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.

Things That Can’t Be Rushed

Those of us who are bathed in technology much of our lives, that is to say most of the Western world by now, have grown accustomed to having everything happen in a hurry. Speed is the ultimate. Efficiency is king.

I am prone to this, feeling impatient with the rate of change.

Even in gardening, I value a relatively quick turnaround: Plant a bunch of lettuce seedlings, and a month later I can be snipping salad from my own raised bed.

But some things take time, and move in a crooked line, and require great patience to see results.

Photographer: Kessner Photography

Photographer: Kessner Photography

I’m reminded of this when I visit a farmer friend who lives in my neighborhood. Her family farm is called Artesian Farm. It’s in the next county over, where Anna and her farm partners raise grassfed beef.

When she talks about farming, she thinks in terms of decades. For example, the process of transitioning the farm to organic—which her parents wanted to do long before there was any infrastructure of support—has barely begun, and the beginning itself is taking years.

It’s been nearly 10 years of preparation, and a very small portion of the crop acreage is just beginning the transition to organic.

To grow corn and beans organically, and to be certified as such, farmers undergo an elaborate process. One of Artesian Farm’s first steps was adding more cattle. It seems an odd thing: what do corn and beans have to do with the beef side of the business?

But Anna explains that crop rotation is key in organic farming. Hay is their chosen rotation crop. “It’s common wisdom that if you grow hay and sell it off your farm, you’re taking all the nutrition off your farm.” So more cattle were needed to make use of the hay.

A 200-page plan has taken about six years to complete. It would cost $2500 to have an outside agency prepare this plan, on top of the $1000 for certifying. Anna opted for the DIY approach.

During my visit Anna cuts me some lemon balm, which is near an imposing compost heap about the size of a mobile home. It looks like a small sod house was plunked down in the middle of her modest “back 40.” “How do you turn it?” I ask, thinking of our own compost pile—a midget compared to this—and how it never gets hot enough to kill weed seeds, because we don’t turn it, though we always say we will.

“Oh, I don’t bother turning it. Nature doesn’t turn it, in the woods.”

Anna and her compost bin, which she created “free-hand” with odd broom sticks, twigs, mop handles, rusty pipes, and other finds.

Anna and her compost bin, which she created “free-hand” with odd broom sticks, twigs, mop handles, rusty pipes, and other finds. Photo by Danny Chase.

Walking me back to my car, Anna reflects on the passage of time, how long it takes to make a change, to heal the land, to see results. Those of us who don’t spend as much time with our feet on the soil and hands in the dirt might expect results in a much shorter time frame than the decades that are really required.

Like the compost, like building the humus of the forest floor, there are things that can’t be rushed.