A Rural Rebirth, One Ag Business at a Time

Earlier this summer I visited Becca Selkirk at her Wayne County, IN farm, Unique 2 Eat, where she raises quail, chickens, and rabbits. She sells the eggs from her quail and chickens, along with rabbit meat. And she has two goats just for fun.

I was researching a story for Farm Indiana, having met her through Carthage Mill. (You might remember founder Anna Welch’s powerful guest post, “The Face of Resilience,” from a few months back.)

The mill is a sustainable agriculture business incubator, and its existence allowed Becca to expand into animal feed.

Becca Selkirk with a handful of her locally grown and milled feed.

Becca Selkirk with a handful of her locally grown and milled feed.

Using all organic and local ingredients, such as Fields of Agape‘s black bean halves and flax seeds, she’s developed a high-quality chicken feed. At 19 percent protein, her layer feed out-competes the industry standard. It’s all ground right onsite.

She markets her products at the mill and through Hoosier Harvest Market, the online marketplace that delivers small farmers’ and producers’ wares to several drop points.

I interviewed one Carthage resident who made the switch for his chickens and was thrilled with the result. “The quality of it’s great,” Devon Hamilton told me. “And my birds look healthier.” He says the price point is only slightly higher than what he was buying. And it’s worth it to him to know the ingredients were locally and sustainably raised.

Next on Becca's list is a formula for quail feed.

Next on Becca’s list is a formula for quail feed.

Plus, he wants to support the new venture. “I was there one day when Becca was mixing (the feed),” he says, “and she was working very hard. It’s very labor-intensive.” He feels that Becca has priced her feed appropriately, given everything that goes into it.

Becca is also one of the principals of local fertilizer maker Sterling Formulations, another company leasing space at Carthage Mill. And I just found out that she’s been able to expand into another new line. She’s cooking up ready-to-eat soups and developing a gluten-free pizza crust for “take-and-bake.”

She’s only been able to do this because of Carthage Mill: It has a commercial kitchen that’s certified for use in organic food production.

This is rural revitalization, one small ag business at a time.

Check out the full Farm Indiana story on Unique 2 Eat Farm. (Warning: adorable fuzzy animal photos involved—Josh Marshall‘s photography is terrific as always.) For more on Carthage Mill, see “Cooperative Offers Rural Rebirth,” my Acres USA story.

 

Localizing the Winery

When is a winery more than a winery? When it contributes to revitalizing a rural community, putting the local economy at the forefront of its mission. Owen Valley Winery, which I discovered on assignment for Farm Indiana, is just such a place.

IMG_20140301_135319

Here’s a look at the piece I wrote for this month’s issue of Farm Indiana.

I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Tony Leaderbrand (pictured above), who told me the whole story of the family-owned business’s evolution. Aside from their commitment to showcasing Owen County’s locally grown and made products, the winery is unique in another respect. It is the first Midwestern winery to run on solar power.

IMG_20140301_135602

A grant from the Renewable Energy for America Program helped pay for the solar panels that now produce a large portion of the winery’s energy needs.

Locally grown persimmons are among the fruits used in Owen Valley Winery’s products. I was moved by stories of people bringing their excess fruit in shoeboxes and buckets every fall to sell to the winery. Tony made me see that winemaking is truly a local ag-based endeavor. (Due to demand for dry wine, they also use some California-grown grapes as well.)

photodune-1133279-wine-s

Photo by groceris, via PhotoDune

Tony told me all about the repurposed items that went into construction of the tasting room and production facility. In fact, the second tasting room is kind of an upcycling project in itself: It’s located in the renovated Tivoli Theatre, a historic building in Spencer, IN.

On a personal note, Tony talked about how eating produce from local farms is a winner both in terms of health benefits and reduced packaging. Not to mention the benefits of keeping dollars circulating in the local community.

“I think there’s such a need for us all to come full circle on purchasing,” he said. “We have to break these old habits of going to these superstores. You’ve got to know where everything you buy comes from.”

You can read the full article here (do a search on Owen Valley Winery to jump to the piece.)