My Dad, Who Made the World Better, Take 4

Father’s Day. Let me tell you about my dad, if you didn’t know him.

My dad loved all things plant. Out on a walk, he’d look down, the better to identify the plants at his feet. During his social worker years, he spent as much of his off hours as possible outdoors, tending his raspberry beds, vegetable garden, and native plantings. As a retiree he had time to participate in all kinds of projects that fit his passion, and he was never happier.

One of the pleasures of being the daughter of such a man is introducing myself as “Donovan’s daughter” to his many friends and co-conspirators. Recently I interviewed a “FOD” (friend of Dad) for an article I was writing. I knew Dad had done some volunteer work with this organization, Central Indiana Land Trust. At the end of the phone conversation I mentioned Dad’s name.

The response in my earpiece was immediate. Cliff Chapman, the organization’s executive director, said, “Oh, Donovan! I loved Donovan!”

He started to tell me stories. How Dad was the only one who came out for the first volunteer work day at a nature preserve called Oliver’s Woods. With two feet of snow on the ground, Dad and Cliff together tackled the first bush honeysuckle (an invasive plant that kills off native plants). It was “the size of a VW beetle,” Cliff said.

Since then over 1500 volunteers have cleared a dozen acres of bush honeysuckle. They used to have to wield a hedge trimmers just to be able to drive up the lane. Now native plants are starting to flourish there. Though the site is not open to the public yet, it is on its way.

Cliff still remembers that very first cut that started everything off.

He told me another story that is just so Dad:

“One of the things he had me do—it was when he was in home hospice care and I went to see him—he said, ‘Hey there’s this plant I’ve planted, it’s got a whole bunch of seeds, and I’d love to see these seeds go to good use.’ So I got a big old bag and collected the seeds and went back in and showed him, and told him I would scatter them somewhere special.”

Chapman planted the seeds—sea oats—along the White River at Oliver’s Woods. He started another stand of sea oats from plugs under a big tree along the lane. He says he always thinks of my dad when he sees those grasses waving.

“Some people are different than other people,” he told me. “He really cared about those things, like he really wanted those seeds to be planted.”

Here is a clump of sea oats in my yard that (if memory serves) originated from Dad. Sometime soon I hope to visit Oliver’s Woods, but in the meantime I will find him near at hand, and be grateful.

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Pay It Local

In Ball State University’s Down to Earth documentary about sustainable food systems, renegade farmer Joel Salatin makes a key point about the importance of spending food dollars locally. A small amount of cash spent at the farmers market or local food store might make a huge difference to the vendors there. You never know what kind of difficulties they face, and where they stand on the thin line between a manageable load and giving up.

It’s kind of like paying it forward, only you’re “paying it local.”

Freedom Valley Farm's high tunnel beds.

Freedom Valley Farm’s high tunnel beds.

It reminded me of something I blogged some months back:

The row we plant might be just the encouragement our elderly neighbor needs to start seeds on a windowsill. Which might nudge her granddaughter to visit a farmers market and buy a farmer’s tomatoes, and one of those funny-looking squashes while she’s at it. Maybe she’ll come back in ensuing weeks and bring her children and a friend, buying more locally grown food. Which shows the farmer that his produce is desired, and keeps him from throwing in the towel after a tough summer.

Since I wrote that I’ve talked to many small farmers as part of my freelancing job, and I’ve learned that farming is more difficult than any nonfarmer could ever imagine. What they do requires a lot of faith. And people to buy what they’re selling.

When I interviewed Hoosier Organic Marketing Education (HOME) founder Cissy Bowman for a Farm Indiana story, she emphasized the critical role of the nonfarmer ally. “Never feel disempowered,” she told me. “As a consumer your opinion is the most important, because you’re the one who buys it.”

Our consumer choice is not even just about food. It’s also about keeping land out of developers’ hands. If farmers can earn a living wage, fewer properties will be snatched up and turned into subdivisions and shopping malls. That means more acreage for wildlife, native plants, and pollinators.

From the front page of Farm Indiana

From the front page of Farm Indiana

The current issue of Farm Indiana contains two stories I wrote. One is about Cissy and HOME, a terrific nonprofit organization that helps farmers like Anna Welch with rural development projects and educates everyone about the importance of organics. The other is about Freedom Valley Farm, an Owen County operation that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting.

Jim Baughman showed me around his farm on a February day.

Jim Baughman showed me around his farm on a February day.

I can testify that Jim’s winter produce is among the best I’ve tasted. We’re talking melt-in-your-mouth spinach and juicy-crisp carrots. This guy is good at what he does, and he does it all without chemicals.

To read the stories, click here.