Feeding the Soil and the Souls of Guests

Spend 10 minutes talking to Nathalie Pettus, proprietor of Overlook Farm in Clarksville, Missouri, and you feel like you’re home. She radiates warmth, passion and enthusiasm for the farm that’s been in her family for generations, and for the care she and her staff put into cultivating the land and caring for the guests who spend time there. “We are so much more than an exceptional venue, beautiful places, superb hospitality,” says Pettus. “It’s the attention to detail with the food and the way that we grow things and we care for the ground. We care for the soil, and the soul of the guests. That’s what is very special about what we do.”

She wants everyone who plans an event at Overlook Farm to experience how exceptional a place it is. “It’s a beautiful part of the world,” she adds. “I love it here.”

From family farm to versatile event venue
Pettus grew up in St. Louis, but spent weekends on the farm with her grandparents. When she was older, she started working the land herself. “Once I had my own little seven acres up here, in Clarksville, in the mid-1970s. Getting my own hands in my own dirt was a life changer. It gives you a whole different perspective. Learning how to do things with duct tape and baling wire and being as self-sufficient as you possibly can—it’s good stuff.”

“My grandmother was like me: she traveled all over the world and enjoyed other places, but, oh my gosh, Clarksville and the farm—that was the best. That place is definitely my ‘Tara’.”

Now Pettus enjoys sharing her “Tara” with others who plan events at Overlook Farm. She opened a restaurant and gift shop in 2004 and has since expanded, adding four inns and several event spaces. Whether you’re planning a wedding or anniversary celebration, a corporate retreat, a yoga workshop, a bird watching event or a murder mystery party, the farm offers a variety of venues and guest accommodations for parties of ten to 300.

The inns are historic buildings that have been updated with modern amenities. Cedarcrest Manor dates back to 1842 and was formerly a plantation house. Pettus acquired the building in 2005 and transformed it into one of Overlook’s inns. It features a Romanesque pool, antique furniture, and a fireplace in each of the six bedrooms, which all have private baths. Cedarcrest Manor also offers a canopied lawn and second-floor terrace and can seat up to 200 guests for a private event.

Rackheath House, a Greek revival-style building originally built in 1860, was renovated in 2006. It features a spacious veranda, a hot tub and walking paths through an English-style country garden with 200-year-old silver maple trees. It can seat up to 200 people and is often used for weddings.

Other inns on the property include the recently renovated Avalon House, which features four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a kitchen and wrap-around deck, and the Bridal Cottage, which offers a full kitchen and serves as an intimate space for a romantic weekend getaway.

The Courtyard and Pavilion can accommodate small parties or events of up to 200 guests for a seated dinner. Blooming with wisteria in the springtime, The Courtyard features a barn-like structure that serves as covered space with gold mirrors, chandeliers and copper-topped bars, as well as outdoor fire pits and
grills, fountains and a waterfall.

Avalon Hall offers striking views of the Mississippi River beyond rolling hills. The hand-pressed stone floor, oak ceiling beams and floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace create an atmosphere of rustic elegance. The second-floor mezzanine boasts a custom bar, and  a three-level patio offers water features, a fire pit and a koi pond. This space can seat 300 guests indoors and can accommodate 200 guests with outdoor seating.

The Overlook, for which the farm is named, boasts stunning views of the river, farmland and hills, and is a popular spot for wedding ceremonies. Extending from The Overlook is Avalon Meadow, flanked by a grove of cedar trees on one side and a river view on the other, which offers an outdoor space for wedding receptions.

Feeding the soil, and the souls of guests
Pettus takes great care in the food produced and served at Overlook Farm. In recent years, she’s shifted away from conventional farming to follow organic practices. “We are definitely trying to build the soil and do things the best we can with the animals and produce that we raise,” she says.

Pettus and her staff raise and sell grass-fed cattle for beef, red wattle / Berkshire cross hogs, lamb, free-range turkey, chicken and ducks, and chicken and duck eggs. They grow a multitude of vegetables in 26 hoop houses, including broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, peas, peppers, beans, a variety of greens, parsnips, eggplant, zucchini and radishes. In addition, they grow fruit including berries, rhubarb and peaches, among others.
Much of the food prepared for events at Overlook Farm is produced on the property, and Pettus says she partners with other vendors for items she can’t produce.

“You can’t, at the farm, raise everything that is put on the plate,” she says. “If any restaurant says they’re 100 percent farmto- table, they’re lying.” She doesn’t grow olive trees or rice, for example.

“We focus on those things that we know we can raise well in our part of Missouri,” Pettus explains. “Some things are difficult for us to raise, and we partner with like-minded people and purveyors. That’s extremely important to me.” She is passionate about providing high-quality food for her guests. She won’t source shrimp, for example, from the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean because of concerns about safety following the BP oil spill and the Fukushima disaster. Instead, she gets shellfish from the South Carolina coast. “We don’t get anything from the Pacific or from the Gulf because it’s not safe,” she says. “I wouldn’t eat it, and why would these guests? We care about getting the healthiest and best products for our guests.”

Her menus also use coconut aminos instead of soy. Pettus says she has focused on healthy eating for years but has become more keenly aware of it recently as she is recovering from breast cancer. “It is absolutely ‘you are what you eat’,” she says. “It’s important that we take care of ourselves and make good choices.”

A lasting legacy
Pettus is the fifth generation of her family to care for the land of Overlook Farm, and that legacy of care extends to the guests who plan and attend events there. She says she loves hearing from people who have held events at the farm and seeing them come back to visit, perhaps to reconnect for an anniversary celebration or cooking class. “[Guests] feel the specialness of the place and the attention that was given directly to them by the staff,” she says. “They are very grateful for that. Good memories have been made.”

MM&E
Lisa Lance is a contributing writer from Baltimore, Maryland

About the author

Joe Clote

Joseph W. Clote is owner of Publishing Concepts, LLC a communications and marketing firm based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Mr. Clote is Group Publisher of MeetMed™ and Missouri Meetings & Events™ (MM&E) magazine, a quarterly publication read by thousands of meeting and event professionals, and producer of the St. Louis and Kansas City trade shows under the MM&E name. Mr. Clote has extensive sales and marketing expertise in the travel, tourism, fine art, insurance, and software development industries.