Made of Sunshine

I first heard about Healthy Hoosier Oils when shopping at my food coop, Pogue’s Run Grocer. As a local food enthusiast, I was thrilled to find out that there was a new local alternative for culinary oils. I didn’t know much about how the product was made, but after I took home my first bottle of sunflower oil, I knew it was delicious. Seriously flavorful.

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Once you’ve tried it, you will crave its buttery flavor.

I ended up buying bottle after bottle of sunflower oil as we drizzled it on our salads all through spring and summer. And popcorn popped in the stuff is amazing. It’s great for stir-frying too. Then there’s canola oil, which has a more neutral flavor and a higher smoke point.

Eventually I suggested to my Farm Indiana editor that we do a story on the Boyer farm in Converse, Indiana. That’s where the seed crops are raised and turned into this fantastic staple of my dinner table.

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Sunflower fields forever.

Yes, this is the amazingly fortunate position I find myself in at this stage of my life: I get hooked on a particular foodstuff, and get to go visit with the folks responsible for it. I write a story about them and collect a (smallish) paycheck.

I met Craig Boyer, the 81-year-old patriarch of a family that manages to stay tightknit and geographically close in an age where that is rare. (All of his and wife Nancy’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren live within just a few miles of where the above photo was taken.)

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Craig Boyer with a section of the filtration system for the culinary oils.

The land has been in the Boyer family since 1848, farmed for six generations and counting. The culinary oil enterprise is fairly recent, and arose partly out of Craig’s health crisis. He had to semi-retire after a major cardiac event, and he was supposed to watch his diet. His sons Mark and John experimented with converting their biodiesel operation into culinary oil production, in part because of the market—but also because their dad loved his fried foods.

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Brady Bolen bottles and labels the freshly pressed oil.

I was pleased to hear that the oils are free of solvents and additives. I actually was a bit clueless about how conventional oils are extracted (through a nasty-sounding process involving hexane and high heat). Healthy Hoosier Oils go through a cold press.

The oil crops themselves grow in a minimally-tilled row-crop setup, in rotation with the corn, soybeans, and wheat that the Boyers also raise. “We use zero chemicals,” Mark told me, speaking of the canola and sunflowers. I asked about weed control: “It actually is relatively easy in that both canola and sunflowers eventually will canopy. When they canopy, they cover the ground and protect themselves from invasive weeds to a certain extent.”

Honeybees are key to the Boyers’ strategy too—they partner with a local beekeeper to make sure that honeybees are working their magic on the crops.

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Honey from Bastin Honey Bee Farm of Knightstown is sold onsite along with the oils.

 

I enjoyed my tour of the operation that July day, even the sweltering 1940s-era corn crib (repurposed to store the oil crops). Here’s the writeup for Farm Indiana, if you’d like to read more. Locally, you can find Healthy Hoosier Oils in Kroger stores, Pogue’s Run Grocer,  and other independent grocers.

 

A Week in the Life, Irvington-style

Last week, I realized how much I rely on my neighborhood for commerce, entertainment, exercise, and other essentials. To wit:

Tuesday morning I took part in the Writing Habit, a weekly mini-retreat for writers put on by Urban Plot in the library of a local church. With two other writers tapping away on their keyboards, I cranked out some verbiage.

Kitley finds writing more taxing than stalking sparrows. Sometimes I agree.

Kitley finds writing more taxing than stalking sparrows. Sometimes I agree.

In the evening I walked two blocks to Dairy Queen (OK, it’s not locally owned, but a business in our own little plaza). My neighbor had called a meeting, sweetening the deal with ice cream. We were there to explore teaming the Irvington Green Initiative and a budding arts initiative with local organizations like Trade School Indy to share admin/event/classroom space sometime in the future. An intriguing possibility.

Wednesday, before sunup, I went to earlybird piyo (Pilates/yoga fusion) at Irvington Wellness Center, my favorite place for yoga and other such pursuits. In the afternoon, I biked over to meet a writer friend at Starbucks (because our old haunt, Lazy Daze Coffeehouse, tragically closed this summer).

I walked from there to Help My Mac Plus, where I found a refurbished MacBook Air with my name on it. A stunning development, given how terminally conflicted I am about gadgets and the resources they require. I had just begun to put out feelers for a lightweight laptop for my upcoming research trip/ writers’ residency. I’m thrilled with my find, awarding myself double bonus points for supporting a local business and avoiding buying new.

Thursday evening it was back to Irvington Wellness for yoga class, taught by another Irvingtonian (I inquired after her hens, as one does here).

Friday evening was the highlight. First we went out to eat with a friend at local eatery Legend, where the owners know us by name and the food is delicious. Then to see Delta Duo and friends perform at Bookmamas in the Underground 9.

JJ plays a resonator slide guitar in the style used by Delta bluesmen of the 1930s. Irina's violin accompaniment is haunting.

JJ plays a resonator slide guitar in the style used by Delta bluesmen of the 1930s. Irina’s violin accompaniment is haunting. Photo courtesy of the Delta Duo.

Two local singer/songwriters kicked it off, after which the headliners laid it down. Delta Duo pairs JJ the Chicago-born bluesman with Irina the classically trained Russian violinist for a sound like none other. Suffice to say this monthly show will be a priority from now on. (Bonus: no cover charge.)

But the weekend wasn’t over yet. Saturday after supper, Judy and I rode our bikes to our new neighborhood ice cream shop Wyliepalooza, then popped in on old friends to catch up.

And Sunday was the farmers market. Judy and I biked over, bought bread and produce, and ran into several friends, including the aforementioned JJ and Irina.

This is the third mention of ice cream in this post. Confession: I actually can't eat ice cream! Wish I could!

This is the third mention of ice cream in this post. Confession: I actually can’t eat ice cream. Wish I could!

In short, it was a great week to be an Irvingtonian. What’s new in your neighborhood?