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The Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast–a special presentation on Earth Eats

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(Earth Eats theme music)

KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I’m Kayte Young, and this is Earth Eats.

JOYCE RANDOLPH: ​​Why do we grow here in our neighborhood, put it in a truck and then take it to another neighborhood? Our people need food right here. So we started doing our farmers markets right in our neighborhoods.

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on the show, a special presentation of “The Hoosier Young Farmers podcast,” updating the narrative on food and farming in Indiana. The first three episodes cover land access, food apartheid, and women in farming. That’s all coming up on Earth Eats, so stay with us.

(Groovy electric guitar)

This is Kayte Young and this week we have a special presentation of the first three episodes of “The Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast,” from producer Alex Chambers, and hosted by Liz Brownlee. The mission of the podcast is to update the narrative on food and farming in Indiana by hearing from the farmers themselves. Let's dive right in.

LIZ BROWNLEE: Hello, hello everyone. Liz Brownlee here. I own and run Nightfall Farm in Crothersville, Indiana with my husband Nate. I’m also the president of the Hoosiers Young Farmers coalition. And this is Alex Chambers, he’s producing this podcast. 

ALEX CHAMBERS: Yes. Hello. Welcome to the Hoosier Young Farmer podcast.

LIZ BROWNLEE: Our goal is to bring you voices of farmers here in Indiana, farmers you probably haven't heard of, farmers you might not picture when you picture farmers in Indiana.

ALEX CHAMBERS:  Right.  Like, who do you picture?

LIZ BROWNLEE: Oh, let me give you the highlight reel. So I picture Anne, a 30-something woman. She's a first generation farmer and she's building a thriving veggie operation. Plus, creating a food hub that helps other farmers distribute their food and sell more local food. I picture Freida. She's a former nurse and now an urban farmer up in Gary, and she's raising veggies and goats and honeybees in her community and for her community. I picture Genesis and Eli delivering their organic veggies every Wednesday, year-round, 20 different restaurants every Wednesday. It's pretty remarkable. And that sort of like highlight reel makes me happy and keeps me going on a hard day. And I guess that's the beauty of the project, actually is that the whole goal here is to kind of break that like sepia toned stereotype of who a farmer is in Indiana. Like when people picture a farmer here, they picture like an older white guy in plaid on his combine in a cornfield, you know, and with this podcast, we get a picture or you get a capture, full color updated narrative about farming in Indiana and try to amplify the voices of underrepresented farmers like women and BIPOC farmers and beginning farmers and first generation farmers. And we're going to talk about big issues, but mostly we're going to shut up and hear from the farmers themselves. And I think that's good. You can see I get a little excited about all of this

ALEX CHAMBERS: Yeah, I was really impressed with the voices the team managed to collect, just like from all over the state.

LIZ BROWNLEE: Right. And so every episode will have sort of a handful of those voices talking about something that's important to Indiana's farmers. Like this episode, which is all about land acquisition.  The key with land access is that it's a big deal for farmers.  Finding your farmland, especially for folks in the first 10 years of farming just getting started is tough. You know, the average American farmer is male, he's white and he's 59 and a half years old ish. And so he's thinking about retiring. And in the next nine years, something like 400,000 acres of land are going to change hands as that whole generation of farmers retires. And so 400,000 acres picture that that is Texas, California and Montana combined. There's a lot of land. And so it could be this really big opportunity for changing how we care for the land in this country, how we feed our communities, who gets to own land and who gets to build wealth. But at the same time, a lot of that farmland will probably be developed, and a lot of it will be consolidated in to bigger and bigger farms. So for folks farming on a small scale like I do or in urban spaces, land access is actually like the number one hurdle all across the country and here in Indiana.


LIZ BROWNLEE: OK, so I'm going to duck out now so we can hear from the farmers themselves.

(crickets chirping)

MARDEAN ROACH: You know, we started looking and we could not find anything. We kept on finding farms that were,  needed so much work that they wanted a extreme amount of money for that we had finally just gave up. And John told me to quit looking. He's like, You're done. Stop.

NICCI KEATON: Yeah, you're looking for that diamond in the rough, for sure.

MEGAN AYERS: And we just couldn't find anything that was even remotely affordable. So even even, you know, like renting an apartment seemed kind of out of the realm of possibility for us. And so we just began to expand our our search and we were expanding and expanding and expanding. And we ended up in Deputy Indiana, which is about an hour outside of Louisville.

(music plays)

FREIDA GRAVES: Pastor Curtis Whittaker of Progressive Community Church had a vision of Faith CDC, and he wanted to do a community built corporation based around agriculture and healthy eating and learning and education and all along those things. So the way it came about, the City of Gary, he asked the City of Gary for some land, it was just sitting there. No one was using this next to the church. No one was using this land. Nobody was on the land. It was just old, abandoned houses.

NICCI KEATON: You know, we we rented for several years and then we finally bought a house and it was on five acres and we're like, we made it! We've got five acres, this beautiful house. You know, we had what, two sows and a boar and we do a couple dozen pigs. And then we quickly learned that, OK, we've we've reached our limits on this land.

SHARRONA MOORE: Actually, in 2016, I wrote to Monarch Beverage. I said, you guys have twenty five liquor stores in this neighborhood that you service and there are three grocery stores. The three main grocery stores in our neighborhood are along Pendleton Pike. There is no bus that goes down Pendleton Pike. So we're talking about a low income neighborhood with low access to food, little to no access to transportation and no grocery stores.

(music plays)

When I reached out to them, my proposal was that people can get to beer and alcohol quicker than they can get to anything fresh. And you guys are servicing all these liquor stores, but you have all of this land here right in the middle of this neighborhood that you're just cutting once a month and you're not doing anything with it. Let's put a garden here that will grow food for the pantries.

MEGAN AYERS: I was doing some urban agriculture in Cincinnati for about six years and had a pretty thriving CSA going in my neighborhood. My husband and I began to talk about the possibilities of moving to a place where we had some land. And so he is the most, well, we're both mobile as far as our jobs are concerned. So he found a job in Louisville and we began to search for a place to live.

MARDEAN ROACH: When we moved here to Indiana, we had plans on going back to southern Illinois. We were not going to stay here at all. But about a year into it, we realized how much we really did like this area and that we would like to make this area our home and several, probably about two or three years after that, we started looking actively at larger tracts of land because we were sitting on seven acres and just didn't have the opportunity for any growth. You know, when you're able to only cut hay or graze goats, you really didn't have a choice of growing anywhere.

ARMONDA RIGGS: So we couldn't afford more land than what we had in Iowa. And there we had three and a half acres and we couldn't afford more than that there.

BEN RIGGS: And that's kind of goes to why we bought the farm we did is tillable land is much more expensive, than non-tillable land, especially in Iowa, but even so in Indiana. And so, you know, to buy 30 acres of tillable land in Indiana would have been way out of our price range. And that's the, that's the dilemma. You know, do you take out a couple of million dollar loan to buy that? We decided not to.

MEGAN AYERS: Everywhere we looked was the price of land was just really out of our reach. And we both work full time and we both actually have part time jobs on top of our full time jobs as well. And so we were really surprised that it was so difficult to get a couple of acres. We figured it wouldn't be so hard. And then once we found a place that we liked and we could afford, then we ran into some issues with financing because a traditional, we couldn't get a traditional mortgage for the farm. And then when we were told to go to the FSA, the FSA, well, we were told to go to banks that give farm loans. And so the farm loan people said that we couldn't get farm loans because we didn't have any agricultural collateral. So... cause we came from the city.

FREIDA GRAVES: It took a couple of years for them to OK it, but when they did OK, they donated the land to us. So where the farm is was actually, we have about an acre it's not a very big farm. We have little bit over an acre of land there. Where the  farm is, was actually houses,  blighted, abandoned houses. They tore down for us. The city actually tore down for us, and then they cultivated the land. They came out and they just cultivated and put the sand down and everything so that we could grow on that lot.

NICCI KEATON: And we started renting a house, and it was a couple of acres, and we asked the landlord if he'd let us use it because he wasn't using it, and he said, sure, go ahead and trade me for some chickens. So that's what we did. You know, that's how we bartered. And then we found the five acres and that was much more attainable five acres and a little house.

ARMONDA RIGGS: We had a budget and we knew we needed to stick within that and we needed, you know, these qualities in it and the property we found had been on the market for twenty six days and we were driving from Iowa to come and look at it. So we came and look at it and then we came back and looked at it. And then we said, OK, let's put in an offer.

MARDEAN ROACH: I just happened to be online one morning and something popped on the screen and I seen this farm. I called the lady and she ended up being the granddaughter of the original owners of this farm.  And she's like, Oh, I'll have my dad meet ya out there. So John was working 2nd shift, and I woke him up about two hours before he was supposed to get up that day. And I'm like, John, you got to get up. I'll buy you a Mountain Dew on the way to where we're going I got a surprise. And he knew what was up. I mean, he he knew full well what I probably was doing, and we pulled up on the farm. And, you know, we both knew when we were here that this was something we were very interested in.

NICCI KEATON: We were very, very lucky.

ARMONDA RIGGS: It was at the max of our budget. And we were OK with that, though, because it provided us with such wonderful opportunities, that was really hard for us to be like. No, we, you know, we've already compromise on quite a bit. I mean, like I said, I only have two and a half acres of of tillable. So that was something that we were like, OK, this is what we're going to work with and we're going to do what we got to do and we're rolling with it.

NICCI KEATON: And we did so much on that five acres. I mean, if you are really careful with your grazing methods and and how many animals you're putting on your land, you can actually do quite a bit on five acres.

SHARRONA MOORE: We have 7.6 acres in the middle of the city. Yeah, we're right at 46 and Post Road and it's high, it's a high urban area to say the least

MARDEAN ROACH: But land in this area, it was it was either high or it was, you know, vacant land with no structures, no home on it. So we were, we sort of needed a place that we could just move right into and start something up immediately and this fit that bill.

MEGAN AYERS: Yeah, we actually were homeless for a couple of weeks in the transition because we we didn't think our house would sell really fast and it sold immediately. And so then we were kind of like just trying to find something and trying to find something. And when the financing fell through and when the loan officer was asking me if I had tractors or, you know, like just something, I, you know, I joked and I was like, I have like 30 menopausal hens. You know, what's that going to get me? She did not think that was funny. So, you know, it was it was really touch and go there for a while.

NICCI KEATON: Actually, my in-laws, they lived on 20 acres in Russiaville and they wanted to be closer to their grandkids. And so we talked about, you know, what, if we go in together, we can get a bigger chunk of land and we could live on the same piece of property. So you know, you could be close to your grandkids so we can help you out. It's kind of a win-win for everybody. And after many years of searching, we found this beautiful place and it's absolutely perfect.

MEGAN AYERS: And then, you know, once we finally did get the farm, it was, you know, more uphill battles with dealing with the soil and just trying to begin amending it, really, especially with no tractor. We don't have any tractor. We have nothing, you know?

MARDEAN ROACH: Oh, I was just going to say, I think one of the biggest things that has us going in this direction were our farms not viable for itself financially is because we had to come in and buy a farm. I mean, we didn't have anything to step into it was us working for it. So we just had to start from the ground up. Then luckily, we found an awesome place. It's a very, very old farm. But the infrastructure needs a lot of work. You know, we're always working on fence. We just got done running 1700 foot of fence in December. So the the work that's to be done and then also just the equipment that we're realizing.

JOHN ROACH: My tractors are from the sixties. I have I have some from the 50s. I mean, the tractors are very outdated and equipments always needing worked on or something. But fortunately, I know how to work on that stuff. So that helps also.

BEN RIGGS: Another aspect of it was we have no intention of having employees. So, you know, buying 20 acres of tillable land, we would never be able to work all that ourselves.

ARMONDA RIGGS: The way we want to work it, yes, we enjoy having, you know, as little impact on our land as possible and doing our farming endeavors. So, you know, we're not out here running a tiller to make, you know, product every few weeks.

MARDEAN ROACH: We bought the farm from two brothers and the one brother is in his 80s now and he still comes here to the farm, brings his dog, runs. You know, we'll stay here on the porch and talk with us or go out and do stuff with us on the farm. But he always tells the story that his dad would say that this farm, the soil on this farm was so poor that a rabbit had to pack its lunch to get across.

NICCI KEATON: We were just happened to be fortunate enough to get this one hundred and fifty acres and I'll never leave.

SHARRONA MOORE: But we're we're growing a lot of good stuff in the hood.

ARMONDA RIGGS: Yeah, those are all things that that work for us, and that's why we have the land access story that we have.

(music plays)

KAYTE YOUNG: You’ve been listening to the voices of farmers in Indiana. It’s the first episode of “The Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast,” a special presentation here on Earth Eats. We heard from Megan Ayers, Freida Graves, Nicci Keaton, Sharrona Moore, Armonda and Ben Riggs, and Mardean and John Roach. “The Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast” is made possible through support from Indiana humanities, the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, and National Young Farmers Coalition. Thanks to host Liz Brownlee and producer Alex Chambers. After a short break, we’ll hear more from the podcast. In episode two, they talk with Black farmers across Indiana about food Apartheid and the challenges they face due to systemic racism in our food system. Stay with us. 

(music continues) 

I’m Kayte Young, this is Earth Eats. This week we have a special presentation from “The Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast.” Here is episode two.

(music plays)

SIBEKO JYWANZA: That bag of Doritos and that Faygo and that candy, if that's what's going to make my people feel good, if my daughter is going through a hard time, my son is going through a hard time and I know some peach rings and some gummy bears is going to make them feel good. I'm going to do what I can to make them feel good because we are going through so much.

LIZ BROWNLEE: Hello, everyone, this is the Hoosier Young Farmer podcast. I'm Liz Brownlee, your host and president of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition and a farmer at Nightfall Farm. And I'm here with Alex Chambers, the producer of this podcast.

ALEX CHAMBERS: Hello. You just heard from Sibeko Jywanza.  He is the director of food justice at Flanner House in Indianapolis, and he was talking about this thing that can get lost when we get excited about local food.

LIZ BROWNLEE: Yeah, absolutely. So fruit, veggies, grass-fed meat, it's all a ton of work to grow, but the government doesn't subsidize it the way it supports those big fields of corn and soybeans that turn into those Doritos and Faygos

ALEX CHAMBERS: Right, which can then put healthy local food out of reach for people who don't have a lot of money.

LIZ BROWNLEE: Well, and it's not just about money. If there's no grocery store nearby, no place to buy local veggies, you're stuck. And so we're thinking about geography, and then we realize that race matters, too. So if you're black or Latino in this country, you're much more likely to live in an area where it's hard to get healthy food, and that's no accident. That's systemic racism

ALEX CHAMBERS: Right. In this episode, we're going to hear from black farmers and urban farmers on why it's especially hard for their communities to get good food and what they're doing about that. So we'll get back to Sibeko and then the rest of the crew.

SIBEKO JYWANZA: There are people who, you know, no I'm not about to go spend a hundred and something dollars to prepare a meal for my family, I can get a pack of hot dogs for $5 and some buns and I'm feeding, you know, my family of four here. And that's what I have to. That's what I have. That's that's the only thing that I can do. And I don't have transportation, so I'm going down the street and getting it from the Family Dollar or the gas station. And that's what we're going to feed our family on.

FREIDA GRAVES: A lot of people don't have the transportation to drive out to Whole Foods and Meijers and places like that. So they're going to go where they can go, get to and what they can afford.  And so the cheap, they can afford the cheaper food and more pork items. And, you know, things like that. That's what you're gonna get. And you can't really blame them because they have to be able to feed their families.

JOYCE RANDOLPH: So many people do not have access to healthy food through no fault of their own. It's where you live and that's a sad thing to say, but it is the truth

DANIEL GARCIA: From a policy standpoint like I, I feel like it's like it's hard for me to comprehend why there's such a lack of fresh food in the area. I just kind of wonder like what policies that were put into place influence that, you know.

(guitar music plays)

FREIDA GRAVES: The areas are still down. Most of the houses that were built were built around a steel mill for people to live and work.  And of course, the doctors and the lawyers and all like that had bigger houses and things like that. Most of the black people here came from the South. Their ancestors came from the south, let me put it that way because they're not the original ones, they came from the south, from Mississippi, Arkansas places along that line.

(guitar music) 

About I think, ‘68, ‘69. Gary got it's first black Mayor. Great guy. At that point, there was a large exodus of Caucasian people that left the city. We had a thriving downtown. I mean, when I was a kid, you couldn't even walk on the sidewalks. The stores, they were downtown, like Sears and Penneys and Gortons and all. They made exodus to a place called Merrillville. Merrillville became a township first and then it was a city. They kinda left Gary and kind of a red line was drawn around Gary.  People with the home loans and things of that nature that that kind of dried up a little bit. There was only certain places to go. And when I was growing up, we had A&P, Krogers, Jewels, all those stores. They are not here anymore. Let's just say I'm not going to use any names because I don't have anything against our grocery stores. Let's just say we ended up with a Johnnies, and Johnnies couldn't afford to bring in the more expensive, higher end food. So Johnnies went to the bar eight hot dogs and things like that, and the people couldn't afford to pay for the more expensive food.

SIBEKO JYWANZA: And then you have so much going on socially that people just want to feel good. And if that bag of Doritos and that Faygo and those things are going to be like that candy, if that's what's going to make my people feel good and my daughter is going through a hard time and my son is going through a hard time, and I know some peach rings and some gummy bears is going to make them feel good. I'm going to do what I can to make them feel good because we're going through so much. But, you know, tomatoes are not going to do the same thing that they can do, right? I mean, this is what it is. That's what young people are all about, right?

(guitar music)

FREIDA GRAVES: OK, so my name is Freida Graves. I'm the Faith Farm administrator. I've been there for six years,  six years and some months right now. Two children, married, live in Gary, Indiana. I've lived in Gary Indiana and my whole life.

DANIEL GARCIA: My name is Daniel Garcia. We have a small farm. We run Garcia's Gardens on the Far East side of Indianapolis.

SIBEKO JYWANZA: My name is Sibeko Jywanza, resident here in Indianapolis. I was born and raised here. I work for Flanner House, so Flanner House is a multi-service community center

SHARRONA MOORE: I am Sharrona Moore. I am the garden manager at Lawrence Community Gardens.

JOYCE RANDOLPH: My name is Joyce Randolph. I'm owner of the Elephant Gardens. We are an urban farm here in the city of Indianapolis. We purchased the property on Sherman in 2013, and within that first two years there was a decline in the availability of food in our area. And I'd say the beginning of the third year, the grocery store down the street from us that had been there more than 40 years closed. I mean, literally the people were like given notice that day that they no longer had jobs. 

DANIEL GARCIA: I mean, we had we had the double Double Eight stores shut down a few years ago. We had Marsh shut down.

SIBEKO JYWANZA: The neighborhood grocery stores were closing, first you had the Double Eights closing and the Marsh's were closing. Kroger and Wal-Mart were moving kind of on the outskirts of the of the city, or to downtown. And so with with 2012, I believe the Double Eight moved out of this neighborhood. And so the community has always been wanting to have a particular grocery store that they can go to within their neighborhood.

SHARRONA MOORE: In 2017, we started to really see our need to improve food access in our communities. And as I'm meaning our, I mean, people of color. My farm is at 46th and Post road, and that's a big, huge chunk of the Far East side community that's really struggling right now with access to food.

JOYCE RANDOLPH: We were like, OK, we really have to ramp up now. How can we help our community? And that is where we really jumped off being an actual urban farm in providing vegetables and things for not only just our neighborhood, then we branched out the following year into doing farmer's markets in various places in the city, and then we narrowed it down to like. But why do we grow here in this in our neighborhood? Put it in our truck and then take it to another neighborhood. Our people need food right here. So we started doing our farmer's markets right in our neighborhood.

(music plays)

SIBEKO JYWANZA: There is a term nationwide that's been going on called food apartheid, and that's what we use in terms of how how we're tackling this situation because systematically, there's a reason why communities, particularly communities with a lot of black people, have had these issues. And it's really been because it's business as usual when it comes to farmers, farmland, and when it comes to grocery stores, when it comes to who owns that food. When it comes to the policies that are built around food, they have been very much targeted on creating this food injustice that we have going on right now.

FREIDA GRAVES: I've never used food apartheid. That's not something that I would use now I would say, like I said earlier, yeah, we got cut out of a lot of things out of this area, especially African-American people of color, not just African-Americans, Latinos, indigenous people. You know, we did get cut out of a lot of things. We call it the food dump, they're dumping the cheaper items here. You know, we can sell them 10 of these for a dollar, but it's no nutritional value to it. We don't care that there's diseases that can be avoided if people were just to start eating healthy young and learned about health and nutrition and nutrients and their body young. So we call it a food dump, now that would be our terminology.

SHARRONA MOORE: A lot of America's history on agriculture was literally built on the backs of black people. So forming the Indiana Black Farmers Co-op was about providing mentors for people of color for providing a share, a space where we would be able to collectively and strategically grow similar and different crops for our markets, for our families to be able to feed, to feed our families. The white farmers were already doing that, but that's, its exclusive right? They aren't comfortable working with us a lot of times, and so we just felt like we needed to form our own network that was going to be hyper focused on our own community. We knew that the government would not come back and save us, that they are not planning to put any grocery stores back into our neighborhoods that in order for that to happen, our neighborhoods will have to be gentrified first. And so the best way to combat some of the issues that our community in particular was faced with it was with agriculture. And so that's why we formed the Co-op.

JOYCE RANDOLPH: We also have a what we call a beauty bodega.

SIBEKO JYWANZA: We created a small scale grocery store called Cleo's Bodega

JOYCE RANDOLPH: which is based on eating healthy

SIBEKO JYWANZA: And we also have a café inside that store. And so people are able to come and use Wi-Fi and and kind of sit and chill and get a smoothie and some coffee.

JOYCE RANDOLPH: What you put in makes you feel better, and when you feel better, then you are going to look better

SIBEKO JYWANZA: And also do some small scale shopping so you can shop for your week. It's really built for people within a neighborhood to just come and get a couple of things for dinner or for that week and to maintain themselves.

JOYCE RANDOLPH: We call it Beauty Bodega, but it's based on making you beautiful from the inside out.

SHARRONA MOORE: Like, you're a superhero, if you can grow food. People don't realize that, it's revolutionary.

FREIDA GRAVES: We get students out there for six weeks. We were in the winter time to learn about the eggs and the chickens and the vegetables and things like that. There's one young lady and she didn't come from our farm, but she started at Thea Bowman.  She comes out now and she's in veterinary school, and she's the one whose giving our goats the vaccinations. But she was from Thea Bowman, and Thea Bowman was the first school that we worked with.

SIBEKO JYWANZA: One of our first participants in our Feed Program. I believe we grew some basil and bagged it up and was able to sell it. And the realization that he could make more money selling basil than actually packaging up weed and selling it kind of blew his mind. And it is a story that I always like to kind of start with because I don't think we understand that the hustler mentality that people have in terms of wanting to make money. And it's like, we don't want people to lose that because that's what America was built off of was that hustle mentality. What we want to do is switch the hustle in terms of what you're selling in the mentality of what's community. So that's one story that I always like try to keep in mind

(music plays)

SHARRONA MOORE: In 20 years I am hoping to end food apartheid, and within the next 20 years, I see each one of these children that come through our program, re-creating the vision over and over and over again. And so they can just go out in their backyard to get their eggs and their vegetables. And then, they might have to, Wal-Mart might have to be 30 minutes away.

KAYTE YOUNG: I’m Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats. We just heard from Daniel Garcia, Freida Graves, Sibeko Jywanza, Sharrona Moore, and Joyce Randolph. This is a special presentation of “The Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast,” produced by Alex Chambers and hosted by Liz Brownlee, with support from Indiana Humanities, Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, and National Young Farmers Coalition. Next up, episode three: a look at women farming in Indiana. Stay with us.

(guitar music continues)

Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats and today we have a special presentation of “The Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast.” Here is episode three.

(crickets chirping)

LIZ BROWNLEE: OK, Alex, I have a story for you.

ALEX CHAMBERS: Great. I really like stories, but can you introduce yourself first?

LIZ BROWNLEE: Yes. Yes, I can. Sorry, I'm Liz Brownlee. I'm a farmer and the president of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, and you are listening to the Hoosier Young Farmer podcast. So you ready for the story? And so a few weeks ago, I was selling at the farmer's market and a family I knew they stopped by to catch up. They had just moved home to Indiana, so their young kids actually didn't really know me. And midway through our conversation, the seven year old boy stopped us and he said, Are you a boy or a girl? And so this happens to me a fair bit. I have short hair and muscles, and I actually specifically picked out a pink shirt to wear that day thinking that it would be like a cue right to anyone who might be confused. And I know it's dumb to strategize and I shouldn't worry about it. But in small conservative towns, I feel like I have to. And so anyway, the boy's parents handled it like champs. I said, I'm a girl. And they said, Are you surprised because she has big muscles? She gets muscles from working so hard on her farm. And I thought that was a great response. You know, and I'm really glad that the boy was curious and that he felt comfortable asking. On the other hand, it made me wonder like, how is our society so clearly sexist that he's seven raised in a thoughtful family and he still thinks it's weird or at least remarkable that a woman can be a farmer and be strong?

ALEX CHAMBERS: Yeah, yeah, it's pretty wild. But that is an appropriate story, because that is what this episode is about.

LIZ BROWNLEE: Wait, this episode about women with muscles breaking gender norms?

ALEX CHAMBERS: No, that would be fun. Kind of. It's it's about the kinds of assumptions people make about farmers and who get's to be one. Who has the necessary knowledge and skills, but we are specifically hearing from women. So, yeah, it's about gender. But I was telling my partner about it the other day, and she said, so it's about power. And I was like, oh, yes, it's all about power. So that's what I hope that you'll think about as you listen to these stories about the assumptions people are making about farmers and how power is working in the background of all that.

LIZ BROWNLEE: I love that we're going to look at this big picture systemic issue, but also hear the voices of real women who are farming in Indiana and hear their specific stories.

ALEX CHAMBERS: Absolutely. One more thing before we get into it, the first voice you'll hear is Andrew Raridon. He's a sociology professor and was one of our two trusty interviewers. And he's talking with Farmer Megan Ayers.

(crickets chirping)

ANDREW RARIDON: Farming is coded so masculine, especially this conventional kind of farming. So what have your experiences been like as a woman farmer and what what kinds of interactions have you had with your neighbors around that?

MEGAN AYERS: Well, so far, um, the well, I'm going to I'm going to try to be generous here, as

ANDREW RARIDON: You don't even have to be. That's not that's not the point of this at  all. So believe me, like I've been asking that question for a lot of people for a long time, and I've heard a lot of wacky stuff. So yeah, you don't need to hold back on  that.

MEGAN AYERS: Well, I mean, I I get that what I'm doing is really unfamiliar to them. And so they think they're being helpful by telling me to do what they know. And so I've been told to grow corn. I've been told to grow soybeans. I've been told that someone else can come and grow on my land for me. And I say, thank you and you know, and give them a little laugh and tell them that I have my own plans and that I appreciate them looking out for me. People also tell me that my chickens are all going to get murdered and don't I know that there's coyotes around here? I don't know. I mean, I'm not surprised by the pushback, not because that's what I expect, but just because the culture in this area is purely corn, soy and hay. And that's OK. That's totally fine. They can continue to do that because that's what they know and they're good at it and they're set up for that, you know, I mean, we're talking about generations of family farms in this area. And so, yeah, I do things a little differently and they think I'm a little crazy. I'm pretty sure that they think that I'm bound for failure. And that's kind of awesome because I want to prove them wrong

(music plays)

I'm not looking on my farm as a return on investment. What I'm looking to do is make the soil better and make this tiny little 11 acre environment that I live in healthier and better than when I started. So that's not going to be it's not going to look like what they do, and I'm not going to use the same tools. And and that's OK.

MARDEAN ROACH: I've had some folks at farmers markets and they always really want to question my what we're doing on the farm. And when I give them reasoning of why we're doing grass-fed, you know, then they might have those other thoughts of conventional farming and conventional feed lots of beef, and, you know, they really question why I have the theories that I do for what we're raising and how we're raising it, so sometimes I run into those folks that really ask a lot of questions and it's I I feel like it might be from the side of me being a lady and and not a guy, because when John's in those same situations, he's not getting the pressure that I get whenever I get those questions.

ARMONDA RIGGS: I went to a hemp training. I think I think it was Clay County. The rule was mostly of our current farmer population, so sixty five and older gentleman, but the gentleman who is sitting across from me actually at lunch, we were engaging in conversation and he said, You know, I just wouldn't think of you as a farmer. I was like, oh really well. I mean, I am, you know, I mean, I'm glad that you brought this topic up. But but I am a farmer and I'm certainly interested in hearing more about you and your farm and your farming operation. And we did strike up a conversation after that and it went really well. But it was definitely interesting to have that experience of engaging in conversation with another individual on that level.

TRACY JAEGER: I have to go into the supply stores and they they just look at me like, Where's your husband?

ARMONDA RIGGS (voice modulated down): Wouldn't think of you as a farmer.

KRISTI SCHULZ: Some well-meaning and well-intentioned men, older men trying to, you know, be nice and chat. But I'll say, Oh, well, where's the farmer today?

TRACY JAEGER (voice modulated down): Do you know what this is for?

NICCI KEATON: when I would call and try and find a piece of equipment or a try to find our breeding stock, and I would make these phone calls to other farmers.

MARY WINSTEAD (voice modulated down): Can I speak to your husband about this?

NICCI KEATON: They were always kind of surprised when it was a woman's voice on the end

KRISTI SCHULZ (voice modulated down): Where's the farmer today?

TRACY JAEGER: And then I tell them what I want and they say, Do you know what this is for? I'm like, Yes, that's why I'm here to order it. You know, we all automatically assume that there's a man behind me somewhere going to write the check and undo it.

KRISTI SCHULZ: I just look at them point blank and say, Well, you're looking at her

TRACY JAEGER: I'm just like, This is my venture, Kenny's name. He doesn't care to have it on here. It's fine if it is, but he's just like, You know, this is yours.

MARDEAN ROACH (voice modulated down): What were you doing up on that tractor?

TRACY JAEGER: Because I spent so long under his coattails, he doesn't want me there, and he'll even tell somebody says, Oh, you guys, you guys raised great tomatoes, he said. I don't raise great tomatoes. She raises great tomatoes

NICCI KEATON: They were always kind of surprised. It was a woman's voice on the end. I Kind of like that. Actually, I kind of like being a surprise

(music plays) 

ARMONDA RIGGS: At the farmer's market when I'm out there vending and selling product, I look similar to how I do now, but I like to wear lipstick, I like to wear my hair even when I'm not farming. I enjoy that. And so for me, I feel like a lot of people, it's hard for them to piece that together with me being a farmer. And it's also sometimes hard to internalize that as well to internally acknowledge that I am a farmer, that I am validated in saying that I am a farmer because I feel like a lot of people think unless you have, you know, five hundred ten thousand acres of farming land that you know, are you really a farmer? kind of a thing. So for me, that has been, I guess, a personal struggle.

JOYCE RANDOLPH: I never thought any time in my life that I would be interested in farming.  My husband always said, you know, we need a little garden out in the backyard and I'm like, Yeah, you're right, and we have a small garden in the backyard. And literally, that's where Elephant Gardens started is my daughter is like, you know, we have such a hard time finding organic stuff at the grocery store. What don't we just say, can I use a little bit of this backyard out here? I said, Sure, why not? And what started that year of like three or four rows the following year was like eight rows. And then in that same year is when we happened upon the property where Elephant Gardens is now located.

(tractor noises)

MARDEAN ROACH: John was and our son actually go on a trip every year to southern Missouri, and the weekend that they were gone was a perfect weekend for doing hay. So I actually was out cutting hay with one of our old tractors, you know, heading hay with another tractor. And then I started bailing on the day that they headed home, but I stopped one day to introduce myself to a new neighbor. And he's like, I seen you. What were you doing up on that tractor? He's like, You were down there at that other house? I'm like, Yes, we that's where we cut hay is one of the other neighbors. And yes, I was cutting hay. He said, Well, what were you doing?  Where's your husband at?

So when I'm driving my tractors up and down the road, or if I'm cutting hay at another location, we're very fortunate. We have some great neighbors here in this area that allow us to cut hay just because it's locations that they don't have to mow if we cut their hay. But they I always do get some funny looks from folks driving by or doing double takes when they see that it's me and it's not John out there.

ANN MERRITT: We look at each other for a lot of the answers. And my husband looks to me because I have way more agricultural background, way more like in the realms of animal husbandry and fruit husbandry, like I've just had way more experience. So he looks to me for all those answers and I'm just like, I don't know, well, I'll figure this out like this. Last week we had a deer get caught in our fence and it snapped its leg at the joint like completely off and I had to hold it. It's a like probably a hundred and twenty pound little buck, like a yearling buck and hold it while he cut it out of the fence. And then I tackled it on the ground so it would stop trying to ram its body into the fence to escape and then ended up having to shoot it. I have like the man's role in many things, but then I'm a mother. I have five children. Just all of the the household and domestic duties are all mine too. So it's just crazy, crazy, like a crazy lot. It keeps me up a lot at night.

MARY WINSTEAD: I found that there were a lot of women that were involved, but there wasn't a good connection as far as growers. It was more like eating like the vegan and vegetarian movement. You know, we all have common interest in eating healthy, holistic living, taking care of our kids, that kind of thing. But as growers, we needed that resource to be able to depend on each other calling saying, I have this bug here, I'm sending you a picture. Are you getting these in your garden? Are you seeing anything like this and what are you doing and what is working? And we needed that kind of network too. We don't exclude men. But it's really been good to have another group of women that you can rely on that will talk to you about these things. And there's no like, well, honey, just don't worry your little pretty mind about that, you know, which is what some of us had experienced over the years. And hopefully we don't have to have any new women farmers that are coming into this to have that happening to them, you know, to have them ignored or say, Can I speak to your husband about this? You know, because I've had those things happen to me, but I'm hoping that it's that error and that time is disappearing to where people see the face of a farmer, not as just a man, that they realize that women are farmers, too, and they're some of the highest quality farmers that I have met.

TRACY JAEGER: I will tell you there is not enough women farmers because I think we would make awesome farmers compared to a lot of the men I've met. No offense.

(music plays)

MEGAN AYERS: It's not about trying to grow this many bushels and looking at the market and how much that market will bear for, you know, x amount of input in this fertilizer. You know, it's about feeding people and connecting with others through this thing that we've always done, we've always farmed and farming has led to civilization. So why not take this opportunity to use it as a tool to connect with other people, as well as to teach other people that there is another way to feed our families and to feed each other?

(music continues)

LIZ BROWNLEE: And there you have it folks, 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. To learn more about how we're updating the narrative on food and farming here in Indiana, go to Thanks to the farmers who lent their voices to this episode. That's Megan Ayers, Tracy Yaeger, Nicky Keaton, Ann Merritt, Joyce Randolph, Armonda Riggs, Mardean Roach, Kristi Schulz, and Mary Winstead.Thanks to Andrew Raridon and Jessica Murnane for coordinating these interviews and Andrew Raridon again as well as Rachel Brandenburg for conducting the interviews.

ALEX CHAMBERS: Our theme music is from Amy O, and we have additional music from Backward Collective. Our host Liz Brownlee got this project off the ground and it was produced by me, Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening. 

(music plays)

(groovy electric guitar)

KAYTE YOUNG: And that’s it for our show. Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, and this special presentation of “The Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast.” We’ll see you next time.

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eoban Binder, Mark Chilla, Abraham Hill, Payton Knobeloch, Josephine McRobbie, Daniella Richardson, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from the artists at Universal Productions Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.

Sharrona Moore in purple jacket and stocking cap leaning on shovel handle looking at camera, people gardening in the background

Sharrona Morre of Lawrence Community Gardens in Indianapolis is one of the farmers featured in the Hoosier Young Farmer Podcast. (Courtesy of Lawerence Community Gardens)

“Like, you are a super hero if you grow food. And people don’t realize that. It’s revolutionary.”

This week on the show, as we head into summer, we’re celebrating the folks who grow our food. 

It's a special presentation of the Hoosier Young Farmers Podcast with host Liz Brownlee and producer, Alex Chambers. Hear stories from farmers--updating the narrative on food and farming in Indiana. The first three episodes cover land access, food apartheid and women in farming. 

The podcast was produced by Alex Chambers.
Liz Brownlee hosts the show, Andrew Raridon and Jessica Murnane coordinated interviews, Andrew Raridon and Rachel Brandenburg conducted the interviews.

The theme music is from Amy O, with additional music from Ramón Monràs-Sender.

This project is possible because of generous support from Indiana Humanities and Valparaiso University. Brought to you by the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition, the National Young Farmers Coalition and partners across the state. Find out more on the podcast website.

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