By Don Bradley
A gravel road winds through the countryside of southern Cass County and into the Kingdom of Amarugia where subjects once insisted that the king glue a crown to his head to hide his baldness.
He refused so they got a new king.
True story. Maybe. More on that later.
Jump ahead a couple of centuries to a farm in what used to be the heart of the kingdom. On a day last week, behind the main house, a woman is packing a large prime rib roast into an insulated cardboard box.
There are lots of boxes and lots of frozen meat in the bright, shiny, clean metal building. T-bones, ribeyes, stew meat, burger patties, heart and tongue. It was Wednesday. Thursday is delivery day.
The woman, Andrea Stark, doesn’t seem to know it’s really cold in there.
“Go into that walk-in freezer for a few minutes,” she says. “This is warm out here.”
Andrea and her husband, Ryan, operate AH (Amarugia Highlands) Farms. She’s a farm girl. He’s a farm boy. She’s a nurse by training, he operates a business that lays underground utilities. But they live on the land of old family roots and decided a few years back to shake up the conventional way of raising cattle.
Today, AH Farms is a farm-to-table business that provides grass fed, grain-finished meat free of artificial hormones and antibiotics. They ship all over the country, and for the more local customers, Andrea loads boxes into her Jeep SUV and delivers directly to homes.
Beautiful farm, prairie, woods, Simmental and Limousin cattle grazing on rolling pastures. Andrea and Ryan live there with their 7-year-old son, Logan, Molly the border collie and a few cats.
“Getting this going wasn’t easy,” she said. “We can certainly use more customers, but this is where we want to be.”
Now, back to that bald king.
The story of the Kingdom of Amarugia is a mishmash of legend and folklore. Names and dates are fuzzy. Actually pretty much everything about the kingdom is fuzzy except, apparently, for the king’s head.
That said, the Missouri Department of Conservation says on its website that the kingdom was started in the early 1800s by a group of people who wanted their own society. The site is generally described as south of Freeman, east of Drexel and bounded somewhat by the South Grand River.
It supposedly started with a with a fur trapper who built a trading post in the area. More people came, they wanted a king. But not a bald one and since the guy they chose refused to have the crown glued to his head, they got rid of him and made another man king but he ran into some lady trouble so they got the other king back.
So on and so on until the kingdom crumbled after a few years.
Is this a true story? Well, a man who wrote the supposed history of the Kingdom of Amarugia confidently answered the question this way: “I think so.”
In 1983, the conservation department bought more than thousand acres of the kingdom and turned the land into the Amarugia Highlands Conservation Area.
Ryan’s family has been in the area for generations so he’s known the Amarugia story since he was a boy. His grandfather used to operate the Amarugia Machine Shop.
Life is good on the farm. And hard.
He and Andrea had raised cattle for years. Over time, they acquired more land, more cattle and more equipment.
Then they started acquiring new ideas. Cut out the middle man, sell directly to the public. All their livestock is born, raised and fattened on the farm. The Starks take the animals for processing, bring the meat back to the farm for marketing, packaging and delivery.
“We had no idea how much time and work this would be, but it’s turned into a full-time job,” said Ryan, who still operates his construction business.
Andrea is the one who does most of the meat business. Bookkeeping early in the week, packing on Wednesdays, delivery on Thursday.
No regrets, she said. She’s home, on the farm, no child care worries, a life she loves.
“Why wait until you’re 70 to get what you want?”
Ryan’s with her on that.
“Let me put it this way,” Ryan said, “we never plan on leaving.”
Afterall, it is a kingdom.
For more information, go to www. AHFarms.net or call 816-258-1680.