Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert, which aired across the country on PBS and cable for 11 seasons, and a food and beverage journalist for this publication, KC Chowtown, the Kansas City Star’s on-line food blog, and WDAF-TV’s morning news.