KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I’m Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.
JOYCE RANDOLPH: When we first bought the garden it had a six foot tall chain link fence with barbed wire across the top. Now, what does that tell you? Stay out. So one of the first things we did with our grant money was take down that fence.
KAYTE YOUNG:This week on the show we have a special presentation of the Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast. We’ll be hearing from growers across the state about sustainable agriculture, the importance of community in farming, and the challenges farmers face in striking a work life balance. That's all just ahead, stay with us. Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I’m Kayte Young. A few weeks ago we featured three episodes from the Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast, it's a series produced in partnership with Indiana humanities, Hoosiers Young Farmers Coalition, and the National Young Farmers Coalition. This week we’re sharing more episodes from that project. Let’s dive right into the first one.
LIZ BROWNLEE: Hey, everyone. I'm Liz Brownlee, a farmer and president of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, and you're listening to the Hoosier Young Farmers podcast. This episode is a little different. We're going to hear from farmers. They're going to talk about what it's like to work to farm sustainably in a state where conventional AG is very much the norm. And so first, we'll hear from Adam Trost and then focus really on Tracy Jaeger's story. So first, the Trost's. So the reason that Claire and Adam decided to try to do pasture raised meat was that Claire thought it tasted better. But then Adam realized that he could do a ton for soil conservation by farming in a more sustainable way, and he got even more excited. So they realized it wasn't even just about their own 30 acres
ADAM TROST: Global warming. It's just such a hot topic, and you have this small group of people who are saying, listen, if we do this, we can capture carbon and put it back into the soil. And not only do we slow down emissions, we can actually reverse them if we do it right. And so it's really my own little small experiment to see what we can do on 30 acres over the course of time. You know, how much more organic matter can we put in the soil? And does this really work? And if we scale this up, what can we do?
LIZ BROWNLEE: Claire and Adam started farming in 2016, and they got two pretty different responses from their neighbors. The older farmers especially saw the value in more sustainable practices.
ADAM TROST: Conventional farmers who are my age, they're like, oh, that's cute. That's your kind of farming. It's kind of a hobby farm. When I talk to older farmers who are also conventional, you know, they may be farming thousands of acres. They think it's awesome. They're like, I remember when I did that, I remember how much fun it was when we were raising animals. My grandfather is a farmer in Illinois. And the things we're doing now are the same things he did when he was a kid with his dad. They just didn't have the direct to consumer aspect of it, so they got pushed out by the big guys. They had to specialize and they had to grow corn and soybeans. But those older generation guys they're like that's..., they think it's spectacular. They think it's great that animals are back on farms that if animals aren't raised in 4000 animal unit buildings so it really is a divide of generations.
LIZ BROWNLEE:All right, now, let's hear from someone who's been farming sustainably in Indiana for a long time. Tracy Jaeger started farming almost 40 years ago, but growing food without a lot of chemicals isn't just nostalgic for her. It's about safety. So for the rest of the episode, we're going to focus on Tracy's story. And as you listen, I think you'll see how getting away from industrial farming methods isn't just about realizing it's the right thing to do. When you've been investing in one way of doing it for decades that switch can really be risky, but we'll get to that. Let's hear from Tracy. She didn't plan on being a farmer, but when your high school sweetheart who you married just as soon as you graduate says, Let's try dairying, you might just say, why not?
TRACY JAEGER: You know, 20 years old, I was up and carrying kids to the barn and never realized it would turn into about 20 years of dairying and then ended up buying a farm. By the time we were, about forty five came out here to Liberty, Indiana, where we're at now. My first instinct was we quit dairying and I was ready for something different. And I went searching for organic information
LIZ BROWNLEE: She already had a history with organic growing.
TRACY JAEGER: My dad had an organic garden in the backyard. We grew up in a subdivision, a quarter acre lot, and he fed the whole Cul-De-Sac out of the backyard. So I kinda think I got that from him a little bit. He would make bug tea. He called it bug tea. And he would mash them all up and put them in a bucket and strained it through cheesecloth. And then he put it in a pump sprayer and he'd spray it. And I just remember thinking that was just, you know, so bad. But I don't think that anymore. So I knew when I tell somebody that they're like, Oh, that's nasty. And I said, Well, but if he keeps the bug from coming back, you know, if you had squished bodies laying around, you probably wouldn't come around, either.
LIZ BROWNLEE: But bug tea isn't really enough to go on, and you're trying to switch your whole operation away from chemicals. So Tracy started looking for information.
TRACY JAEGER: I went everywhere. No one knew anything. All I knew is my dad had the Rodale's encyclopedia. And and that's what he read every night besides a Bible. And I was just like, well, I have to go there because that's all I know.
LIZ BROWNLEE: They were in Union County, lots of big farms and not exactly a hotbed of experimentation.
TRACY JAEGER: There was just no support. There was no no support for someone trying to start something different around here. We are in a very conventional area, lots of large farmers. Union County, Indiana, is a smaller county in the state, but they have a lot of nice big flat farms around here. So looking for help trying to start something different never came. Of course, we have to make the farm payment. And it's like we could never get ahead enough to move forward to where you really want to be. I mean, we have never paid ourselves from this farm. I work off the farm. So when I come home at night in the summertime, I am directly out in the field. I'm out there till 10 o'clock at night if it's daylight and I'm out till it's dark. In early spring, I put out cabbage and cold-weather plants I put out, you know, broccoli, cauliflower, which cauliflower seems to really grow good here. If I can get it started early since my goal was to try to do it without any assistance of chemicals or anything. So I kind of daily go out, pick and watch, and if I see something I don't like, I smash it and leave it there, kind of on the edge of the leaf. So another bug smells that maybe they won't come along and eat on that one or something. So. You know, I don't have anything against conventional anything because I've been eating that way. When you go to the grocery, you know, unless you buy the organic, you don't know exactly what was on that food. So with my husband, I'm kind of the same way with him. But you know, when he's growing corn and beans competitively to make a farm payment, you've got to have the money for the farm payment. So you got to have some grain. So to to jump in full force would just be probably cutting our own neck, you know, our own throats.
TRACY JAEGER:So over the years of perseverance, we still are not certified organic in any means, but we grow stuff organically. We can be certified organically, we've been a cover on our ground where I plant the produce we're trying to eliminate as much as possible. It's not that I have anything against not being organic because I mean, my husband still farms traditionally on a lot of levels, but he has non-GMO corn or non-GMO beans. But slowly through the process, this is exactly what it is. It's a process that you go from, you know?
TRACY JAEGER: He doesn't want to put that spray on the ground. Sorry. There's not a farmer out there that doesn't open that jar, and pour it into that sprayer and say, I don't want to do that. You know, that's how I feel. So anyway, he's very open to that for me. So that's why I'm always grateful. So he gave me these 25 acres wrapped around my house and a lovely house it is, he built for me. And he said, What do you want to do with it? So I said, Well, first thing I want to do is cover it, just put it in the cover. I said something you can use. So he planted alfalfa in it. And then he planted oats in it. So we started harvesting oats, which we harvet grain. I mean, he's good with wheat. Wheat is good for him around this ground grows great wheat. But we decided to try oats. His grandfather raised them years ago, so we started using them with the cows. So in the last five years, we've really started transferring about 25 acres into permanent cover. I've been putting my vegetables into that, we go into it, I'll till up my rows where I want to put in my vegetables and then put it back into oats or alfalfa over the winter and then alfalfa in the spring. And so we're kind of rotating in and out, but I'm not using that much of the 25 acres. So I've got a lot of it that's kind of just he's taken the hay off of. He was pushing 300 bushel corn out of this field and he gave it to me. So I know it wasn't the easiest corn to give up. So, you know, it wasn't the easiest ground, but it was the most sensible because it surrounds my house. So I think I deserved it. After 20 years of milking cows, so that's what I tell him all the time.
TRACY JAEGER: In the farming industry, so I kind of know chemicals are out there and where they're used at. And when you start reading how to grow a lot of those vegetables and what chemicals they want you to put on them, if you want them to be greener, if you want them to be, you know, long. I just got to thinking to myself, you know, I now have grandkids coming and I don't want them to eat that either. You know, over the course of the years, we've always avoided putting anything on our food because I just I don't want it. I never did want it. So now I'm growing for my grandkids. I don't want them to be susceptible to it. I want to put the food up for them. I want it. I freeze it. I can it. I deliver it to them. When they're here, I make them take stuff home, and I wish I could do every single thing that way.
LIZ BROWNLEE: But it's hard to transition, especially when you've invested so much in conventional farming. What would it take for Tracy and her husband to take all their acreage to organic.
TRACY JAEGAR: A safety net during that transition. You know, not just money. I'm going to say that that's the main thing, because if you transition and you have a failure and you've got a, you know, you've got a million dollar farm, you're trying to pay for, our farm is not quite paid off when it gets paid off, whoo hoo, look out. I'll be a lot more tempted to go the extra mile because I won't have that fear of losing my farm. But I think that for men, especially, you know, for years, they've been in the role of securing that. You know, we rent cash, rent quite a bit acreage that he farms and then we own where we're at about 116 acres. So I told him, we start with ours and then we can go from there. I have so many people who stop, who stop here and they buy stuff, and I kind of tell them when they're going, I said, I won't use anything. If you want to go back and see, I'll take you back. This comes from right here? I'm like, Yes, it comes from right here. Or if I run out, I'll say, You wait right here, I'll go pick one or you want to go with me. You know, the fact that I can say it's right here, it's right in front of you, and they're like, Oh, you're kidding me? And then they come back and say, Oh my gosh, it's the best tomatoes I ever had. I get a lot of compliments on those tomatoes because I just kind of baby them, and I read the handbooks on that Rondale's encyclopedia on exactly what the tomatoes need because I am not, you know, I am not college educated. I am not going to say I'm not educated by any means, but I just I don't have a degree by the back of your name, but I got life degree with farming. The neighbors go by and wonder what we're doing because we drive in 400 tomato steaks by hand. You know, they go up and down the road, real slow sometimes. And it's just like, I need to put a big sign up there and say, Yes, we are different, but it's still OK. I also have family who are very who say sometimes, well, why don't you just go all organic because they love it, they love organic produce. We grew up with it and they're like and now my siblings and stuff are like, Well, why don't you do that? I'm like, It's not that simple for me. You can't just say I'm organic and drop the ball on a thousand acres. That's just not feasible at this point. With this time, I don't know how much money it would take to buy all the equipment, modify what we have and change it over. I would be more than happy to do it if it was, like I said, financially feasible at this point in time. It's just not for us, for him mainly, I said, not for him. And he does that. That's his part. I worry because I know he's opening the jug. I know that his exposure is way more than what's on the food. So, you know, if they complain and we worry about what's going into the food and what's in the runoff and what's, you know, I can understand all of that. But when you have a man that's there opening that jug, he puts his gloves on. He puts his little cape on and, you know, they mix that chemical and then they have it there. It's scary for me because you don't know what the future holds with that. But if we could walk away from it with those chemicals, I would love to do it. I do have to say that he thinks a lot more about how he sprays and what he sprays. And I think that he thinks a lot more about not using it than he ever thought before. You know, the last five years, it's opened his eyes when we put the alfalfa in the front field here in front of my house. We were like digging up squares about foot deep square and we were counting the worms. You know how many worms are in this ground, how many worms are in this ground? And we would count about 10 or 12 worms. And then we put this alfalfa in. And then the next year we took a shovel and did the same thing kinda in the same area and there was like 80. So you tell me in one year if the worms are in the alfalfa and the roots and you know, and. I just know that you can heal the soil. By doing something different, so, you know, if we can heal the soil back to where it was before the use of chemicals was the standard because that became a standard after the War of World War Two, I think so. The farmers that did that years and years ago can remember how they could go out in the soil and, you know, feel the soil and know the difference. And now it's like some of these fields to me, just look like they're they're dead because they have so much chemical and the time that it stays there, residual effects. So I know if you're putting any thing on there, that's killing the the life of the soil. To me, you're just pushing a seed with what you're putting in the ground. The soil is not supporting the seed. So that is where I want to go. I want to have the soil healthy so that what we plant grows from the soil, not from what you're giving it.
LIZ BROWNLEE: That's what we need if we want our food system to be sustainable. But for farmers to make that switch, they need support. Right now, we subsidize industrial ag in these ways. What if the government put some of that money towards farmers like Tracy and her husband, Kenny, so they could transition away from the chemicals and not have to risk their livelihoods? If you think that's a good idea, give your local legislators a call or join the National Young Farmers Coalition and help create policies and funding that equip farmers like the Jaeger's for success. Tracy Jaeger and her husband, Kenny own Jaeger, Family Farm and Bebop and produce in Union County, Indiana. We also heard from Adam Trost of Bent Arrow Acres in Russiaville. This is the Hoosier Young Farmers podcast brought to you with support from Indiana Humanities, the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition and the National Young Farmers Coalition. If you want to learn more about how we're updating the narrative on food and farming in Indiana, go to Hoosier Y F C dot O R G backslash stories. Thanks to Andrew Raridon and Jessica Murnane for coordinating these interviews and Andrew Raridon and Rachel Brandenburg for conducting interviews.
ALEX CHAMBERS: Our theme music is from Amy O., and we have additional music from Ramón Monrás-Sender and Airport People. Our host, Liz Brownlee, helped this project off the ground and it was produced by me, Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening.
KAYTE YOUNG: You're listening to a special presentation of the Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast here on Earth Eats. We’ll be back with more after a short break. Kayte Young here, this is Earth Eats with a special presentation of the Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast.
LIZ BROWNLEE: Hey, everybody, this is Liz Brownlee. I'm a farmer in southeast Indiana and President of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition.
ALEX CHAMBERS: And I'm Alex Chambers, producer of the Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast, which is the one you're listening to.
LIZ BROWNLEE: Right now.
ALEX CHAMBERS: So Liz, what made you start the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition?
LIZ BROWNLEE: OK, well, first I did not do it on my own. There was this whole group of farmers actually who launched the Coalition, and it's definitely a group effort making this thing work from month to month. We got our start actually back in 2016, a bunch of sustainable farmers, we're on this trip to Maine and Vermont along with our extension agents. Actually, Purdue University had this huge grant to help beginning farmers, and one key thing the grant funded was trips to visit other states where the food system was, let's say, more mature than Indiana. And so here we are on this week long bus tour, stopping at these incredible farms and chatting with the farmers and just learning a ton. And we were having fun. It was so nice and we spent this time together on the bus and over meals, sharing about our own farms too right? Like not just learning from the folks we were visiting, but sharing about our challenges and what we were planning next. And it felt really good to commiserate and celebrate together. Right. So halfway through the week, we said, Wait a minute, we need more of this, right? This can't end at the end of this week. We need more time together learning with other beginning farmers. So we started talking about how we can launch a farmer group. Most other states have like a statewide organic farming association, and Indiana does not, yet. So we weren't really ready to launch a non-profit of that scale back then. But thankfully, the National Young Farmers Coalition has this structure for chapters. They're actually 50 chapters all over the country, and we said let's start the Indiana one, and that'll give us a way to start getting together because the national folks, they do like policy work, but the chapters can do whatever the farmers need in that area. And so we said we need a community. And so we started hosting like farm tours and farm get togethers and like brewery nights. And right away we saw that most people who started small scale farms, they they don't just think about their crops or their livestock. They're thinking about community, the communities where they farm and they're working to address specific needs in their community through food. And they're really excited to share with other small scale farmers.
ALEX CHAMBERS: Does that feel different from industrial AG?
LIZ BROWNLEE: Oh gosh. Yeah, yeah, for sure. Industrial AG is very proprietary, right down to the seeds and the chemicals. And when you're farming on that scale, the bottom line is really about finances. Community doesn't really necessarily play into it. That's not to say that some of the big farmers aren't community minded. It's just not a piece of the economic sort of model. Whereas in sustainable AG, there's that triple bottom line finances matter. And actually, for more on that, we did an episode all about it - Making It Pay. But a sustainable farm actually judges it's success based on if you're helping build a stronger community and if you're helping improve the health of the land and water. And so people who get in small scale, diversified ag really value community. I'd say they're even like aching for it, like always offering community. Can I give you an example?
ALEX CHAMBERS: Yeah, please.
LIZ BROWNLEE: OK, so last month, I was on a call for the Hoosier Young Farmers Fellowship program. We have people who get funds to invest in infrastructure in their farms and scale up their operations, and so I was just on the call to like, offer support or connections. It was really about the Fellows, but we were just like checking in about how our farms were doing. And I said, like, whoo, I gotta move some eggs you guys, like we scaled up our laying hen operation, maybe a smidge too much. We have about 70 dozen eggs a week to move every single week, week after week, and that's a lot of eggs. And right away, two of the folks on the call, Sharrona Moore and Daniel Garcia, said, Oh, I can maybe help. Right. So Daniel said he has this like distribution he does to restaurants and he'd be happy to list our eggs as an option. And Sharrona said, Oh, I know this new black-owned market that's opening in Indy, I think they need eggs. Let me connect you with them. And so we were able to move some eggs through those outlets and they were just ready to help. No hesitation. No self-interest. They just wanted to see me do better because that's I think that's especially true of small scale farms, as we all do better when we all do better. We're not really competing with each other. We're like cheering each other on, which is really it's like the warm fuzzies. It's good, you know,
ALEX CHAMBERS: but it's also effective
LIZ BROWNLEE: And it's effective. Yeah, I can throw one other thing in there. So I see it as like all warm fuzzies. Not everybody does, right, because I'm in smaller markets. So maybe the bigger markets. One of our board members, Genesis McKiernan-Allen, she calls it co-op-etition, right? So there's there's an element of competition, right? Of course. I want to sell all of my produce today, but market is better and stronger if people show up and there's an abundance of food, and that's same for the local grocery store or the restaurant that's featuring local food. And we all do better when there's more and people can get more consistent supply of local food. And she's actually the one who says that we all do better when we all do better.
ALEX CHAMBERS:Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. So, is that what we're going to hear about?
LIZ BROWNLEE: Yeah. Did I not say that? But this episode is all about community, so we're going to hear it from a bunch of farmers all around the state talking about how community plays into their farm and what they're trying to do with their communities.
JOYCE RANDOLPH: When we first bought the garden, it had a six-foot-tall chain-link fence with barbed wire across the top. Now what does that tell you? Stay out. We don't want that. We want you to come in and we want you to know that we are here and we want you to be a part of what we're doing. So one of the first things we did with our grant money was take down that fence and put up another one. We now have a beautiful white picket type fence with a gate that is totally visible. Everybody sees us. We see everybody. You can open that gate. You can walk in. You can say, Hey, Miss Randolph, how you doing? You know? And people pull up in cars and they're like, can we come in the garden and like, sure you can come on, you know? And it now makes it so that they get a feeling that, oh, they really want us to be a part of what they're doing and they want to be a part of the neighborhood because a fence, a six foot tall barbed wire fence is not inviting. In order to help the community, we got to give them the feeling that we want to be part of the community.
MEGAN AYERS:I have a really visible farm, too. It's on a busy road, unfortunately. People do stop by and ask me questions, which I appreciate. And in fact, that's how I've met a couple of like minded farmers because they saw that I had like low tunnels out in the field and they said, Oh my gosh, that person is growing a market garden and they're using low tunnels. And so I actually ended up meeting them at market and they told me that they were slightly stalking me from the road because they were watching the farm get built over the last couple of months. And it just made me laugh because it is such a stark contrast to my neighbors.
SIBEKO JYWANZA: We live in places where the natural farmland and those things are coming out of our communities and factories and a lot of mass production types of things are going into our communities and creating an atmosphere where it's hard to grow food, where our soil is not sustainable enough to actually grow the food, or it's filled with a whole bunch of nasty particles that we can't consume. And all this time, every single day and I'm talking about someone is making millions to billions of dollars off of this and able to sustain themselves and their families. Someone, some entity, some company, some group is making enough money to be able to not have to worry about that where you're already limiting the resources that people in underserved communities have. And on top of that, you're making it harder for us to survive within our bodies, starting at birth, making it harder for environmentally, for us to sustain ourselves. And that's something that we actually can't control. There is nothing that we can do. There's no community meeting that's going to solve my air not being breathable or causing some type of cancer.
SIBEKO JYWANZA: Our farm wraps around our preschool playground, and so the daycare students, if it's five year olds, when they come outside to play during the spring and summer times, they can see the farming happening. And so they're getting introduced at a very early age in terms of where food comes from, what's going on with food. They're learning about seeds. They're learning about the nutritional aspect of that. Another reason it's therapeutic. Our Feed program focuses on young people who have been kicked out or dropped out of school or have been incarcerated, who graduated high school, but are trying to find that next step in terms of what they're trying to do. So we focus on that 16 to 24 year old age group that are dealing with a lot of trauma that might be dealing with a lot of issues at home or socially, and farming it can be therapeutic. You know, you, you get out there and your own thoughts and you start taking care of these plants and things like that. You know, it can be something that can actually heal if you allow it and take it seriously.
ADAM TROST: Yeah, I mean, my grandpa, you know, they would raise hogs, and he's told us stories that they would have six or seven or eight families get together on a weekend and they would process hogs together. Everybody was involved packaging all the meat together, grinding it, making it. And it was a community event
SHARRONA MOORE: All together I was able to offer our youth for our community twenty five weeks of programming at the farm and as much as I felt like I needed them, they needed us too. They needed a place to be creative and to be inspired, and to also just to exert some of the energies that they needed to, needed to release because they were sheltering in place.
JOHN ROACH: I would go find these old farmers that are 80s 90s. And just talk to them, ask them because they are more than willing to share their knowledge. Just spend some time to that, someone has the same interests that they did.
DAVID SIMS: We built a lot of community with being involved with this Bargersville farmer's market and connecting ourselves because before by growing 50 minutes away, we weren't really connected with anybody. We were connected with our restaurant customers and we were growing in that realm. But as far as really being a part of a community and really connecting with people and letting people know within your neighborhood or locale what you're doing and why you're doing it, we haven't really done that before. And so being able to do that this past year was awesome. And we built a lot of great customers, a customer base through that.
ANN MERRITT: I am most excited about the future potential for just new business, but also new small scale farms like what I have here, and I kind of hope that this model inspires people to try it close to towns like we are because we're like really close to the city center. It's like 10 15 minutes to just about anywhere to deliver and stuff. So that's just like the ultimate. That's the ideal. And I just would like to be a source of motivation and inspiration to the next generation coming up to be like I saw those people with that weird farm on the hill and they just, you know, they just did it then. So you know that I look forward to that. And I also look forward to the stories that my children tell.
DANIEL GARCIA: There's a lady, maybe she's Peruvian. She has like two kids and she's always over here, like, take my son and have him go pick some beets and cilantro and everything. And and he's like, I don't know if he's like a fourth grader or something, but he's just kind of like, this is the weirdest thing ever. You know, it's just kind of fun. It's good to have that kind of influence on people, however minor it is. I mean, I just like watching people pull stuff out of the ground and then they just like, have this amazement on their face like we hav, we've had like a couple of kindergarten groups come out here and just pull carrots in the fall and they're just like, wow, carrot.
MARY WINSTEAD:We value our local food system and we want to continue to grow that. So for us, that is the service, and that is one thing that we have agreed upon. You know, we know that we could take our product to the grocery store and try to market it there. Maybe we'll get there some day. But right now we value being able to go to our local farmer's market and be a vendor there and to support that environment and to encourage and support our vendors who are also there. So for us, you know, our local food system, like very local food system, our one farmer's market that we're doing right now, Linton Farmer's Markets But you know, we we hope to be able to produce more and to go to some local surrounding markets as well and to provide them with with food as well.
DANIEL GARCIA:We had a tour come over with the Purdue Small Farms Conference and it was it was just so nice because they all, like, we were unloading the truck and everybody gets there like a half hour earlier than we planned. But they they all kind of just. I said, OK, let's go walk back to the, you know, to see the high tunnels or whatever, and everybody like grabbed a piece of tunnel and brought it back to where we were carrying it. It was just like it was so nice. And that was the weekend before everything shut down.
MARY WINSTEAD: I hope my farm can make my community stronger by being social advocates for healthy food and access to healthy food for everyone.
DANIEL GARCIA: So if we can kind of share what we have and help others, I think that's going to be a that's going to go a lot further than like trying to, I don't know, have a bunch of trade secrets on how we grow produce and stuff. You know.
JOYCE RANDOLPH: It's like I'm president of our neighborhood association. We cover from Sherman to Emerson, from 30th Street to 38th Street. If we can just make an impact on the people that live in that area, then I feel that we have done some of the things that are the purpose behind us having a garden.
LIZ BROWNLEE: And there you have it, folks, this is the Hoosier Young Farmer podcast brought to you with support from Indiana Humanities, the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition and National Young Farmers Coalition. To learn more about how we're updating the narrative on food and farming in Indiana go to Hoosier YFC dot O R G backslash Stories. Thanks to the farmers who lent their voices to this episode, that was Meghan Ayers, Daniel Garcia, Sibeko Jywanza, Ann Merritt, Sharona Moore, Joyce Randolph, Armonda Riggs, John Roach, David Sims, Adam Trost, and Mary Winstead. Thanks to Andrew Raridon and Jessica Murnane for coordinating these interviews. And Andrew Raridon again, as well as Rachael Brandenburg for conducting the interviews.
ALEX CHAMBERS: Our theme music is from Amy O, and we have additional music from Ramón Monrás-Sender. Our host, Liz Brownlee, got this project off the ground and it was produced by me, Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening.
KAYTE YOUNG: I’m Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats. Stay tuned for more from the Hoosier Young Farmer Podcast, after a short break. Kayte Young here, this is Earth Eats with a special presentation of the Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast.
ALEX CHAMBERS: Hey Liz
LIZ BROWNLEE: Hey, Alex.
ALEX CHAMBERS: So, Liz, I've been curious, you're a full time farmer, right?
LIZ BROWNLEE: True.
ALEX CHAMBERS: And you're also the president of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition.
LIZ BROWNLEE: True.
ALEX CHAMBERS: And you got this podcast off the ground.
LIZ BROWNLEE: True.
ALEX CHAMBERS: And you have at least one other job.
LIZ BROWNLEE: Uh huh..
ALEX CHAMBERS: How's your farm life balance?
LIZ BROWNLEE: Oh, I would say bad at the moment, honestly, it's it's tough, especially this time of year. You know, here we are in the height of the season, it's hot. The grass is growing. We have all of the animals on our farm. So some days feel full and beautiful. The farm work and this effort to try to build farmer community, they really nourish me and I feel useful, and I can sneak a few moments on the porch to like, read my novel. Other days, I feel like I'm just hustling from one thing to the next, like just checking things off a list that never, ever ends. And and that's because there's so much to do. Like, Indiana needs a lot in terms of sustainable AG, and my farm needs a lot in terms of like feeding the pigs and, you know, checking on the baby chicks and sending the emails to the customers. So, I don't know. I will say we are working on this. So the farm life balance thing, we're actually building a cabin right now, which is actually making us a little extra crazy because we're trying to get it done in time for our apprentices to arrive this fall. The first year we're ever doing this. We're going to host two apprentices, and this is largely an effort to try to do two things. We'd like a day off every week. And so when we apprentice on a farm, that's what it was, was the farmers had Sunday off and we were in charge for that day. But the other piece of it, of course, is that we think the sort of like farm life balance will improve because there will be more meaning to our farm if we're sharing what we know and helping someone else on their path. But boy, that cabin has to be done in like three weeks, so we're a little crazy. But that's OK.
ALEX CHAMBERS: Yeah. And I imagine if you're also raising kids as so many farmers are, it's just even more complicated.
LIZ BROWNLEE: Yes. More complicated, I think, is the way that works
ALEX CHAMBERS: I mean, it's just like, it's exhausting and so much work. So I have a sort of another story a related story about that.
LIZ BROWNLEE: OK
ALEX CHAMBERS: I worked on farms through my twenties, and my first job was when I was 20 years old and my boss, the farmer was actually only a year older than me, but he was kind of a farm prodigy. He had started growing and selling pumpkins when he was like 14. So he was a veteran by the time he was 21 and I worked normal hours. I was a hired hand, eight to four. So Saturday markets. I don't think Ryan ever stopped working. Including one day a thunderstorm was rolling in and we were hoeing carrots and it started pouring. So me and the other two farmhands, we rushed to the van and then we looked back and we saw that Ryan was still out in the field, humming away, lightning flashing all around.
LIZ BROWNLEE: I can picture it.
ALEX CHAMBERS: One of the other employees basically had to drag him out of the field for his own safety, which is to say, working too much on your farm can also be hazardous. But I imagine it's also pretty hard to avoid.
LIZ BROWNLEE: Yeah, it's impossible to avoid unless you start to put some systems in place. So that's actually what this episode's all about is like how are farmers running a business and raising their kids and doing all the other things that their life demands, dividing their labor and and checking the things off the list? But also, I'm not going crazy? So let's hear from the farmers.
ALEX CHAMBERS: Sounds great.
DAN PERKINS: It's pretty classic farm arrangement. You know, I I'm the grower. I'm the one out in the field. I manage production and Julie manages the marketing, keeps the books. She technically owns 51 percent of the farm, so she would. I'm just a worker, I mean, she's the boss
MARY WINSTEAD: From the beginning, one of the things that Roger had said is that he really hoped that he could have a more hands on approach to raising our child than what he had had in the past. You know, just working, working, working. So we purposely decided to do a first shift, second shift. So I did first shift at home. He was head gardener at a country club. And so he went in early like six seven o'clock in the morning. He can get off around three and then I would take second shift and do onsite. So he was the second shift dad and loved it. He's always been really eager to be like 50 percent. He does most of the cooking around here, he's a fabulous cook. He's a he's not a trained chef, but he has worked professionally cooking on and off. So over the years, he's found a lot of extra little gigs to do. So he's real, versatile at doing that and then also is just stepping in. Whatever needs to be done,
JULIE PERKINS: I would say, in terms of division of labor, we did what we like to do and we're good at. So like I didn't study soil sciences, I grew up growing things. I know how to grow stuff, but I mean the level of growing that Dan is doing with this many crops, there's so much technical knowledge that I don't have and I'm really not interested in. I love to cook and I like to teach. I like to have relationship and do community building. So for us, it was a very logical division. And then of course, we've had like major arguments throughout when we're treading on each other's space, especially when we had to share a space that was our wash pack shed and distribution area for a time that I felt like we probably argued every single day. I mean, not day, but like every Monday before our distribution, we would be arguing an then people would come in. They would, you know, we need to be sure of it. But then I really would like Dan again by the end of distribution. Because, yeah, yeah, because I would have been like just charged up from seeing so many people.
JULIE PERLINS: For us, it's been like, very clearly. This is like if Dan is doing something in the growing realm and he asked for my help, I'm going to defer to him. He has more knowledge if I'm doing something and it's in my realm and I need his help, like, Hey Dan, can you write this up? He's going to defer to me, so I would say that has worked really well for us. And in terms of balancing the children aspect with is, we literally map out who is lead parent at what times throughout the week,
DAN PERKINS: Often in like two hour chunks. Yeah, OK, I take the mornings, get them ready for school breakfast, you know, when they get home. Julie kind of oversees that. And then like 4:35
JULIE PERKINS: During the winter.
DAN PERKINS: During the winter. I'm done like we're we're together parenting and we're trying to move more and more towards that where it's
JULIE PERKINS: which with a lot of grace and flexibility because it is farming, right? So it's like, Oh, that water line, blah blah blah. Oh crap, that was my office hours
KRISTI SCHULTZ: Together we kind of complement each other in our skill sets, which is really nice. I do have some of the biology and the science background that makes this very interesting to me. My husband, he has an MBA. He was in business for many years, and so he's got definitely the business background. Also, he had more of an agricultural background than I had, grew up on a farm or working for farmers. And he also is very handy and can fix things that are broken, which on a farm is very, very helpful
ADAM TROST: In the summer when the pasture is growing every day. Typically, in the morning, I'll do chores, run and check feed and water, and then in the evenings I move the animals like, I'll move the cows every day. I'll move the chickens behind the cows. The meat chickens get moved once every day and the pigs they get moved about once a week. That's my part of the farm is taking care of the animals, taking care of the pasture, weed eating fence rows, that type of stuff. And she is much more the customer relation.
CLARE TROST: Yeah, eggs are also kind of my domain. Yeah. Taking care of the egg laying hens, collecting eggs, cleaning and packaging those. And then we have found that social media and email lists are very important to connect us to our consumers, but also use them as a tool to help educate. And that's very important to me because I was the kid who didn't know where food came from. And so I love being able to teach people a little bit more about what growing food looks like, what a farmer even looks like. It's not necessarily your storybook sort of cliche, but it's us with the young family and day jobs, but still very passionate and able to fit it into our lives.
ANN MERRITT: I kind of have my days broken up into four blocks, and the morning time is like breakfast and children and the household duties, and then before lunch there's farm maintenance and orders and getting things in order and then lunch happens and sometimes between the hours of 12:00 and like 3:00, I'll have people come and do pick ups at the farm. And then oftentimes they'll be pickups from like 4:00 between 4:00 and 6:00 also. So, yeah, I'm like running in and out of the house. And between that, like I'll be out some nights with the headlamp, like running the pinpoint seeder and seeding beds and covering up rows. And then, yeah, it's just all hours of the day and night and just it's nonstop. It feels like there's never really break time. There's never really like, yeah, there's never an end to it, because at all hours of the day and night, there are things that need to be tended to.
DAN PERKINS: Yeah, I think the first thing we do is we establish boundaries. So we say, you know, like Sundays, that's our day of rest.
JULIE PERKINS: Like on Sundays, I don't go on the computer. If people text me, I don't respond. I don't go on any social media and like, no one comes here on Sunday. I don't even know if we've said, Sunday is a day, don't come. I mean, that's very culturally appropriate for Demotte to like Sunday is people's day to go to church and to take and rest if your job allows it. Very much so. That boundary, though, for us, is hugely important.
DAN PERKINS:Yeah. And just even physically, the way we set up the farm where the farm stand is, you know, on the East side of the property, our house is on the West. They come in customers, you know, CSA members come in a different entrance. They leave out a different entrance than our driveway. I think that that all helps a lot.
JULIE PERKINS: It does. But and I I think what's so unique about, like you say, people coming like, there's a huge advantage there for us too, because our customers are like gracious people who I don't think we have anybody who doesn't get the concept of boundaries. Nobody we've met yet, at least we don't have people like knocking on our door at night. I've never had that.
ANN MERRITT: I didn't think it would be such a juggle. I for some reason I had this ideal that my children would be like excited about what we were doing
DAN PERKINS: Yeah. So we divide our division of labor and we, you know, we set up specific practices and weekly schedules to make sure that we communicate clearly because we have four kids, all under the age of 12. And that makes it fairly chaotic and busy. And, you know, Sunday nights we have our planner meeting where we just talk about the last week and our goals for next week come up with a schedule, you know, we pray together. Typically on Wednesdays, we have like the farm meeting. So if we have some farm related business, you know, we save it till Wednesday as best we can, right? I mean, are we always talking about the farm? Yes, but we try to generally keep all that nitty gritty stuff
JULIE PERKINS:for that meeting
DAN PERKINS: for that meeting.
ANN MERRITT: I was always like in love with being outside and in nature. So I was just like, I'm going to have kids that are just in love with nature too, which I do. I have them. They're very much in certain aspects of my children and certain ones of my children love it more than others, and that's just fine. But my firstborn is not jazzed about, like getting out and getting dirty and stuff, which is funny. And so it's hard because you have all these expectations on number one and it doesn't work the way you want it to. It's just it doesn't. But yeah, I didn't expect it to be so much. In one day I woke up and I was just like, Well, this is a whole lot, especially after the birth of this last child. She was born on January 5th of last year, and I am just like, Oh man, oh oh man,
SHARRONA MOORE: My son is 12, and so he runs his own poultry business. He raises a very rare breed of chicken, and he sells them, and we will process them and sell them to our community as well. But that's an income for him. It was a way for me to teach him business skills and also extended agriculture skills. Those are hard skills and some soft skills like customer service. And thank you's. And how to run money transactions and about overhead and profit and things that normal 12 year olds don't really know about.
DAVID SIMS: And then my daughter is she's 10. She's becoming more interested. One of her New Year's resolutions, we found out that she wrote down at school what she wants to learn, how to harvest lettuce. So we'll see how that goes. She's starting to. I shouldn't say starting to get it, she kind of floats in and floats out as far as her involvement, we don't make her do anything. I don't want the farm because of my desire to do it, to be a burden or a major task for her. I want it to be Do you find interest in this? And when you do, I'll find something that can fulfill that interest. So she has no specific tasks that she has to do. There may be times where she's interested in doing something, I'm like, Hey, you can do this, and then I make sure she follows through with that, but she doesn't have a daily task lists or anything like that. But we want her to take pride in what we're doing. And I think by us now being here in the community where she goes to school in some of that, you know, her teacher came and bought stuff from us at the farmer's market. So I think as she starts to see what it means to be involved in the community or have a recognition of
that, I think she'll start to take some more pride. She loves to go places and know that she's eating our produce from a menu. She loves that aspect of it, and that's a big connection. But I think more of the work reward on a personal one to one perspective, I think she started to see that a little bit more. So, you know, a lot of the reason why I've enjoyed the farming side of it, too, is that we have the opportunity to be together as a family. And she still has her activities as of being a busy kid and things like that. But. You pretty much know where to find us from about March through October on a on a nightly basis, in some way shape or form. And you know, I like that aspect of it, a lot of being together as a family and doing it together and things like that.
ANN MERRITT: My mom says, I don't know why you want to work this hard, but I just I find it so rewarding when I take the kids outside and they can identify the food and they're interested in the food. My youngest son, who's five, he just loves like going out and collecting different ingredients and then will maybe make a juice or a salad, and he wants to make stuff with it for everybody. And that, to me, is like just the epitome of what I've worked for.
LIZ BROWNLEE: And there you have it, folks. This is the Hoosier Young Farmer podcast brought to you with support from Indiana Humanities, the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition and National Young Farmers Coalition. To learn more about how we're updating the narrative on food and farming in Indiana go to Hoosier YFC dot O R G backslash stories. Big thanks to the farmers who lent their voices to this episode. That was Nicci Keaton Ann Merritt, Sharrona Moore, Julie and Dan Perkins, Kristi Schulz, David Sims, Claire and Adam Trost, and Mary Winstead. Thanks to Andrew Raridon and Jessica Murnane for coordinating these interviews. And Andrew Raridon again, as well as Rachael Brandenburg for conducting interviews.
ALEX CHAMBERS: Our theme music is from Amy O., and we have additional music from Ramón Monrás-Sender and Backward Collective. Our host, Liz Brownlee, got this project off the ground and it was produced by me, Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening.