april 2014 | Section A
Freedom Valley Farm Grows All Year Long story By shawndra miller photos by josh marshall
(Clockwise, from top left) Spring lettuce mix in full blossom; a tractor sits idle in the cold spring weather while plants grow in the warm high tunnel structures; Mokum carrots, planted in September and grown through winter, are harvested; Freedom Valley Farm owner Jim Baughman.
im Baughman opens the door to one of his unheated, movable high tunnels, where Asian greens, carrots, spinach and lettuce stretch like green carpet runners to the other end of the high-ceilinged, plastic-enclosed structure. “What’s kind of driven me here,” he says, reaching down as English setter Gus leans his head in for a pat, “is the passion to grow in the wintertime. So many other farms don’t.” Before him is the manifestation of that passion. Even after the most ferocious winter weather Indiana has seen in years, each of the six long, raised beds is lush with small but viable veggies. On tables off to the side are trays of microgreens in various stages of growth. This is how Owen County’s Freedom Valley Farm has made its name: salad bowl sweetness, available all year long. Baughman uses passive solar and organic methods
in his four-season operation. This year posed more of a challenge than the previous ones, but to an eye weary of snow and muck, all that greenery is a balm. Still, Baughman laments that he didn’t have enough to expand into the Indianapolis Winter Farmers Market as planned. “We’re in our third year of winter growing,” he says. “The two previous years were very mild, and we had an abundance. ... But the extreme cold has just really put a damper on it. We really didn’t lose as many crops as I’d expected, it just really stalled them out.” He’s in his third season in the Bloomington Market, so he targeted his limited supply there, where his customer base is already strong. Though Baughman’s bread and butter, these days, is dependent on the plastic stretched over metal frames, a few years ago his life looked very different. Back then he lived in Indianapolis, with a 9-to-5
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
> > freedom valley // cont. from a1 job dominating his time. Gardening was something he did on the side, a way of decompressing from his work installing HVAC systems in new homes. “I was from a large family. We had huge gardens, and I tended those quite a bit,” he says. “It just stuck with me through my life. ... I had really large gardens for many, many years, and I just gave a lot of produce away.” He’d owned the 235 acres west of Freedom for a decade, renting the non-wooded half of the property to farmers growing beans, corn and hay. He thought it might be a place to expand on his urge to grow things, perhaps in retirement. Meanwhile he took a course in forestry and classified the woods on the land. After a timber harvest, he planted 10,000 oaks and other hardwoods. As an avid hunter and outdoorsman, he loved coming to the property on weekends. He put a pond in and stocked it with fish, and generally enjoyed the good life. “That was one of the things that was so cool about buying the property. ... We’d come down here and spend the weekend and (say), ‘We’re in Freedom!’” And he needed that respite, because his work became increasingly stressful. When the housing market took a dive, he thought, why wait till retirement—especially having learned about the possibilities of four-season growing. He rented out his house in Indianapolis and moved to Owen County to go all in. He set up a partnership with his brother, Joe, who lives out of state but has roots in south central Indiana. With his brother in charge of accounting, he got to work. That first year was dedicated to various infrastructure tasks. Baughman’s construction experience proved crucial, though he jokes that he only knows enough of the trades to be dangerous. He began renovating the barn — a doorless structure stuffed with hay on a dirt floor. The first task was to add concrete flooring, in tandem with the outdoor wood-fired boiler he installed to heat both the barn and one of the high tunnels through radiant heat. (The barn facelift continues today: Baughman has moved on to adding a bathroom and office, as well as a dedicated cleaning station.) In pursuit of his dream of year-round growing, he enlisted friends to erect the high tunnels and the lone hoop house. Only one of the structures is heated; it’s the only high tunnel that isn’t mobile. The other two rest on metal tracks three greenhouse-lengths long, allowing Baughman and a helper to haul the entire kit and kaboodle to another segment of beds when the time is right.
Preparing to raise vegetables, he took five acres out of corn and bean production. He planted cover crops like clover and rye in hopes of building the soil back up. “I was a little naïve, thinking cover crops were going to be the answer to not having to add fertilizers or amendments to the soil,” he says. “Just plant cover crops for a year and keep turning them into the soil, and you’d be ready to go. But the more I looked into it, I realized the soil was really depleted.” Baughman has come around to the fact that the soil needs additional inputs besides compost and cover crop till-ins. But he chooses natural fertilizers, like composted chicken manure and rock minerals, to help. The lack of a local source adds to the cost of bringing five tons of material in — sometimes shipping costs just as much as the product itself — but the outlay is worth it to improve the soil’s quality. Eventually, with the help of a few hired hands, he had his first vegetables ready for market. Freedom Valley Farm quickly gained a loyal following. One customer who has been with him from early on is Barb Bonchek. The Green County resident, along with several of her neighbors, first connected with Baughman at the Owen County Farmers Market. It was parking convenience that drew them to that market versus Bloomington’s; the drive is about the same. “But Jim was one of the main reasons we kept going back to the Spencer market,” Bonchek says. “He consistently, every time, had the most wonderful produce.” When winter came and the Owen County market took a break, Bonchek and her friends worked out an arrangement with Baughman to preorder his vegetables every week. She has nothing but praise for his operation, noting the difference in storage time between Freedom Valley Farm and store-bought organic lettuce. “His lettuces will last for two weeks,” she says. “One of the reasons is that he really washes and dries it. He’s very meticulous. Because he does such a good job with the drying, he has very little water left in the bags.” “But what has set Jim aside from everybody else is his ability to grow quantities and quality of what he does year-round,” she says. “Nobody else has been able to duplicate that.” As a hobby farmer herself, she appreciates being able to eat well throughout the winter months when her own garden is done producing. Baughman would like even more people to
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
LEFT: Baughman opens the doors to his high tunnel greenhouse as his English setter, Gus, waits in anticipation. Gus likes to chase birds that have found their way into the greenhouse and are unable to find a way out. Opposite page, top: Baughman, Grant Pershing and Chip Darling. Opposite page, bottom: Asian green mix.
Where to find
Freedom Valley Farm Produce: growers’ conference in Missouri in January 2012. “It’s funny,” he says, “I always tell everybody I deLocal Fresh Produce Plan: Sign up for cided not to have livestock weekly delivery at www.freedomvalley because I didn’t want to farm.com (starts in May). have to feed and water and tend to them like you do on a daily basis. And yet I find that Shop: Bloomington growing in greenhouses is not Farmers Market that much different.” Between watering and venting, the maintenance needs are nearly as high. “You can’t walk away from this for two days. Not growing the way I currently do as an all season grower.” But the rewards are many. He relishes the never-ending learning curve. (“Last winter it was soils; this winter I was consumed by heirloom tomatoes.”) He’s justifiably proud of offering products people crave. Baughman has stood at his spent his winter poring over seed catalogs and market stand and heard, “You need to buy your reviews of heirlooms, looking for prolific varigreens from this guy, because he’s got the best etals less prone to cracking. greens in the market.” And restaurateurs have He’s also growing heirloom cabbage, beets, praised his greens for their color and freshness. eggplant, winter squash and garlic. Then there’s the challenge of getting the At some point Baughman may add a venture jump on the season. He started beets and onlike beekeeping, aquaculture or possibly maple ions on an experimental basis last fall; once the syrup to his to-do list. “I have the woodlands weather warms, he’ll delight his customers with and the maple trees; it’s just a matter of putting these early offerings. Already his carrots have that together,” he explains. been drawing raves. Blessed with two good workers, young men “We grow carrots year-round, and the winter who grew up nearby, Baughman would like to carrots are just phenomenal,” he says. “They’re be able to give them steady work even when the so sweet and flavorful in the wintertime.” growing season slows. “One of the struggles Baughman heads back outside the mobile with small farms is keeping your help yearhigh tunnel, indicating several low tunnels round,” he says. “If we could do a maple syrup under which carrots have been growing, albeit operation that would be something they could more slowly than last winter. Two layers of plasdo in the winter months.” tic protect the root crops from cold and snow. Ask him what’s most challenging about his He moves sandbags to pull back the plastic. chosen vocation, and he will talk about the fact The feathery foliage looks a little beat up, and that it’s his second career. His gray goatee tells snow melt waterlogs the channel between the the story; this is not an easy gig in midlife. “It’s a rows, but he squats and lifts carrots one by one lot of physical work,” he says. “I can tell you that from the soggy ground. Their orange flesh gleams I’m sore most every morning that I get up.” in the late winter sunlight. He tosses one to Gus, Then there’s the fact that he can’t step away who stands in the mud and crunches it down. *FI from the farm. The last time he did was for a
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prioritize fresh vegetables in their diets. “I wish I’d see more people buy into eating healthy,” he says. He’s had his own brushes with high blood pressure and cholesterol, and knows firsthand how much difference a clean diet makes. That commitment to health is a major driver for his endeavor. “I think a lot of the food in the grocery stores today—this may sound a little harsh and I don’t want to sound radical—but I think they’re poisoning people,” he says. Though not certified organic, Baughman follows organic principles to the letter. The only inputs used are OMRI-approved. Eschewing chemicals, he’s learned to strategize carefully on timing and placement of crops for highest productivity. With only two wells on the farm, water needs were a big factor during his start-up year and second year (when Indiana was officially declared as drought-stricken). He planted sweet potatoes in the lowest, moistest bed he had and held off irrigating them to direct precious water to other crops. He hopes to eventually put in an irrigation pond to catch some of the early spring rains. As he’s found, if drought or extreme cold isn’t the problem, it’s flooding. Last year’s wet
spring meant a delayed planting and subsequent weed control problems. And even though he grows on raised beds, the unthinkable happened in midsummer. “At one point in July we lost all our greens crops due to flooding,” he says. “And we’re not in a flood zone.” People in his Local Fresh Produce Plan, though, weren’t affected by these trials. That’s his version of a Community Supported Agriculture plan, in which people sign up for a weekly delivery of produce to a central location either in Bloomington or Spencer. “Through it all we’ve still been able to do our CSAs. They take priority.” Many of his customers are surprised to learn that much of the winter growing happens without benefit of a heat source, aside from the low slanted rays of a winter sun. He’s been known to say things like, “As long as it stays above 10 degrees, I’m happy,” making marketgoers shake their heads in wonder. The heated high tunnel is where he starts tomatoes in late winter, in hopes of having the first ones at the market. Ripe tomatoes in May invariably bring a long line of excited buyers to his stand. This year he plans to also try 20 varieties of later-ripening heirloom tomatoes in the field. He
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
Facts of Life
“Life and death on the farm. It is tough, but it is one of my favorite parts of farm living.” A friend and hobby farmer, Ben Heber, closed a message to me with this quiet reflection earlier this year. In his note, he’d told me how he and his wife, Whitney, had lost an alpaca over the winter. One of their chickens also was pecking at its own eggs. But there was good news in his missive, too. “We added two feeder steers, and if you include Whitney (Ben’s wife was due to give birth in March), we will have three new babies on the farm this spring,” he wrote. “Two heifers are due to calve soon.” Every day — sometimes every conversation — feels like a lesson about life and death. When I began editing Farm Indiana back in January 2013, I had only a bit of gardening experience under my belt. At the time, my husband and I still lived in Indianapolis, and I had only recently discovered that I liked to dig around in dirt and grow things. I don’t hail from a farming family. Instead, I grew up on the southside of Indianapolis, where I never once considered the source of the food I ate. The morning after I graduated from Indiana University’s School of Journalism, I loaded up a U-Haul truck and moved to New York City. I wanted to be a big-city girl. If you would have asked me when I was 20 whether I’d be back in Indiana editing a publication on farming when I was 40 — and loving it — my answer would have been a resounding, nearly cackling “No.” In all the years I dreamt of being a magazine editor, I never saw this coming. But I’m so glad it did. It took a decade of being away to realize how much I loved — and missed — Indiana. It also took my mother having a stroke to get me back here. That event shook me in ways I hadn’t been shaken before. It made me think about life, death and time — or the lack thereof. And it made me realize the importance of family. Within a year, I sold my house, secured a job in Indianapolis and headed home. When I arrived back in the Hoosier state in 2004, I had a vision of someday living in an old farmhouse, though I wasn’t ready to make that move just yet. It took nearly 10 years to get me here, to a plot of land where my husband and I can grow produce, raise animals and live surrounded by Indiana corn. The cycle of life is easy to overlook while living in the city. I suspect that one sees death more frequently in an urban setting — at least if you’re paying attention to the news — but only along these lonely country corridors do you take a minute to let the reality of it sink in. I regularly drive past deer, raccoons, skunks, possums, squirrels and sometimes even kitties who have lost their lives on these county roads. As I pass each one, I say a little prayer. If you hear my husband tell it, I’m a big old softie. He keeps warning me that I need to harden my heart to these truths, these “facts” of country living. He reminds me nearly daily that when we have chickens there will be predators. When we have goats, there may be irrecoverable illnesses. We have ordered bees, and the threat of colony collapse disorder will be real for those little buggers, and maybe even imminent. I, of course, understand that death happens to us all. I’ve experienced the death of beloved family members, friends and pets. I get it. Recently, I watched a swatch of an interview that featured well-known sustainable farmer Joel Salatin. In it, he discussed death and how, when we die, we’re taking our rightful place in the cycle of life. We’re leaving this world so others will have room to move in. It’s our final act of selflessness. For some of us, it may be the only act of selflessness we commit in our lives. When I think about it that way, I’m OK with it. Life — and death along with it — is a beautiful thing, even if the selfish side of me still cringes a little.
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
Many Hoosiers will spend spring and summer afternoons mowing grass and killing weeds, but rather than fighting those dandelions, they may want to take a hint from their ancestors and start eating them instead By Robin Winzenread Fritz
Dandelion's flowers cooked in batter
Dandelions, burdock, cattails, garlic mustard and many other plants that most landowners consider to be weeds actually are not only edible, they can be tasty and healthy, too. “Food that you get from the forest, from the field is no different from the food that you get at the grocery store except, in a lot of cases, it’s a lot healthier for you,” says Jill Vance, an interpretive naturalist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “People have this kind of block in their heads that it’s wrong to get something from the forest, but if it’s on the shelf in the grocery store, it must be fine for you. But it’s kind of a backwards way of looking at it.” Dandelions, familiar to any Hoosier with a yard, have a long history as not only a wild edible, but as a cultivated one, too. Ancient writings from the Romans first hint at its use as both a source of food and medicine, and it was originally brought to North America by the Puritans — a fact most homeowners probably won’t be celebrating come Thanksgiving. Widely cultivated as a treatment for liver problems in India, it has been used by many cultures to treat problems ranging from skin ailments to fevers to digestive troubles. It has even been used as a diuretic to promote weight loss. “Dandelions are not a native plant,” says Vance. “They’ve been around here for a very long time, but that’s only because our ancestors deliberately brought them here. Dandelions were spread through-
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out the world as our ancestors emigrated from country to country and continent to continent, and they deliberately took the dandelions with them. “It comes out so early in the spring,” Vance adds, noting that its early arrival and long life made it a consistent food source for pioneers. “You can find dandelions flowering sometimes as late as December and come January some will even be putting out new shoots. So you have a very early source of extremely healthy leafy greens. Dandelion greens have some of the highest vitamin A content of any greens in the world. They’re really good for you.” Domestic guru Martha Stewart famously hunted for wild dandelion leaves on the grounds of the federal prison in Alderson, W.Va., while serving time there. Stewart told reporters that she was collecting the leaves to “supplement the limited greens” provided in the prison’s cafeteria.
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Most people are probably familiar with the notion of eating the greens and drinking dandelion wine, but few probably realize that nearly every part of the plant can be eaten, including its bright yellow flowers and its frustratingly long tap root. Flowers can be breaded and fried while young greens can be eaten much like chicory or endive. The roots can be dried, ground into powder and used to make tea. As crops go, the dandelion is a hardy soul. A perennial that thrives in a variety of environments, the plant is notoriously hard to kill, thanks to that long tap root, which can grow up to 15 feet. But while it’s happy to colonize a yard, it actually has little negative ecological impact. Many wild and domestic animals, including rabbits, pigs and goats, love to eat the plant, and its seeds provide food for birds while its flowers provide nectar for bees. Another plant whose benefits are often overlooked within Indiana is burdock, referred to by many as “cocklebur.” Like dandelions, burdock forms a large, thick tap root, which in Asia is added to soups, stews and stirfries, and it has been described as tasting similar to parsnips. Only new, first-year roots are eaten, however, as older roots quickly become woody and nearly inedible. The long green leafy stems and young shoots also can be peeled and eaten like celery. Widely devoured in many parts of the world, including Asia and Europe, burdock has also been used historically for its medicinal qualities, especially with regard to skin ailments. Poultices made from leaves can be used to treat burns and eczema, and a tea made from the dried roots can be used as a natural remedy for clearing skin, treating acne and soothing sore throats. Notably, the burdock seed head was also the inspiration for Velcro. A Swiss engineer, George de Mestral, used a microscope to peek at the burs he pulled from his jacket following an afternoon stroll in 1948. Realizing the potential of the little hooks he observed on the seed head, de Mestral then spent the next eight years perfecting his product, before eventually revolutionizing sneakers for toddlers throughout the world and causing many who have fought with the burs in clothing and animal fur to ponder, why didn’t I think of that? Like wheat, rye, corn and millet, the common
Farm Indiana // april 2014
Garlic mustard plants
cattail is a member of the grass family and, like its more commonly grown cousins, is very edible. In fact, much like the dandelion, nearly every part of the cattail plant is suitable for the dinner table. Early spring shoots and tender leaves can be eaten raw, while the stems, much like burdock, can be peeled and eaten and are said to resemble celery. “You peel the leaves back from the base of the plant where the leaves come out, and you get this kind of white stalk in there that tastes like celery and is really good with peanut butter,” says Vance. “It’s really good just to eat fresh. It’s juicy. It’s a great one to introduce people to.” Even the long corn dog-like seed head can be eaten, similar to corn on the cob, and once ripe, cattail pollen from the seed head can be collected and used as a natural sauce thickener. It can even be added to flour as an extender when baking. As if that’s not enough, come fall the plant’s root-like rhizomes can be cooked and eaten like potatoes.
Cattails are so versatile, in fact, that they were a staple of the Native American diet and helped fill the stomachs of many a pioneer low on food supplies. Additionally, the long narrow leaves were woven into mats with many uses, including as siding on wigwams. The plants were also used as medicine, treating such ailments as whooping cough and kidney stones, and the downy-like fluff created by the seed heads was used as a dressing on open wounds. Pioneers and Native Americans alike also dipped the seed heads in wax to burn as a natural mosquito repellent. As for Vance, while she has cooked with both dandelions and cattails, a personal favorite is wild garlic mustard, which she uses to create a pesto sauce for pasta. “Garlic mustard is a nice one to use because it’s a non-native, invasive plant, which is causing a lot of problems for our forests, so currently we’re all about pulling it up and eating it,” says Vance, who will lead a garlic mustard gourmet cooking workshop at 1 p.m. April 30 at Paynetown State Recreation Area. Another favorite of Vance’s are the berries of smooth sumac, which can be used for tea. “I really, really love sumac,” Vance says. “It makes this delicious lemonade-type beverage. When it comes out late summer into fall, I’ll make it like crazy. I love the taste.” When eating wild edibles, whether it’s the wellknown dandelion or something less familiar, it’s very important to correctly identify any wild plant before serving it. When in doubt, contact an expert with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources or Purdue Extension Agency for species verification. Also, never trespass while in search of wild edibles and never collect plants along roadsides due to the possibility of contamination from litter, insecticides, oil, road salts, vehicle exhausts, etc. Gazing at the high prices for fresh vegetables in Hoosier markets, it’s little wonder some may be turning to their pastures for more than corn. Wild ramps, onions, asparagus, purslane, clover, chicory,
“It (sumac) makes this delicious lemonade-type beverage. ... I love the taste.” —Jill vance
wild grape leaves, white acorns, pennycress and plantains are often just a short walk away from landing on one’s plate. But should your yard be relatively weed free, there’s no need to fear missing out on the wild edibles movement. Some catalog companies, including Territorial Seed Co. of Cottage Grove, Ore., actually sell seeds for many edible oddities, including an Italian dandelion variety described as a “spicy, delightful addition to your mixed green salads.” Interested in trying your hand at growing burdock? The Cooks Garden in Warminster, Pa., will be happy to sell you seeds for San Jeon Jo Saeng burdock, which lends an “earthy sweetness to stews and stir-fries.” But should you wish to save the $5.95 per seed package plus shipping, an afternoon stroll through an Indiana pasture come late summer may just give you all of the cocklebur seeds you need. Just check your socks. *FI
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
By ryan trares
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Indiana experts and farmers assess the new farm bill Throughout Indiana, farmers spend the year with a watchful eye on the weather. An overly wet spring can delay planting and eventually decrease yield come harvest time. Ill-timed thunderstorms can wipe out whole fields of delicate corn shoots or soybean plants. Prolonged drought can turn a healthy field into a dried-out husk. Every day brings the potential to ruin a farmer’s financial planning. But over the next five years they’ll have more safeguards than ever, thanks to the newly passed farm bill. With the passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014, Congress has approved nearly $1 trillion of expenditures focused on food, farms and financial support. The majority of the money goes to nutrition programs, but considerable resources have been set aside to protect farmers. Though the bill looks similar to what has been allotted in the past, small changes could have a big impact for Indiana. “Overall, Indiana farmers are pleased about the new farm bill. It’s not a perfect bill, but it is something that Hoosier farmers can live with,” said Kyle Cline, spokesman for the Indiana Farm Bureau. “In terms of protections and risk management tools, it’s still adequate and something that will still protect our farms from times of disaster.” Part of the relief stems from the fact that farmers finally know what the farm bill will include. The previous version expired in 2012, and heated debates lingered for more than two years as Congress tried to agree on a proposal. The bill was extended as a temporary fix, but farmers were looking for more permanent answers to what they’d be dealing with. “We want to know what the game plan is and what the rules are,” Cline said. “Businesses have to think long term, and without knowing what the rule of the game will be, it’s hard to make a plan for your business.” But even though the bill has been passed into law, many aspects of the more than 800page document still need to be clarified. A vast majority of the farm bill goes to support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The bill sets aside $756 billion over 10 years to feed low-income families. Only about 20 percent of the farm bill
is going to farm- and agricultural-specific programs. That includes programs to reduce soil erosion and increase conservation, promotion of U.S. food in other countries and development of biofuels. But the change most likely to affect Indiana farmers will be the end of direct payments, Cline said. Since 1995, farms had received a guaranteed payment from the federal government. The standard payments went to all farmers in pre-set amounts, regardless of what they grow or what kind of operation they have. Discussions have been ongoing about ending the payments, and many Indiana farmers supported cutting the program for a better safeguard, Cline said. “You’re used to receiving a check in the mail, but looking at the realities of the markets, times have been relatively good and farm incomes have been very strong the past five years,” he said. “So our members took the position looking at the federal deficit and what our nation needs to do to reduce our debt.” Cutting out direct payments will save $14 billion over 10 years, Cline said. Johnson County farmers know that those payments will be ending. That will help prepare them for this year and years in the future, said Center Grove area farmer Rob Richards. He and his sons operate Indy Family Farms, with more than 10,000 acres of row crops. Every year, they knew they were getting a subsidy of between $18 and $22 per acre through the direct payments program. “We’ve adjusted the budgets accordingly. Because of that, it gives us direction on what we need to do to increase revenue or keep costs under control,” Richards said. “It’s always good when you know something that’s a given, because you can work with that. It’s the unknowns that cause us to worry.” By eliminating payments that were sent out automatically, farmers will have more flexibility to choose insurance programs that best fit their situation, according to Roman Keeney, an agricultural policy specialist with Purdue University. The farm bill will also help cover the premiums that farmers need to pay for insurance, making it more reasonable for farmers to pay it, Keeney said.
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The problem is that not enough is yet known about the two available types of crop protections. Agricultural risk coverage will provide payments to farmers if they fail to meet a benchmark average of revenue. That revenue level can be determined looking at all farms in their given county or simply against individual farms from previous years. Another option is price loss coverage, which protects farmers if crop prices fall below a certain level. “What you really need to do in making that choice is think about how low you think a crop price is going to go,” said Otto Doering, agricultural economist at Purdue University. “If you are really pessimistic, you think corn is going down to $2.50, you may be better off with the price loss coverage.” The questions in the bill that still remain might not be answered until late summer or early fall, Doering said. In the meantime, farmers have to start making plans, particularly concerning the risk management tools now available. Choosing between the options will require that farmers make plans, sometimes trying to predict five years in advance which method will be best individually. “It’s a situation where you really have to have a lot of knowledge and access to what the interpretation is really going to mean in terms of what’s best for your farm,” Richards said. “We don’t see with enough clarity the decisions that have to be made yet.” While the big focus has been on insurance and direct payments, other aspects have emerged as possible boons for Indiana farmers.
Agricultural Act of 2014 Expenditures:
$956.4 billion over 10 years
Costs: Food stamps and nutrition programs—
$756 billion Crop insurance—
$98.8 billion Conservation—
$56 billion Commodity program—
$44.4 billion Other programs—
Farm Indiana // april 2014
The new bill does more to support special-interest farmers and those new to agriculture, Cline said. A program for start-up farmers and ranchers receives more money, helping support the growth of agriculture with education, training and research to help those first-time farmers hoping to get into the profession. They also get a reduction on crop insurance premiums to ensure that any disasters in the first years of their farms don’t wipe them out before they can gain a foothold in the industry, Cline said. Also, small farmers who grow specialty crops, other than traditional corn and soybeans, and organics receive more benefits than in past bills. “Over the years, with consolidation in the industry, it’s been increasingly difficult for those farmers to get into the occupation,” Cline said. “As an industry, we’re trying to attract new, young people who didn’t grow up on farms. We think this is a good benefit.”
But not all farmers will benefit from the changes. Randy Stout operates a produce farm in rural Franklin, growing food ranging from tomatoes to sweet corn to Brussels sprouts. Because Johnson County doesn’t consider produce a major crop like corn or soybeans, produce isn’t covered under the crop insurance system. “Our county doesn’t even offer that, so we’re completely excluded from the farm bill. We get nothing from them,” Stout said. The bill was signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 7, and agricultural economists have been sifting through it to determine how each piece will affect farmers. Since its passage, farmers in Indiana have given it a tepid thumbs-up, Cline said. Until all of the questions have been answered, the main take-away is just that the farm bill has been enacted, Richards said. “It’s quite an accomplishment to have a new farm bill,” he said. “But I think we’re a long way from understanding the full impact.”
Highlights Commodities • Ends more than 15 years of crop programs that made payments to producers based on historical production. • Introduces a new dairy margin insurance program, which makes payments when the difference between milk prices and feed costs falls below a minimum level. • Adds risk management programs protecting producers of wheat, feed grains, rice, oilseeds and peanuts and pulses.
Conservation • Maintains strong overall funding for conservation, including mandatory funding for major programs. • The new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program consolidates the Wetland Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program and the Farmland Protection Program. • The new Regional Conservation Partnership Program is designed to coordinate conservation efforts across states and programs to solve problems that must be addressed on a broader scale.
Crop insurance • Expands insurance programs to better address the needs of underserved commodities, organic producers and beginning farmers and ranchers. • Research and development activities are also authorized to study new insurance products for bioenergy crops, catfish, alfalfa, livestock diseases and business interruptions, whole-farm diversified operations and food safety for specialty crops. • The Noninsured Crop Assistance Program (NAP), which provides
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Randy Stout of Stout's Melody Acres. Photos by Josh Marshall
weather-related loss coverage for commodities that lack available crop insurance, is expanded to allow for coverage above previously allowed catastrophic loss levels. *FI
—Information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service
Farm Indiana // april 2014
story by clint smith photos by josh marshall
THE FAMILY FARM
Stan Poe II mixes technology and tradition at Poe Hamps farm
Stan Poe, now, and at the Indiana State Fair, below.
ith a good-natured smirk and an air of faux disbelief, Stan Poe II asks: “What?” — this, in response to a casual, though certainly misguided question: “When do you get to close up shop for the evening?” His reply is well-deserved, because Poe II, embracing the true nature of a farmer, never really clocks out. The 48-year-old farmer has been working here on the family farm — a place where there’s no generation gap — with his grandfather, Walter Poe, and father, Stanley Poe Sr., since he could walk, and he plans to continue his tenure as the property’s steward until he can no longer do so. Poe II resides in the original farmhouse, while his parents, Stanley and Carol, live in a house built years later on another side of the grounds. The Poe family farm in Franklin was established in 1937; it was 1945 when, as part of a 4-H project, Stanley Poe Sr. presented the farm’s initial iteration of Hampshire sheep, a unique breed that originated in the early 19th century and hails from the downland region of southern England. What started off as a modest project signaled the inception of what Poe Hamps farm is today — one of the largest sheep-breeding operations in the state and one of the country’s top 10 in Hampshire sheep production. Poe Hamps has branched out from that semiPoe Hamps nal, 4-H competition nearly 70 years ago into an online 2213 W. State Road 144, Franklin business that provides “racehorse style” show-lamb www.poehamps.com purchasing sales and genetically sensitive reproductive services catering to a nationwide clientele. Considering the dynamic growth of the family’s business, and possessing the prescience of potential growth in the near future, Poe’s “What?” is apropos. Poe II is the eldest of four brothers, followed by Keagan, Cameron and Kalen. The siblings have each found their niche — the pursuit of different interests drawing them to both near and distant locales. Keagan Poe works with Indiana Farm Bureau, while Cameron Poe resides in the verdant, equine-friendly hills and pastures of Lexington, Ky. The youngest, Kalen Poe, is a graduate of Texas A&M University and maintains involvement with the Poe farm as partowner and head of western marketing sectors. But Poe II’s decision to remain steadfast to his family’s vision was solidified during those formative years working the property with his father and grandfather. And while the farm quartered the typical animal dwellers, it was sheep that he was particularly “drawn to as a child,” he says. There’s no quantifying reason for this operational gravitation toward sheep. It’s a personal preference. “Just like some people like bulldogs over German shepherds,” he explains, “I just enjoyed working with sheep.” He credits the two Poe patriarchs for providing a reverent appreciation for the land. As early as it was possible to do so, when he was 8 or 9 years old, Poe II entered his first lamb in a 4-H competition in Johnson County. He continued this careerbased avocation throughout adolescence, including involvement with FFA, later graduating from Franklin High School in 1984. From there, he pursued a degree in animal science from the University of Kentucky and after successful completion, returned to the family farm in 1988, the same year he began accepting the first wave of responsibilities as production manager of Poe Hamps. The ensuing years reflected not only adjustments in business execution around the farm, but also a savvy sensitivity for technological change. Since 2002, and as part of the family’s ever-evolving sheep-breeding operation, Poe II has been providing artificial insemination for customers throughout the country, a practice, according to the sheep farmer, that has gained mainstream momentum in the past three or four years. As opposed to a frozen semen process, the AI program at the farm — procuring both semen and embryos — offers a more reliable and fresh product for higher conception rates. “It’s not a simple procedure,” Poe II explains, “not like with cattle and hogs. It’s laparoscopic.” The minimally invasive procedure requires a surgical intermediary, in other words an animal specialist or veterinarian. On April 19, Poe Hamps will celebrate its 25th production sale, an online webcast in which buyers can view and bid on lambs, ewes and rams. Poe II expects to offer roughly 70 head for the event. It’s this commingling of tactile tradition and technology that Poe II views as both a challenge and an opportunity. The online element of farming functions presents a certain amount of distance between people — practices that were once concluded with an in-person handshake are now finalized with the click of a button. “There’s part of the population that knows nothing about agriculture,” he explains. Conversely, Poe II, citing the success of his own online sales for-
Farm Indiana // april 2014
(From left) Stan Poe, Stan Poe II, and Kalen Poe.
In May, R Bistro will celebrate its 13th year in operation, and spring will bring with it chef Regina Mehallick’s signature showcase of seasonal ingredients. Expect to see Poe Hamps lamb roasts during the summer. She invites readers to visit rbistro.com to view menus andA.P.R. stay current with news and events.
eventually compelled him to eliminate that arm of his farm’s operation, he’s maintained a loyal partnership with one particular local chef and restaurateur. R Bistro on Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis has a reputation for honoring local ingredients and championing Indiana-based farmers and growers. At the helm of R Bistro is executive chef and owner, Regina Mehallick — a James Beard Award-nominee and semifinalist in 2010, 2011 and 2012 — who’s known for keenly showcasing gastronomic products unique to the Hoosier milieu. “We’ve just had a great relationship,” says Mehallick, recalling her enduring collaboration with Poe Hamps farm. In part, the chef cites her drive to support local purveyors — “the money stays in the state,” she says quite simply — but she also acknowledges the stand-alone quality of the lamb itself. Mehallick’s 15-item, weekly changing menus are a mosaic of fundamental categories — meat, fish, poultry, vegetarian and comfort foods — that highlight Indiana ingredients. “We feature lamb at least once a month,” says Mehallick, noting recipe permutations of roast leg of lamb, braised lamb neck, lamb brats, loin, bacon and lamb hash with poached eggs. On the farm property, Poe II walks from an office outbuilding to a barn * housing banks of hay-cushioned sheep pens. It’s evening feeding time here; the baaing sheep are growing restless. The air is chilled. Exchanged words come as short-lived streams of fog. “When do you get to close up shop for the evening?” It’s here that Poe II adjusts his knit hat and asks the question: “What?” The laugh-laced reply serves as a fair reminder of the perpetual responsibilities of his vocation. Despite this, he and his girlfriend, Jenna Johnson, will be traveling to Australia sometime over the summer. There, Poe plans to research sheep farms and their handling facilities — big operations of 20,000 to 40,000 sheep. The trip is intended to be a mix of business and pleasure, he admits. “But mostly business.” *FI
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mat, notes the utility of the virtual revolution. “Of course [communication] has improved with Facebook, Twitter, blogs,” he says. “With these media, information is passed so quickly, it’s difficult not to take advantage of it.” A.P.R. For a period between 1998 and 2008, during the nascent stages of the pervasive farm-to-table movement, Poe II was providing lamb to a number of restaurants throughout central Indiana. And while the complicated logistics
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
Despite its out-of-the-way location, Letts Hardware continues to grow
Cindy and Dave Wilkerson
ave Wilkerson is perfectly willing to say that a point midway between Greensburg and North Vernon on State Road 3 is not the most high-profile location for a store that sells equipment for livestock farmers, lawn and garden implements, tools for construction and hardware items. He adds, though, that a reputation for service goes a long way toward compensating for the effort required in seeking out Letts Hardware & Equipment. Once customers know how committed Wilkerson and his staff are to their satisfaction, they’re happy to make the drive to rural southern Decatur County. “The point is that we care about the piece of equipment we’re selling you,” he explains. He and his wife, Cindy, along with Rick and Lisa Laws,
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are the owners of the business, which was founded in 1997. The building previously housed Pohlman Hardware. Wilkerson’s father-in-law, Robert “Bud” Laws, worked at the store for 43 years, running Letts Hardware for its owners from 1997 to 2004. Early in his career, Wilkerson was building a resume thick with experience in retail sales of parts and equipment. In the 1970s, he was the parts manager for Westport Implement Sales. From there, he went to Shirks Tree City Supply in Greensburg. After a stint working in the Texas oil fields, he joined Columbus Auto Supply in 1981. From 1995 until eventually taking over as president of Letts Hardware & Equipment in 2004, Wilkerson had a business called Dave’s Hoosier Racks and Axles, which sold steering racks for four-wheel-drive vehicles. The brands for which the business is an authorized dealer include Kuhn, Kuhn-Knight, Gehl, H&S, Bobcat, Bunton, Scag and Echo. “What we’ve been working on lately is getting people to realize we sell certain things,” Wilkerson explains. “In a location like this, signage is really important.” Letts Hardware picked up the Kuhn and Kuhn-Knight lines when Gehl dropped its agriculture line in 2006. Wilkerson says he is pleased with the wide array of products the store has to offer. “Being more concentrated in ag
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
than in construction is probably what saved us when the housing crisis hit,” he says. For the livestock sector of its customer base, Letts Hardware sells skid steers, loaders, gates, fencing, hay balers and manure spreaders. The store also carries excavators for the construction market. The Scag mowers are a fairly recent addition to the merchandise mix. “The brands we carry are considered leaders for those product types,” Wilkerson explains. The business sells to all sizes of livestock operations. “People are putting up hog buildings and leasing them to the people who actually raise the animals, so we get some of that business,” Wilkerson says. As well, “4-H and showpig people are more likely to own their own equipment, so we see them, too.” In the last couple of years, the store has grown. “Farmers are getting better money for their crops and have more to spend,” Wilkerson explains. “We recently bought the property across the road. We may put a building on it. The equipment is getting so big; it’s getting hard to get it in and out of here.”
“The point is that we care about the piece of equipment we’re selling you.” —dave wilkerson
The business also has seen an increase in out-of-state sales, thanks to online shoppers. “If people see a product they want, they’re not afraid to drive (to get it),” he says. County fair booths are the main marketing tool for the business. It generally has a presence at the Decatur, Ripley and Bartholomew county fairs. The staff consists of five full-time employees. Cindy helps out with office functions when she gets done with her full-time job as librarian at South Decatur High School. “It’s a challenge to find employees,” Wilkerson says. “Young guys all want to work at the new, shiny places,” referring to the big-box stores that have come to the area. He confesses to a bit of amazement that, in a day of large chain purveyors of the same kinds of products he sells (usually in considerably more convenient locations), his dealership and store continue to thrive. “We offer a level of service that you don’t always find these days,” he says, “and we see repeat customers. That means they’re satisfied.” *FI
Letts Hardware 4987 W. County Road 700S, Greensburg, (812) 591-2221, www.lettshardware.com
april 2014 | Section B
The Downey family strives to keep a competitive edge in the beef industry story By clint smith
photos by josh marshall
Itâ€™s late afternoon in Hope, nearly evening, as Nathan Downey and his wife, Sheila, make the rounds at their family farm. If the declining daylight is not enough to encourage a dinner-time retreat, the frigid temperatures urge folks toward warm quarters. But the Downeys respond to these rhythmic challenges as farm families doâ€”they stay productive. See downey on B2 > >
Farm Indiana // april 2014
BELOW: The Downey family: Nathan, 16-month-old Elijah, Sheila, and 4-year-old Logan. RIGHT: A mother cow is placed in a head gate while Nathan assists the calf with nursing. BOTTOM CENTER: A calf nurses. BOTTOM RIGHT: The wheel from an electrified corn sheller that Wayne Downey remembers using a long time ago.
> > downey // cont. from b1 Nathan’s father, Wayne Downey, feeds recently split blocks of wood into a stalwart Taylor stove, which heats the nearby houses on the property. Nathan and Sheila tread over snow and ice-filled ruts as they enter one of the main barns to check on their cows, in particular a 1-day-old female calf, her dark hide flecked with bits of hay. A cluster of cows, their breath visible in the raw air, stands huddled against the cold. Inside the barn, a wide open portion provides a snapshot toward the southeast of the property, which was established by Nathan’s great-grandfather, James Downey, in 1913. For the next 52 years, the Downeys operated a farm with all the usual inhabitants — dairy cattle, horses, some pigs and a few sheep. And while there were some beef cattle in among the other animals, it was James Downey’s son, Owen Downey, who purchased the family’s first Charolais cow in 1965. Just over a century has now passed between the farm’s modest inception and its current layout: a property boasting more than 50 head of brood cows and calves, most dedicated to the production of beef. Many years ago when Nathan was a teenager, as decisions for college and career paths closed in, the eldest of the fourth generation of Downeys never hesitated. “I applied for a few colleges,” he says, “but I wasn’t interested in them.” Nathan had his sights set on Purdue University, his primary choice and where he was accepted, graduating with a degree focused on animal-agriculture business; and it was on campus that he met Sheila, a like-minded student majoring in farm management who was no stranger to the dynamics and vagaries of agriculture. Sheila grew up on a hog farm in Sheridan, a farm that her mother and father, Ginny and
Mike Glunt, continue to operate with 850 head of farrow-to-finish hogs. When it came time for the couple to make a decision about where to settle down, Nathan wanted to carry on the traditions of his family farm. Sheila laughs and shares the joking anecdote that “Nathan said the cows didn’t want to move to me, so I had to move to the cows.” Now, Nathan and Wayne preside over the farm with the constant support of their family. Nathan and Sheila’s two sons (4-year-old Logan and a 1-year-old Elijah) represent the fifth generation of Downey farmers. Among locals, Down E Farms Inc. (the name’s a play on words invented by Nathan’s grandmother, Margaret) is known for having the “allwhite cows on State Road 9.” In recent years, the Downeys have introduced crossbred cattle into the purebred Charolais herd, which, according to the stewards at Down E Farms, provides a more competitive edge in the beef industry. The cows are reared without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones; and all the cattle are introduced to a grass diet and finished with a combination of mixed hay and non-GMO corn, all produced on the farm. Down E Farms continues to keep things local in the proceeding stages of production. The beef is delivered to Greensburg Locker in Decatur County, a state-inspected facility where the beef dry-ages for over a week before fabrication and packaging take place. A wide variety of retail cuts is offered by Down E Farms—filet, porterhouse, Delmonico ribeye, flank, brisket and roasts. There are other cuts available, but one of the most popular products is the ground beef and hamburger patties. Helping that “competitive edge” is the farm’s reputation among farmers and local, food-focused
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Hoosiers. One of the Downeys’ loyal customers is Jedediah Martin of Nynorsk Farms in Morristown. Martin and his wife, Erica, split their time between daily agrarian responsibilities on their farm and a part-time gig at Three Sisters Café in Shelbyville, providing an ideal stage for the couple’s culinary creations, many of which highlight products from Down E Farms. “All their beef just has a genuine flavor,” says Jedediah, who enjoys the beef so much that he fre-
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
CENTER: Logan trudges through cow manure and mud to check on the fill of a feeding bin. BOTTOM LEFT: Elijah gets a closer look at the calf.
Wayne Downey, and his son, Nathan
quently uses it for making steak tartare, a classic dish in which the highest quality of beef should be employed. Recently, Jedediah created a special at the café — a Scottish meatloaf that featured beef from Down E Farms. But it’s also the Downey family ethos that draws the Martins’ patronage. “We like to buy from (the Downeys) especially because they’re
true family farmers,” Jedediah says. He also points out that because the Downeys maintain judicious control of their product — from how the cattle is raised to how they’re slaughtered — he has a lot of respect for their integrity. “I can tell our customers with confidence that the beef they eat is made with care,” he explains, “that the animals are being taken care of.” *FI
Down E Farms Inc., 4585 N. State Road 9, Hope, (812) 371-8461 or (812) 410-0131
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
HOME in the Heartland
Through her Hoosier Organic Marketing Education organization, Cissy Bowman helps farmers in need
story By shawndra miller photos by josh marshall
Cissy Bowman opens a pen to allow the chickens that her husband raises on their property to roam free. The chickens play a role in the overall permaculture farming process Bowman uses on her Clayton farm by eating bugs and spreading seeds and natural fertilizer.
rural community gets help establishing a cooperative mill, which becomes a hub for incubating new agricultural businesses. A farmer staring down flood damage finds help through disaster relief funds. A roundtable discussion among growers, distributors and educational leaders yields a new initiative to bring local food into school cafeterias. Central to all of these stories is Cissy Bowman, founder of Hoosier Organic
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Marketing Education (HOME). The nonprofit organization, incorporated 20 years ago, has a mission of education and advocacy around the certified organic label. But HOME’s work is much broader than just that. In practice it’s all about making connections — connecting farmers to consumers, linking farms to funding and relating information about organic foods’ importance to the public. “I consider organic to be very holistic,” says Bowman, explaining why her mis-
sion extends far beyond those farms that are certified organic. Here in HOME’s Clayton office, surrounded by Willie Nelson posters and Farm Aid memorabilia, she sits behind a large desk. At her right hand is a gray travel mug inscribed, “I can fix anything. Where’s the duct tape?” “It’s like the organs in your body,” she explains. “They all have to work together to create a healthy whole. So organic isn’t just about Code of Federal Regulations 205, how you farm out there — it’s about how
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
LEFT: Moss grows in the woods of the Bowmans’ Clayton farm. CENTER: A framed copy of a 1945 Organic Gardening article, titled "Natural vs. Artificial Nitrites," hangs in the Hoosier Organic Marketing Education office in Clayton. The article, along with many other publications originally owned by a local farmer, was brought to Bowman by the farmer’s daughter when he passed away. RIGHT: A book recommended by Cissy Bowman for someone interested in the permaculture farming process is "Restoration Agriculture, Real-World Permaculture for Farmers," by Mark Shepard.
we develop community. How do we develop local? How do we let the education evolve?” Teasing out the strands in Bowman’s life that led her to this point can be tricky; it’s been a lengthy evolution of its own. It seems that her long association with farming has been a course of study — sometimes in the most headache-provoking particulars of the profession. It’s an education that she’s pleased to put in service by teaching others. A central figure in the organic movement since before such a movement existed, Bowman operated Center Valley Organic Farm for many years, selling produce to CSA customers, at farmers markets and directly to chefs and health food stores. But her initial foray into food production was actually quite humble. “I didn’t want to be a farmer,” she says. On this chilly day she has the space heater cranked up high. Next door to the cozy ranch house that serves as the nonprofit’s office is the home she shares with her husband, Bruce. Here in her sanctuary, Tibetan prayer flags bedeck the picture window. A few steps away is the kitchen, with a refrigerator full of kombucha and fermented vegetables she made herself. She unspools the story. “I wouldn’t water a houseplant,” she says. “I wasn’t interested in (farming) at all.” But when her children were born, she became more aware of health threats. Her protective instinct spawned a desire to garden. “The first thing I decided (was) ‘I can feed them,” she says. “If nothing else, I can feed them.’” Though her first garden was, admittedly, “pathetic,” she benefited from a neighbor’s subscription to a seminal periodical. “She realized I was seriously in need of help,” Bowman remembers. “She handed me a magazine. It was one of the 1962 Organic Gardening magazines.” Soon, Bowman was subscribing to Organic Gardening herself, as she has to this
day. She still has all her back copies, dating to the 1960s. Fast forward a couple of decades: Bowman learned there was a growing market for the kind of produce in her everexpanding organic garden. Just as she was beginning to pursue this unexpected outlet, long before the USDA’s National Organic Program existed, something happened that began her journey into advocacy. She’s still not exactly sure why, but somehow she got invited to participate in the creation of statewide organics regulations. Perhaps someone got wind of how much legwork she’d already done. In Bowman’s quest to determine how exactly to market organic vegetables, starting around 1983 she’d written a series of letters to find out what other states required in order for a farm to label its produce as organic. In that pre-Internet age, the predictable result was a mailbox stuffed with reams of paper, all of which she read. When she went to the downtown Indianapolis meeting, lugging her box of paperwork, it was clear she’d done her homework. It was 1989, and she joined the Indiana chapter of the Organic Crop Improvement Association, along with Hoosier Environmental Council and Citizens Action Coalition, in drafting the statewide regulations. Before long she was nominated to be vice president of OCIA International, which meant frequent trips to Washington, D.C. As legislative liaison, she represented OCIA in the development of the National Organic Program. Many organic standards board meetings later, the national law superseded the statewide efforts, but that early networking proved invaluable. “It was a wonderful process to get people together to meet and try to understand what was going on,” Bowman says. Having been immersed in the regulatory process, she began working as a certifier, ultimately starting a business called Indiana Certified Organic. She started
HOME board member Jeff Evard and Cissy Bowman
"Organic isn’t just about Code of Federal Regulations 205, how you farm out there—it’s about how we develop community. How do we develop local? How do we let the education evolve?" —cissy bowman
speaking to groups, because so many people wanted to learn about this trend. “Then it was like it just never stopped.” She wouldn’t have imagined that 20 years later her winter calendar would be full of speaking engagements, some close to home like the Indiana Small Farm Conference, some as far away as the Missouri Organic Ag Conference. As Bowman settled into this new role, a small group of volunteers worked with her on educating the public about organic food and farming, starting around 1992. “We just started doing it because we realized that there was a need,” she says. “It’s very fulfilling work.” But what eventually gave HOME a boost from those unofficial beginnings was a grant from the office of the Indiana Commissioner of Agriculture, which had been referring inquiries to the selfdescribed “crazy organic” font of information in Clayton. Bowman recalls, “They said, ‘We have this grant program. If we were to give you money, what would you do with it?’” She jumped at the chance to create a nonprofit. With that startup money, in 1994 she was able to formalize the work she was most passionate about — advocating for organic
farming and community development. Fittingly for a 501c3 started from a grant, HOME now administers grants to facilitate farmers’ projects. Bowman and her five-member, all-volunteer board will walk a grower through the application process, provide letters of support and serve as liaison with government officials. HOME also serves as a “pass through” allowing people to donate to projects like the Carthage Mill, a sustainable agriculture processing site in Rush County. The mill is located in a historic lumber mill and is poised to become a hub of ag-related business. HOME’s involvement helped co-founder Anna Welch create an LLC and business plan to carry the work forward. “Those willing to put in seed money received a tax write-off,” Welch explains, “and that seed money encouraged action on the part of the Rush County Economic Development Board.” After the paper mill closed, she says, Carthage seemed like another “dying rural town.” But with Carthage Mill and its commercial kitchen serving as business incubators, things are looking up. Two local men are employed already in construction, and Welch says, “They’re really buying into what the potential is. We can employ so many people.” Welch and her husband, Keith, along with another partner, Judith Avery, started the farming venture Fields of Agape eight years ago. They grow organic corn, beans and other crops on a small scale in Rush County. Without the cooperative mill, they likely would have needed to stop offering value-added products like cornmeal and flour and focus solely on the organic grain, seed and bean market. “Cissy saw how discouraged we were getting,” Welch says. “That’s the role that Cissy plays. She understands how hard it is, and she’s run the gamut on organic projects. She knows what’s viable. She knows a person’s intent. If she knows your work ethic and if you’ve got a serious intent, she’ll find a way.” Another piece of HOME’s mission is disaster assistance. Through Farm Aid, the organization helps bring relief to farms in crisis. When Indiana farmers call (800) FARM-AID, they are given Bowman’s number. Maybe a family member’s health status has triggered a financial crisis. Maybe the problem stems from drought or flood. Maybe the thin thread that keeps a farmer’s debt load manageable has snapped under the weight of rising operating costs. Regardless of the hardship’s origins, Bowman will help file the paperwork for Farm Aid approval. She knows how difficult it can be for
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
Hoosier farmers, proud people one and all, to ask for help. Often it takes someone calling on their behalf, or an absolute rockbottom moment, before they will accept assistance. One man called her “all but in tears,” she says, remembering a particularly heartbreaking case. “He said he had two teenaged children; they’d get up in the morning and open the cabinets, and there wasn’t enough food for them to eat.” Janice Tucker, a small dairy producer in Hendricks County, was one of those who called Farm Aid in desperation and ended up talking with Bowman. “I honestly didn’t know if anybody would even answer the phone,” she remembers, “let alone (offer) any assistance out there. I didn’t even know there was assistance provided. I about fell over when somebody answered the phone.” Things had gotten tough for Tucker’s farm in the past few years. She’d quit her day job to farm full time after adding a milking parlor in 2003, and the loss of steady income and health insurance proved difficult. “We’re not people that throw our money away on new stuff and things like that,” she says. “When we started this, we went with a lot of used farm equipment. Here with the drought a couple years ago, feed prices got really high. Hay, if you could even find it, got high. Corn prices went through the roof.” That pressure, combined with their existing debt, made for a lean couple of years. “Things started getting pretty tough,” she says. “I’m still in debt, but Farm Aid provided $500 to me and that bought some groceries and paid some bills.” That sum gave her a little breathing room so she could figure out her next move. Now she’s in the process of selling some of her land to a renter. Bowman says it’s not unusual for people to be shocked that Farm Aid actually works. Many people have told her, “I didn’t even know Farm Aid was real. I was just at my wit’s end … and somebody answered the phone and told me to call you.” In the scheme of things, the amount of the grant is usually small. A $500 sum, in itself, is not life-changing. But getting connected with HOME’s network of resources might be. “It’s the fact that somebody cares, there’s someone I can talk to,” Bowman acknowledges. That’s when she introduces other funding possibilities, such as high tunnel grants from Natural Resources
Evard drives a pole as part of a 24-by-48-foot-high tunnel construction project on the HOME office property.
For More Information: To reach Hoosier Organic Marketing Education, contact Bowman at (317) 539-2753 or CVOF@earthlink.net. For more information on organic standards, visit www.ams.usda.gov/nop.
Conservation Service. HOME’s educational mission runs the gamut from “where can I find available money?” to “how does the Food Safety Modernization Act affect me?” to “how do I participate in the process of creating laws that affect me?” Bowman is proud of the fact that every aspect of her work allows regular folks to reclaim their power around agricultural issues. That takes the nonprofit’s impact far beyond individual farmsteads or even communities. Members also work for systemic change. For example, Bowman was able to get a small grant from Farm Aid to host a roundtable for people interested in putting locally raised food into school lunches. The result was the Indiana Farm to School Network, which connects farms all over the state with school cafeterias and classrooms. “We share information to empower people,” she says, emphasizing that the empowerment extends beyond the farm. “If you are a consumer, if you eat, you’re part of agriculture.” Helping consumers give input on regulations is no small matter. HOME took part in raising a record-setting response to the 1997 proposed rule that would turn the fledgling National Organic Program into practice. That early stab at promulgation was “horrible,” Bowman says. She helped to analyze the rule against the Organic Food Production Act and distill the major issues into a one-page handout. Then it was time to spread the word. She and other volunteers fanned out to put leaflets on cars in parking lots of health food stores and farmers markets. With HOME and many other linked organizations frantically working to galvanize input during the six-week public comment period, the response was unprecedented. Over 275,000 public comments, a record-setting number, came through to tell the USDA to go back to the drawing board. Which is exactly what happened and exactly why Bowman is so clear on the power of the consumer. “I think the majority of our citizens feel disempowered,” she says. “There’s no reason to feel that way. And I absolutely dislike it when people tell me they’re never going to make a difference, because I’ve watched a group of people, (all) over the country and the world, change the face of agriculture.” *FI
Today I discovered I am a .
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Directions: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees 2. Break bread into small pieces and place in 8-inch baking dish. Combine apples and raisin and drizzle with butter. 3. Combine eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in mixing bowl. Beat until well mixed and pour over bread. Lightly push down mixture with a fork until bread is covered and soaking up egg mixture. 4. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Place bread pudding baking dish into a large roasting pan and pour water around pan. 5. Bake in preheated oven until knife inserted into the middle of the pudding comes out clean, about 45 minutes. 6. Top with caramel sauce and sugar free whip cream.
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
Cheryl Carter Jones Photo by Chet Strange
Local Growers Guild brings farmers, retailers and food consumers together by sherri dugger
Local Growers Guild Barn Dance
guild. According to its website: In 2007, LGG published its first Local Growers Guide, which contains information on member farms, farmers markets, communitysupported agriculture programs and businesses that sell, serve and support local food in southern and central Indiana. In 2008, LGG launched its e-newsletter, supplying members with updates about local food events, conferences and meetings. Today, LGG members meet with farmers one-on-one to help with the mechanics of starting new farms. “This is an organization that is superb for a beginning farmer or someone who has been doing it forever,” says Cheryl Carter Jones, Local Growers Guild president. “For individuals new to farming or simply starting a garden in their backyard, the LGG can help with A to Z, what amendments to add to your soil, what vegetables you can plant side by side and which ones shouldn’t be planted together, et cetera.” To further their efforts, guild leaders are considering switching the group from its current cooperative designation to a not-for-profit status. The switch will open more opportunities for funding, Carter Jones says. “There are numerous grants we can’t apply for without nonprofit status, and individuals want gifts to be tax-deductible,” she explains. “This will allow us to take the guild to the next level.”
sk any farmer for advice on getting started and he or she is likely to tell you the same things: Connect with like-minded farmers. Visit similarly structured farms. Get involved in a network of food producers. And that’s exactly what the Local Growers Guild would like you to hear. By hosting farm tours and educational workshops, sending out e-newsletters and promoting social events, the organization acts as a conduit of information for farmers and food producers throughout southern and central Indiana. The guild got its start in 2004 when a group of friends began exploring ideas for creating an organization that would help bring together local farmers, retailers and food consumers. By 2006, the organization established itself as an official cooperative with a dedicated mission to create a local food system that provides quality food to communities; preserves the viability of family farms; improves the quality of life for growers; makes food issues visible; and promotes practices that preserve and protect the earth. Since the organization’s early days, the number of tasks the Local Growers Guild (LGG) has taken on has multiplied — thanks, in part, to grants awarded to the
Fundraising event features live music, silent and live auctions, appetizers and a cash bar. When: 6 to 9 p.m. April 12 Where: The Clubhouse at The Fields, 1333 S. Fenbrook Lane, Bloomington Tickets: $15 for adults; $10 for children; free, ages 3 and younger Information: www.localgrowers.org/barndance
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
Josh Egenolf of Wayne-Egenolf (WE) Farm first heard about the Local Growers Guild during a routine visit to a local farmers market. He and his wife, Laura Beth Wayne, joined the guild in 2011 when they found a location for their farming operation in Owen County, where they raise cattle, pigs and poultry. Egenolf says the guild has been critical in helping him stay on top of farming news and events around Indiana as he has built his new farm. “The service the LGG provides in assimilating pertinent information on conferences, funding opportunities, legislative policy and local goings-on is convenient and provides an opportunity to stay abreast of issues that affect us,” he explains. “I honestly wouldn’t go look for all this info on my own. I’m simply spent at the end of each day.” The other benefits of being in the guild, Egenolf says, are the relationships built among farmers. “Farming is tough business, and we all must bolster one another’s efforts,” he says. “There is no competition in our small farming circle; we all share and help one another. The LGG provides the platform and social network for allowing us to foster these fellowships with our comrades, customers and community. It has provided that connection that is so important to our success and longevity.” Carter Jones concurs. “For anyone who is a farmer producing vegetables and meat, this (the guild) is a wonderful place for them,” she explains. “This group is very sharing. It’s great … to learn from each other. They (guild members) are not secretive about what they’re doing. It’s a group that you learn from. You can save yourself some school of hard knocks experiences.” And she should know. Carter Jones grew up on her family’s 500-acre farm in Bartholomew County. Before she became president, she was a member, gleaning information from fellow members about how to establish her own small farm. “I grew up on a traditional farm with a very large garden; I know all the basics,” she explains, “but today there are always new insects that can harm your crops or new diseases to watch out for. This group knows how to handle each, and if they don’t, you can at least find out what they have tried that didn’t work.” Carter Jones is in the process of returning to live on the farm where her parents still reside. It is there where she will section off a 10-acre plot to build a home for herself, a place where she can live both on and off the land. This past year she began preparations on the property to eventually house a you-pick operation, lush with berry plants and fruit trees. The cadence of her speech accelerates as she discusses the cover crops she has planted to build up the soil, the berry plants she has sown for future reaping and the small market stand she will eventually set up to sell her annual harvests there.
Josh Egenolf Photo by Josh Marshall
Local Growers Guild manager Megan Hutchison at Sunny Branch Farm in Bloomington. Photo courtesy of Cheryl Carter Jones
Carter Jones, new to her position with the guild (she was voted in as president this past January), speaks with equal excitement about the changes she sees for the organization in the years ahead. “This next year will be an exciting year,” she says. “We’re looking at doubling our membership.” Expanding the membership base will stabilize the organization and bring in some much-needed funding, she explains. “We have a very solid organization there, but if we get all of that done this year (doubling the membership), we will be in a position where we can take on new things and not worry about whether we have the money for a paycheck. We want to do a lot of expansion.” Eventually, LGG board members would like to see the organization operating throughout the state, but like any good farmer will tell you: “You don’t grow it overnight,” she says. “We will remain focused on southern and central Indiana for next year, and then we can look at how to expand. It needs to be done right.” *FI
For more information on the Local Growers Guild, visit www.localgrowers.org.
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
A League of her Own Jean Leising has overcome tragedy to succeed in myriad roles
TOP: Jean Leising looks at old pictures and recalls stories of her first marriage to David Leising and their children. LEFT: Leising and her grandson, David Koch, 5. BELOW: She stands in the legislative chamber at the Indiana Statehouse.
story By robin winzenread fritz photos by josh marshall
s a child, state Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, lived with her family above the family business — a general store — in the small southern Indiana town of Lawrenceville. She spent her days helping her father unpack boxes and waiting on customers. What she didn’t realize at the time was that those experiences were building a work ethic that would one day serve her well in Indiana’s General Assembly, and those same lessons would help carry her through one of the darkest periods of her life. “When we (Leising and her siblings) were this big,” she says, holding her hand just a few feet off the floor of the Batesville travel office, Adventures in Travel, where she helps her oldest daughter, Jill Koch, “my dad would say, ‘You live here right? Well, then you work here.’” When the children “were all old enough to count, we all worked and waited on customers” at their father’s business, Schoettelkotte Bros. General Store, Leising says. “It was the kind of store before Walmart existed. It was a store where you could go to get pretty much anything you needed.” “When she was running for Congress down south,” adds her second husband, Frank Thompson, “these old guys would come up to us and say, ‘Jeanie, how are you? She used to sell us dynamite!’” “I even pumped gas before women
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pumped gas,” Leising continues. “I didn’t even know any different.” First elected to the Indiana Senate in 1988, Leising still holds her own on the chamber floor as one of only seven women out of 50 senators serving today. But the Legislature wasn’t Leising’s first foray into a traditionally male-oriented environment. In fact, it was her success as a Hoosier farmer following the death of her first husband, David Leising, in 1980 that set her down the path as a future lawmaker determined to protect her rural constituents. Following her marriage to David in the summer of 1969, Leising worked as a nurse for Federal-Mogul in Greensburg and David raised hogs on their land near Oldenburg while also farming roughly 500 acres for 10 contracted land owners. Daughter Jill was born in 1973, with daughter Jennifer making an appearance in 1976. Following Jennifer’s birth, Leising became a stay-at-home mom, and son, Jeffrey, was born in 1979. During this time, she also helped David with the business side of the farm. “Even though I hadn’t grown up on a farm,” she says, “I had done a lot of the farm book work, and in the four years that I was home from ’76 to ’80, I had been more involved in helping Dave with ordering, selling, that kind of stuff. So I knew the business side of it.” By the summer of 1980, Leising was “a little surprised” by another pregnancy, she says, but drawing upon her Catholic upbringing and her German work ethic, she took it in stride. With the fall of that year came harvest time, however, and with it the
unexpected death of David as the result of a farming accident in October. Her husband was driving a combine on a narrow county road when the wheel of the machine locked, causing the combine to go “into a doughnut spin,” she says. “There was not enough clearance, and it went over an embankment. He was killed instantly.” At the age of 31, Leising suddenly found herself widowed and nearly five months pregnant. She had three small children at home, along with 125 farrow-to-finish sows on the family farm and only 100 of 500 contracted acres harvested. Rather than letting the situation paralyze her, however, Leising dug down deep and immediately got to work. “I knew that Dave was going to grind feed that day for hogs,” says Leising of the day her husband was killed, “and I wasn’t sure about all of the various rations. … I think I called our feed salesman, so we figured out how to get the feed ground. “That was the unmerciful part about it,” Leising continues. “My husband was dead, I had three kids and there were all these people that had descended upon my house, but the hogs were hungry and they didn’t give a damn he was killed.” For Leising, it was the reality of her situation that drove her to continue with the family farm rather than walk away as many expected her to do. With one full-time employee already on staff, Leising hired her husband’s youngest brother, Tom Leising, to help out, and together the three made plans for the following year. Leising also set out to secure funding from her lender — a prospect she realized would be an uphill battle. “I was determined that I would somehow survive,” says Leising matter-of-factly, “but I had to convince our lender that I was serious about going on with the farm. I had to be realistic about it at that time. They were looking at a woman who was a nurse by profession, who hadn’t grown up on a farm. I had three kids and was pregnant. And I was saying that
I was going to go on with the farm.” Armed with the paperwork necessary, Leising was able to get the financial backing to keep her husband’s business going. “I was really fortunate because I able to keep all of my landlords, I kept the whole operation, and none of that changed,” she says. Life took another unexpected turn only a few short months later in February 1981. Following a healthy pregnancy, Leising prepared to deliver her fourth child without her husband, but what should have been a routine birth turned into an emergency cesarean section when it was discovered her unborn child was in severe distress. The umbilical cord had wrapped around the neck of her son, David Leising Jr., when he had tried to turn in the womb. Despite efforts to save him, he passed away within hours of his birth. Reeling from the loss of her child, Leising found herself in a struggle to save her own life as the trauma of the rushed surgery led her gastrointestinal tract to shut down. She would spend the next two weeks in the hospital recuperating, but once again her German work ethic kicked in and she spent her recovery time planning her son’s funeral over the phone from her hospital bed. “You just do what you’ve got to do,” she says. For Leising, it was clear life had changed and in a big way. Not one to let tragic events stop her in her tracks, she instead threw herself into caring for her young children and running the farm. Leising decided to increase her agricultural knowledge. While she and David had always been active with Indiana Farm Bureau, she increased her presence, using the knowledge she had acquired while serving on the Indiana Farm Bureau Young Farmer Committee in the 1970s to gain additional experience and make connections. Always a quick learner, Leising excelled, joining the Indiana Corn Growers Association’s board of directors in the early 1980s and becoming its president in 1986. While serving as president, Leising attended a luncheon
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association in St. Louis and happened to sit by a member of the board of the Ohio Corn Growers Association — Frank Thompson. “We saw each other at some corn events, and then he called me and asked if I wanted to go out to dinner one night. Our first date was in Cincinnati,” says Leising of Thompson, who was divorced from his first wife when they met. “When I first met him, it hadn’t occurred to me that he wasn’t married,” she smiled. “We dated for a long time because I had built big fences around myself,” Leising continues. “I knew I had a lot of responsibility, so I was not anxious to share that responsibility with anybody. We were married in ’95. It was a long time that we knew each other because I felt like I had so much responsibility between raising kids and the farm.” But agricultural knowledge and a devoted future husband in the form of Thompson weren’t the only things that came Leising’s way through her involvement with the Indiana Corn Growers Association. Her membership on the board also forged the link to the Indiana General Assembly. During the 1987 legislative session, Leising testified on farming legislation before the agricultural committees of the Indiana House of Representatives and the Senate, and her testimony caught the attention of several Republican senators. They approached her and asked if she had ever thought about running for the Senate seat in District 42, which was about to be vacated by the retiring Thomas Hession. “I said, ‘I’m not political,’” recalls Leising, “and they said, ‘Oh, but we think you could learn to be.’” With Thompson acting as her campaign manager and with the blessing of her children, Leising — the only woman in the race — first won a five-way primary in May 1988, then defeated her Democratic opponent in the fall election. She was 39. It was the beginning of a successful career in office that included two back-to-back terms before leaving her Senate seat to run for Congress in 1996 and again after U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton announced his retirement in 1998. Losing to Baron Hill by just one percentage point in 1998, Leising assumed her days as a politician were behind her until state Sen. Robert Jackman announced his retirement from District 42 in
2008. Asked to consider a return to the Legislature, Leising was again elected to the Senate in 2008, in large part, says Thompson, due to her positive name recognition throughout the district. In 2012, Leising ran for re-election. She was unopposed. “Of course, she didn’t know how to handle that so she went out and campaigned anyway,” says Thompson. “We might not have done all the parades, but we did most of them.” Reflecting back on her life and career and how she survived as a young mother and widow, Leising says, “There must have been a bunch of people praying for me, because I’m tough, but I’m not that tough.” David Leising was 33 when he died in 1980. Their son Jeffrey is now 34. The three Leising children are married and have blessed their mother with eight grandchildren. And while she still lives on her farm in Oldenburg, son-in-law Jeff Koch now manages the farming operation. Though Leising has faced many challenges in her life, from personal tragedy to breaking down barriers in male-oriented environments to shepherding legislation through Indiana’s General Assembly, there is one circumstance, however, that has the power to rattle even her nerves of steel. “I paid $20 extra just to have it delivered by Wednesday,” says Leising of the American Girl doll she ordered for her 4-year-old granddaughter’s upcoming birthday party. She watches out the window of the travel agency while waiting for the mail to be delivered. “If it doesn’t come, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she says. Thus, for Jean Leising, while life as a dedicated public servant, retired farmer, wife and mother comes with work, responsibility, joys and sorrows, the role of grandmother — much like Leising herself — is in a league of its own. *FI
Jean Leising at her home in Oldenburg.
“You just do what you’ve got to do.” —Jean leising
A pig, painted by Leising's middle daughter, Jennifer, 25 years ago, welcomes visitors to the farm.
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Farm Indiana // april 2014
Taste of the Wild Brown County store offers variety of olive oils and balsamic vinegars Story by Sherri Dugger Photography by Josh Marshall
Michelle Damrell and Cari Ray
ari Ray remembers the first time she walked into an olive oil and balsamic vinegar sampling room. It was in 2009 at a shop in Michigan. She tasted several of the store’s offerings and “fell in love with the flavors,” she says. “I walked out with a case.” Ray now hopes to inspire those same feelings of passion in customers—whom she affectionately refers to as “Wild Ones”—who enter her Brown County tasting room and store. Ray and business partner, Michelle Damrell, opened The Wild Olive in Nashville’s Big Woods Village building in May 2012. The idea to open the shop was born, first, of necessity. Ray, a singer/songwriter, was looking for a second income stream that would leave her more time to focus on her music. The second reason to open the store was simple: It was a good idea. “I was surprised no one had done it here,” she says. “It’s such a great fit.” The few stores Ray says she had visited tried “to do an elegant thing with their tasting rooms,” she says. “It
comes off as unapproachable. Our idea was to create a vibe that was bright, warm and inviting.” And their idea worked. Despite the shop’s original second-floor spot (the store has since relocated to the first floor of the same downtown Nashville building), The Wild Olive has met with quick success, thanks—in part—to its sweet-tasting offerings. The shop is lined with rows of flavored balsamic vinegars and olive oils that guests can sample before deciding on what to buy. The Wild Olive offers approximately 40 flavors of single varietal and flavor-infused oils and balsamics, with options like basil, garlic, Tuscan herb and black pepper olive oils and garlic cilantro, red raspberry and coconut white balsamic vinegars, all bottled in the store. The store’s balsamics are made in Modeno, Italy. Its oils come from California and places as far away as Argentina and Spain, depending on the quality of each season’s groves from year to year. Ray and Damrell purchase their products from “importers who buy from both hemispheres so
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that we can buy the freshest oil we can,” Ray says. “These olives were hanging on a tree within the last year, which is really important to the quality as well as the naturally occurring health benefits.” Ray goes on to discuss polyphenols, the natural antioxidants found in fresh olive oils, but which are often lost in brands on the shelves of big box stores. The health benefits of both olive oil and balsamic vinegar are listed on The Wild Olive’s website. Balsamic, said to be high in cancer-fighting antioxidants, is touted as a natural appetite suppressant. Olive oil, a natural anti-inflammatory, is said to lower cholesterol, blood pressure and the risk of coronary disease. Beyond the health aspects, balsamic vinegar and olive oil are most often thought of for use in salad dressings and marinades. But they can be used for so much more, says the shop’s co-owner. Ray uses “balsamic as a condiment,” she explains. “I will take hickory balsamic and drizzle it over a turkey sandwich. You’re going to use half as much as you would a regular condiment because you don’t need much. It
Farm Indiana // april 2014
Skooter’s Family Restaurant A southern Indiana diner where memories and meals are made
(balsamic) gives new life to foods.” The Wild Olive also sells local honey, produced specially for the store, as well as gourmet pantry items like mustards, tapenades, marinades, stuffed olives and spice blends. Later this year, Ray and Damrell hope to create a section of their store dedicated to “local flavor,” Ray says, which will feature locally made or grown foods.
In the end, it might come as a surprise to some that a dedicated musician spends so much of her time selling kitchen goods, but Ray’s latest venture is, in fact, closely aligned with her other artistic impulses. “People often say to me, ‘You’re a musician; what are you doing with an olive oil store?’” she says. “Cooking and being in the kitchen, creating color and flavor, have always been another creative outlet for me.”
By Clint Smith Photo by Andrew Laker
Perfect Pairings With so many options, choosing which oil and vinegar to mix can be tough. Here, Cari Ray offers four of the store’s most popular combinations.
Black Pepper Olive Oil + Hickory Balsamic Persian Lime Olive Oil + Coconut White Balsamic
Tuscan Herb Olive Oil + 25 Star Aged Balsamic Basil Olive Oil + Strawberry Balsamic
Discovering a small-town hangout is typically a treat—especially if the place boasts a unique atmosphere. Skooter’s Family Restaurant is an enduring, diner-style breakfast-andlunch joint located in Columbus. The establishment provides an inviting, seat-yourself simplicity ideal for early-morning momentum, a lazy brunch or an empty stomach in search of something savory and satisfying. The menu contains all the usual breakfast suspects: eggs, bacon, sausage, waffles and impressive pancakes (the generous diameter of which is roughly the size of a large vinyl record). But you can also flip to a lunchfriendly menu complete with sandwiches and burgers. The main dining area is divided by a low wall, separating a bank of booths and a more cozy section of two-top seating. There’s an atmosphere of friendly, first-name familiarity, and an L-shaped bar-top area is a perfect spot for local personalities to hold court or simply enjoy a cup of coffee and a crisp newspaper. Vickie Michael is Skooter’s current owner and operator, having embraced the business
established by her parents over 40 years ago. While the reasons for why the modest diner has enjoyed such small-town success are lengthy, she cites the loyalty of their employees for providing steam to their diminutive engine. “We wouldn’t be who we are or where we are today if it wasn’t for [our employees],” says Michael. “Each one over the years, good or bad, has added a little character to this restaurant. Some we are still telling stories about,” and some have “left lasting footprints on this restaurant and in our hearts.” Michael’s four daughters have all worked here, and two still remain as employees. If you stop in Skooter’s, it’s likely that one of Michael’s family members is tending to guests. “We all worked together to make Skooter’s what it is today,” says Michael. “The customers notice and appreciate that as well. The customers like getting to know our family just as well as we like getting to know theirs.” 1602 E. State St., Columbus, (812) 376-6386
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