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Aquapunx, Permaculture And Dandelion Greens

Sobremesa Farm as seen from across the pond (photo: Juan Carlos Arango/Sobremesa Farm)

Our overall mission is to grow a variety of food that is adapting to the changing climate.

Today on our show we visit Sobremesa, a permaculture farm near Unionville Indiana and learn about an integrated farming system growing food, building community and connecting people to the land.

We also learn about an aquaponics project in a middle school, and Chef D shares a recipe for an easy to find wild edible plant.

Sobremesa Farm

Kayte[narrating]:Farming season is upon us. Fields, if dry enough, are getting plowed. Happy seedlings are emerging from greenhouses. Hopeful growers are still in denial about soil pathogens and pest’s a lovely time of year in gardens and fields across the midwest.

Last summer I had the chance to visit a farm with a holistic vision, founded on the principles of permaculture. Sobramesa Farm is located in South Central Indiana, just outside of Bloomington. The Farmers, Juan Carlos Aranga and Robert Frew had a larger vision in mind when they started their farm 5 years ago. Robert Frew shares the story:

Robert: That really started with one person, and that was Lucille Burtuccio. She was a guiding light for us in understanding the importance of land conservation and caring for wildlife and for an appreciation of native plants. So through her, we started on this journey of really re-creating ourselves, and deciding 'hey, we could probably do something more than what we were doing. Instead of just a backyard habitat, why don't we create a very large piece of land, that's a habitat, that grows food, and has animals, and that we can also create this sense of community around us?'

Juan Carlos: We love food and community. I come from a Latino culture in which it's pretty important to be connected with people, and food is one of the best things for that. That's why also, we named the farm Sobremesa. In my culture, when you finished eating you stayed at the table, chatting, gossiping, things like that. And that's Sobremesa, that's what we call Sobremesa. So that's why we are growing all sorts of food here, and connecting the food to the community. So, we have the market here, events, we have guests coming.

Also, we thought it would be unique, something we learned from the Amish, you go to their farms and they harvest for you there. And that's what we do here at the market. People come and we harvest for them, they see the produce and they can choose. It's a good way because the food becomes something else. It's not just an item, it has history, love, sharing information, and you get to know that person that is eating your food. It is really great.

Kayte: so you haven't already harvested for the market, it's as people come, you might go out into the garden and pick things?

Juan Carlos: Some of the things we do harvest early in the morning, but we have some chairs, so when people come here, they breath and they wait. Or they come with us. So, it's an adventure I would say, you need your time, and also they meet other people who are buying stuff from us here, so it's an event I would say, too.

Robert: the Market is on Sunday from eleven to six, and we open the gates at the road, put out signs and wait [laughs]. I think it's a way for people to better connect with their food. Because they meet the farmer, they see how it is being grown, and they see the entire ecology of the piece of land around the food.

We wanted a central feature at the farm, and we decided since we were both into refurbishing and salvaging things, that we would find a barn that was going to be torn down up in Dyer Indiana, and we hired an Amish crew to disassemble the barn, put it on trucks and bring it here and reassemble it--in mostly the same way that it was, with a few alterations.

We got together with a sound engineer from IU who suggested that we remove one of the lofts that had originally been in the barn, and to eventually create a solid surface floor, which would help with better acoustics in the barn because our goal was to have concerts there and different musical events--really to help educate people. Which again, is part of the mission we're carrying on from Lucille, to help people connect with a piece of land and to understand the heritage of farms in Indiana. And in the case of the barn, the importance of conservation, of preservation of an important piece of architecture that really roots us here.

Kayte[narrating]: Sobremesa also offers two lovely air-bnb spaces, and they host campers, interns and Woofers-- people who travel to live and learn on organic farms.

They’ve also connected with the local elementary school in Unionville.

Juan Carlos: They have an amazing idea for the whole school, in theme, it's called EARTH, they have a garden--that school is amazing.

We prepared a workshop to create a mound, Hügelkultur is the word they use in Germany, but it's pretty much a big raised garden, using some materials you have right there, on your place. There were sixty-something kids, and they were fantastic, oh, we loved it. There was one seven-year-old, came to me and said, "I could do this for the rest of my life!" And that really was the best.

Kayte: So they built the mound?

Juan Carlos: We divided all the kids into three groups. The ingredients we had were branches, paper, soil, cardboard. So they all went through the whole process. They used shovels, all the tools, wheelbarrows, they worked incredibly. I told one of them, "you're hired!" because they didn’t want to stop, they went on and on.

Kayte[narrating]: They also hosted students from Unionville for a program called Reimagining Opera for Kids, presenting a food-themed opera in the refurbished barn.

Guinea Fowl

Kayte[narrating]: Juan Carlos and Robert have an integrated approach to farming. No component of the farm works in isolation. For instance, they’ve planted a pollinator zone near the road, with native flowers, attracting bees, insects and birds. The birds help keep the cabbage moth caterpillars off the broccoli and kale.

Systems work together.

They keep chickens for eggs, but they also contribute manure, they scratch up the soil in garden beds and keep bugs under control.

Juan Carlos: But the ones that are totally out, working and making noise, are the guineas. Their main gift to us is they control ticks. We used to have so many here, now we have less because of them.

They wander. They can't really be contained. They are free spirits, I'd say...they even go to the neighbors, and we have to try and bring them back.

Kayte: But then do they come in at night, for shelter?

Robert: We did train them to go into a coup. But essentially, their food and water they get here on the land as they're wandering around, eating a lot of ticks.

Kayte: Yeah, I would just think that predators are a problem if they're out in the wild, but maybe they've realized that it's good to come inside.

Juan Carlos: Yes, they know that. Last night, for example, I was busy emailing people about the market on Sunday, and it was already dark. They were calling,[as if to say] "Hey! Come, close the door!" So, after I closed the door, they were totally silent.

This is the house of the guineas and now it is time for them to come out. [chirping and squawking sound, guineas moving out of coop]

Kayte[narrating]: The guineas are black with white speckles, they’re larger than chickens, with almond-shaped bodies and tiny heads colored bluish white and red. They are quite striking.

As we walked around the farm, I notice the guineas in the tall grasses, stretching their necks to the top of the stalks

Juan Carlos: Can! Chicky-chicky-chicky, look--ticks love to be on top of the grass.

Kayte: So that's what they're eating, they're not eating the seeds?

Juan Carlos: No.

Kayte: Oh, that's great.

Kayte[narrating]: I noticed one of the birds making a lot of noise on top of a covered bale of straw.

[very loud guinea squawking]

Juan Carlos: They like to go to a high spot and tell the others that everything is fine. So after that, he will go there, and another one will come here, [and alert the others].

Kayte: [laughs] That's amazing! They're really cool looking.

Juan Carlos: Oh, I love them. They're noisy, they are, but they're so fun to watch--the way they run,

they play, just like kids!

Kayte: They do?

Juan Carlos: Oh, yes! They chase each other, you think they are going to kill each other. They get very close, and then the one chasing goes back, and then the other one goes again and [seems to say] "hey, no, come follow me again, chase me again!" They could go on and on and on.

And their babies are so cute, have you seen their babies?

Kayte: No, I don't think so.

Juan Carlos: Yeah, they look like a little chipmunk.

Kayte: So you say you don't eat the animals but do you eat eggs?

Juan Carlos: Oh yes.

Kayte: And what about the guineas, do they lay eggs

Juan Carlos: Yes they do, they have a short period, they start end of April to September, that's it. We collect the eggs, and we sell them at the market. They're really rich.

Kayte: Are they smaller?

Juan Carlos: Yes, they are smaller, but in comparison with a chicken egg, they have a bigger yolk, not much of the white, so for baking, they are great.

Kayte[narrating]: Juan Carlos says the guinea egg shells are hard as a rock, and light brown in color.

You can find Sobremesa on Facebook and Instagram, where Juan Carlos regularly posts lovely photos from the farm.

Music on This Episode

Decompress by Lee Roserve from Free Music Archive

Coming Down to Me by Hope Poe and Stephen Stern from Killer Tracks

The Earth Eats’ theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Stories On This Episode

Meet The Aquapunx: Middle Schoolers Saving The World With Aquaponics

Teenagers at Western Middle School in Louisville, KY build an aquaponics system in an after-school leadership program.

Dandelion Greens With New Potatoes And Local Italian Sausage

Spring is the best time to harvest dandelion leaves, and Chef D has got a great recipe!

Parents Grapple With Increasing Debt For School Lunches

A growing number of low-income families that do not qualify for free school lunches are going into deeper debt, as school districts crack down on outstanding payments.

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