Farming holy land in Missouri

In the summer, the corn is high at Adam-ondi-Ahman and the buses of Mormon pilgrims are packed. (Jacob Fenston for Harvest Public Media)

While many Midwest farmers think their land is a little slice of heaven, some Missouri farmers may actually be raising crops near where Adam and Eve once walked.

In the 1830s, leaders of the Mormon Church  declared a rural area of northwest Missouri to be a holy site. Today, the church owns more than 3,000 acres of Daviess County, most of it farmland leased to non-Mormon farmers.

Amidst the rolling fields of Daviess County corn stubble, you’ll find the spot that Mormon founder Joseph Smith declared that Adam (of Adam and Eve) lived after the Fall. Church doctrine also holds that it is where Jesus Christ will first step down when he returns for the Second Coming and says that the actual Garden of Eden was located near Independence, Mo.

Austin Bonnett, a leader in the local Mormon Church, showed me around the site, which Mormons call Adam-ondi-Ahman.

“According to our beliefs, the Savior would have been here, Adam would have been here,” Bonnett told me. “Just like when I’ve been to Israel, I have those same feelings here. Very spiritual, very serene.”

I was at Adam-ondi-Ahman for a story on how Mormons are returning to Daviess County 174 years after Missouri’s governor declared war on the early followers of Joseph Smith. Just a few years after their ouster from Missouri, Smith was murdered by a mob in Illinois and Mormons began the long trek over the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to what is now Utah.

Click here to see a map of Adam-ondi-Ahman

Jeremiah Morgan, the stake president who oversees the Mormon Church in northwest Missouri said location is less important than living right.

“Where exactly the Garden of Eden is, or where exactly Noah and the Arc landed are interesting, but not necessarily essential,” Morgan said. “It’s more essential that I be a person who is humble and obedient and willing to follow Jesus Christ.”

The Mormons I met in Adam-ondi-Ahman said they all moved back to Missouri for different reasons. For some, it was the lure of small town life; others felt compelled to move to prepare for the Second Coming.

At this point, it just looks like your average rural county, crisscrossed by meandering roads and dotted with the occasional barn. It’s holy land for Mormons and farmland for farmers.

Jacob Fenston reports from the Health & Wealth Desk at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., where he covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. This is part of  a series of occassional blog entries for Harvest Public Media.