Homegrown

I got to meet local farmer Patty Langeland when I interviewed her for a Farm Indiana piece. She is the fifth generation on Langeland Farms in southeast Indiana, growing certified organic popcorn, beans, and grains. Her business extends to regional popcorn and grains production, and she also maintains a small cow-calf herd, selling grassfed beef.

Here she is five years ago (on right) at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, after delivering Langeland Farms beef to be used in “Homegrown Chili.”

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Patty has such deep roots in the community. You could say that she herself is a homegrown farmer. So many of us move far from home to find work, and change our housing repeatedly. Here’s a woman who lives in the house where she grew up (built by her grandpa over 100 years ago) and works the land where she used to play.

What I found most fascinating about Patty was the trajectory of her life from farm girl to farmer, and the detours in between.

She never expected to be a farmer, though she knew she loved the land. Like many of us, she can look back and trace the threads of learning that connect to what she does now.

She actually majored in fashion retail at Purdue for a time, and her business sense and creative flair flourished there. But when it sank in that such a career would require her to live in a city, she knew it wasn’t going to work out.

All along, she had been taking classes in the agriculture department, building on the knowledge she’d absorbed without even meaning to as a child on the farm. (A Daddy’s girl, she used to follow her father around and ask every question under the sun.) Eventually, just because she was fascinated by the agricultural arena—with no intent of ever turning it into a career—she ended up specializing in animal science when she graduated from the communications department.

Her life took a traumatic turn when her husband left her, their four boys, and the farm business abruptly. That’s when she ended up being the sole proprietor of the farm (though her beloved dad still owns the land).

It was quite moving to hear her speak of the support her local farming community gave her during this cataclysmic shift, and how her success hinged on a drought year. You can read more about all this in the story if you like.

Relocalizing the Food System

I love writing stories about food and farming. The people I meet are so passionate about their work. Almost everyone I interview is invested in reforming the broken food system. Bonus: They give me tasty things to eat.

Here’s a rundown of the treats I’ve sampled just in the past few weeks.

  • Cissy, a woman who’s long been the vanguard of Indiana’s organic movement, gave me some intensely flavorful pickles she made from cucumbers raised in her kitchen garden. I washed it down a glass of homemade kombucha that couldn’t be beat.
  • Jim, a farmer in Owen County, sent me home with a bunch of carrots he pulled from the wet earth like a late winter miracle.
  • Anna, a farmer in Rush County, gave me a huge jar of rolled wheat that her cooperative had grown and milled. (I used some in banana bread I baked for my weekly writing date—my writer buddies pronounced it wonderful.)
Checking out a display of LocalFolks Foods at Moore Corner Store while on assignment

Checking out a display of LocalFolks Foods at Moore Corner Store while on assignment

And a couple weeks ago, at Moore Corner Store, proprietor Jasen Moore offered me a taste of ketchup made by Indiana’s own LocalFolks Foods.

I’m no ketchup connoisseur, and in fact we never purchase it. But if I were a fan of this most American of condiments, I would never buy a national brand again. LocalFolks’ is sweetened with sugar, not the genetically modified scariness that comprises high-fructose corn syrup.

I happened to be in the natural food store when Hoosier Microgreens’ Alex Sulanke came along to introduce his product. So I got to munch uber-fresh sprouts of radish, cabbage, kale, arugula, and mustard from “the smallest farm in Indiana” (120 square feet).

Moore Corner Store is in the business of connecting small farmers and food entrepreneurs to the consumer. Though its hours are limited at present, this shop and others like it fill a critical role in relocalizing our food system.

For Jasen and his wife Sara, Moore Corner Store is more than just a business. It’s a mission. Jasen told me the enterprise arose out of concern for the state of our economy. Big box stores have fragmented communities and hurt the little guy.

Moore2“But a store like this…supports the local economy, minimizes carbon footprint, puts actual nutritious food on your plate, and it’s close to home.” The Moores live just up the street from the shop, though both must spend time elsewhere to make ends meet.

I just saw a documentary called Down to Earth in which the iconoclastic farmer Joel Salatin (made famous in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma) made an important point: Your purchase of a farmer’s product might be the thing that keeps that farm afloat another week.

Is it worth changing our habits to spend a little more of our money at a farmers’ market or a shop like the Moores’? I would say yes. What about you? Have you connected with a small farmer, producer, or locally owned shop lately?

Check out my piece on Moore Corner Store here.