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By Randy Dudley
On top of a hill a few miles south of Strafford, Missouri, lies something unexpected. There is a clearing at the end of a winding gravel drive. It was never really intended to be shared with or seen by anyone other than it’s original designer, builder and chief consumer of the literal fruits of his labor.
“Being an engineer, I have dealt for many years with several departments of our government as a security consultant. I decided years ago that we could be in for some very hard times and I needed to be prepared to feed my extended family,” says Len Pense, owner of Penseroda Farms.
I was born during the great depression and grew up through WW2 when everyone had Victory Gardens. I was the youngest of 6 children and our family had some great gardens. Back then if you didn’t raise it you didn’t have it. It also taught me what food was supposed to taste like,” adds Pense.
“I have gardened all my life. Even while spending several years in the military, I always managed to have a small garden wherever I was stationed,” he added. Once, Pense was given orders to go to Egypt. Being an avid gardener, he was excited about going. He thought the climate there might really grow some good okra. So he brought his seeds, thinking he could introduce okra to Egypt. “It turns out they have been growing okra there for thousands of years,” says Pense.
Len Pense never set out to be the inventor of a gardening system to share with others. Whether you look at it Biblically or from a world history standpoint, food is the last lifeline before chaos. Len recognized that creating a sustainable garden that could be maintained for years without the need for any power equipment could be vital to an effective survival garden
“I moved to the Ozark Mountains in Missouri 15 years ago and discovered that just because you buy land here does not mean you get any dirt with it. It is all rocks. This has turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it forced me to develop the method I am now sharing with others.” says Pense
“I found a very secluded 21 acres on top of an Ozark mountain and proceeded to build my garden beds and an outdoor kitchen with a wood-burning cook stove. I had no intention of telling anyone where I was or what I was doing.
At the end of January in 2005, one of Len’s suppliers, Bill, asked him what he was doing with all of the materials he was buying. Len told the man that if he would promise not to tell anyone, he would let him come and see what he was doing. Bill was blown away by Len’s gardening set-up. Len agreed to go on Bill’s Saturday morning call-in radio gardeningshow and talk about what he was doing, but not where.
“As we started explaining my process of how to build a raised-bed, organic, weed-free garden,” says Pense, “the phones started ringing with people wanting to know how they could do this.”
Pense says that about 40 minutes into the hour-long show it hit him that he needed to share this. He literally heard a voice inside his head that said, “I gave you this knowledge, now share it.” Len knew people needed to know how to have fresh, wholesome vegetables and fruit. He spontaneously turned and told Bill that he was going to teach hands-on classes on his method. “During the last 20 minutes of the show 67 people signed up for classes.” says Pense.
Len is still active at Penseroda Farms. He is still teaching his Saturday morning classes. They also teach classes on preserving and cooking what you have grown. Here is why Len Pense’s classes are not just about gardening. A cornerstone of what Len is teaching is really not directly gardening related. He wants you to think about this in the context of world events, geopolitical upheaval, climate change and economic disasters.
What will you do when the banks close and trucks are no longer running? First? Maybe have a nice salad or some fresh picked fruit.