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The family-owned retail gardening operation demonstrates the value of Cross pollination

by Steven Nix-Ennen

SBJ Contributing Writer

Oscar Cross rears the thousands of plants in his charge with the same care he does his family. In a nurturing climate, adding the right nutrients for growth, Cross labors with untiring dedication to ensure all around him grows healthy and strong.

Cross and his wife, Amy, are the founders and operators of Hilltop Farm, a greenhouse located 17 miles north

of the Springfield city limits in Ash Grove.

Both agrarians are, themselves, transplants, who traveled west after earning degrees in agriculture from New Jersey's Rutgers University.

The pair, with the help of their three children ages 11 to 15, labor to raise

the best possible assortment of plant life they can make available.

Through intense dedication to quality and a mix of

hillside philosophy and expert gardening knowledge,

the Cross family has developed one of this region's most successful retail

gardening operations.

For Cross, it is more than a business, it is a passion for large-scale gardening, the creation of life, and the best possible life he could cultivate for his family.

"Here (in the Ozarks) there is the proper blend of open country and culture. You have choices," Cross said. "We thought this would be the best place to start."

Oscar and Amy married in college. On one of their cross-country expeditions, they discovered southwest Missouri and decided it had all the elements they needed to put down roots. The pair arrived in the Springfield region in 1980 and, after spending a year in the conventional working world, they purchased Hilltop Farm in 1981.

In 1982, they started their business. It was harvest-and-sow for many years, with every dollar made going back into the development of the greenhouse and the family farmhouse.

About four to five years ago, they began reaping the benefits of their backyard business and working to expand. Last year, Hilltop Farm moved nearly $250,000 in inventory.

Cross attributes the steady rise to his commitment to quality.

Hilltop Farm sells no trees or shrubs, no pesticides, hoes or garden supplies just plants, and the expertise to ensure their growth.

"I am a specialist. I grow plants the best plants that I can grow," Cross said. "I am not concerned about the expense of producing them. If that means turning up the thermostat a few degrees, then that's what I do. I do things the very best I can. Value is what we are trying to offer."

Ten home-built greenhouses cover more than one-third of an acre and house thousands of plants tended to by the Cross clan. Cross and his family built the greenhouses and their supporting infrastructure themselves.

He has never borrowed money for the operation.

Although the ebb and flow of his seasonal business has sent him to the brink of trouble in the past, his resolve got him through the tough times.

"We spend it all on substance, no flash. I'd rather walk in mud that is paid for than on concrete built with somebody else's money," he said.

Cross goes through 15,000 to 17,000 gallons of propane fuel each year to keep herbs, baskets, "cool tropical plants," and things like heliotropes warm at the start of their lives at Hilltop Farm. Most get their start on site through cuttings or other methods of propagation, although sometimes Hilltop imports seeds and the more exotic plant life.

"We produce 98 percent of what we sell," Cross said.

Each plant gets tremendous care because of the Cross family's love of agriculture.

The translated benefit is that customers gain hearty plants and the advice on their care from a combined, four-plus decades of experience.

"Time is worth something," Cross said. "You are only blessed with so many years. People don't need to waste time trying to grow something that won't grow. You could buy a cheap plant somewhere, plant it and it will be dead next year. We want the plants people take home to grow."

The arrival of spring means a day that begins at 6 a.m. and ends as late as 1 a.m. for Cross, and the only regret one might find in Cross is the inability to tend to his passion for longer hours.

"I have no complaints. I'm looking forward to the next day. I do what I love to do," he said. "I am very fortunate in that."

His schedule lightens a bit in the summer months, and the family takes hiking vacations or travels to other natural settings.

But all through winter, Cross is preparing for this time of year.

"I do spring, and I do it right," he said. "You can't do everything and expect to do it well."

Cross said many make the trek through the Missouri countryside to purchase from Hilltop Farms.

"People will travel quite a ways for quality," he said.

But quality can travel, as well.

Beginning April 20, Cross loads his truck three days a week and shuttles many of his plants to the parking lot at the Brentwood Center for his own little farmers market.

A former president of the Springfield Farmers Market, Cross said he feels this is one way to keep in touch with the city.

"It's a great way to meet people," he said.

When customers visit the farm, they are treated to more than healthy plants and attitude.

The Cross family has developed a small zoo to hold the interest of those more into fauna than flora.

Various breeds of chickens, peacocks, goats, a llama and more dance around the parking lot-bordering fence to greet children and adults alike.

Hilltop Farms opens March 28, and is open to shoppers 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The farm sits on State Highway F outside Ash Grove.


'We spend it all on substance, no flash. I'd rather walk in mud that is paid for than on concrete

built with somebody else's money.'

Oscar Cross

Hilltop Farm


Located in Ash Grove

Founded in 1982

by Oscar and Amy Cross

Open for business

starting March 28,

8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.

Monday through Saturday



A menagerie of farm animals greet visitors to Oscar and Amy Cross's Hilltop Farm, located 17 miles north of Springfield in Ash Grove. Steve Nix-Ennen's spotlight on the family-owned and -operated retail gardening business appears on page 10. [[In-content Ad]]


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