Category: Bloomingfoods

Small Business Week Producer Profile: Good Life Farms

This post by Bloomingfoods’ Isaac Smith was originally published on their website. P6 will be posting producer profiles every day this week in honor of Small Business Week.

For Darin Kelly, Good Life Farms is a dream realized from years of having his hands in the dirt.

From the time he was five years old, Darin has always loved growing things. One of his earliest memories of gardening is planting maple keys and growing trees in a plot that his parents set aside for him. As an adult, Darin says everywhere he has lived he has turned every bit of soil into garden space. However, the leap from hobbyist to farmer took some time. It was almost by chance that he and his wife Deb fell into farming.

“About seven years ago we set up our first little roadside stand because we had some excess vegetables… We ended up selling $100 of vegetables in an afternoon on a Sunday,” says Darin. After the surprise success of their roadside stand, he says they began to recognize that they could potentially turn this idea into something bigger, and, nearly a decade later, they have.

“We all of the sudden figured out maybe we could make money doing our favorite hobby,” he says. Darin started renting plots for vegetables all over southern Indiana, pieces here and there from whoever had space. After operating this way for a year and a half Darin decided to look into hydroponic growing, a system that is soilless and uses long rows of tubing to house plants, providing nutrients by constantly running mineral-rich water over the tips of each plant’s roots.

After doing some research, Darin and Deb purchased 100 used channels from Amhydro Commercial Hydroponics and set up their first greenhouse in Eminence, Indiana.

The system is incredibly sustainable. While at first it may seem that constantly running water to irrigate plants would dramatically increase water use, Darin says that hydroponic systems save water.

“It actually uses about 1/5 or 1/6 of the water that you use in the field,” Darin says. This is in part due to the fact that the channels themselves are mostly closed, preventing evaporation. He says there is also the added benefit of preserving the soil around them.

“We don’t turn over one bit of soil. We don’t have any runoff of any kind. There’s nothing being leeched into the creeks around us,” he explains.

On top of all of this, the yields are also great. In 3,000 square feet of greenhouse and 325 channels, Good Life Farms produces an average of 67,600 heads of lettuce annually.

It’s a lot of hard work. Like most farmers, Darin and Deb don’t get days off or take long trips. They are tied to their greenhouse, but they don’t seem to mind.

“It’s a social event for us. The customers we deal with every week? That’s our social outing,” Darin says. Deb agrees: “It makes you feel good when you are doing stuff like this and then you go out and see your customers and they are so thankful for it.”

P6 Producer: Muddy Fork Bakery

A version of this post by Bloomingfoods’ Isaac Smith originally appeared at the Bloomingfoods website

From the Ashes from Bloomingfoods on Vimeo.

March 21, 2014 was much like any other Thursday in Bloomington, IN for P6 producer Muddy Fork Bakery’s Eric Schedler and his family. Eric fired his hearth oven that morning, his daughter, Leda, had a playdate with a friend, and just before bed, Eric fired the oven again to prepare for baking on Saturday morning.

By 3:00 a.m., Katie Zukof, Eric’s wife, woke with their newborn baby—feedings in the wee hours were something that Eric and Katie were used to. However, when Katie made her way into the living room, she noticed that something wasn’t right.

“When I was in the hallway I saw an orange glow that seemed really strange,” Katie remembers. “The bakery was a total inferno at that point,” Eric recalls.

Eric woke to Katie’s scream, which he thought was about their baby. When he realized the child was fine, he had a moment of solace.

“It was actually a bit of relief to realize it was only our whole livelihood and not our child,” Eric jokes. However, the gravity of the situation caught up with him.

After arriving on the scene, the firefighters worked until 7:00 a.m. to contain the blaze. Eric recalls that the fire burned so hot that things around the bakery began to melt. The situation was so overwhelming that it took some time to sink in.

“I wouldn’t say I processed it at 3:00 in the morning,” Eric remembers. However, some things took no time for him to understand. “I knew, without even putting it into words or thoughts… I knew it was a total loss. I knew we wouldn’t be able to work for a long time.” The cause of the blaze was never determined with certainty, though Eric says he suspects ventilation from the oven overheated, causing the bakery to catch fire.

As things began to set in the next day, Katie says she was not ready to see what was left of their old bakery.

 

Katie Zukof, left, and Eric Schedler, right, watch as their old bakery is torn down April 24, 2014 in Bloomington, In.

Katie Zukof, left, and Eric Schedler, right, watch as their old bakery is torn down April 24, 2014 in Bloomington, In.

“I didn’t go down to look at the ruins. Eric took Leda,” Katie says. “I couldn’t bring myself to go down there.” Even though they were still reeling from the night before, the two lost little time in planning the future of their business.

Eric and Katie finished building their Bloomington bakery and home, largely by hand, in 2011, and they lived there for two years with their daughter, Leda. In essence, they started their business and their family in the same place. After outgrowing the tiny living space, they built a house roughly 100 yards up the hill from their bakery. This decision to expand went hand in hand with the desire to grow Muddy Fork Bakery.

“There’s a limit to what you can do if you are living in the same space as your kitchen,” Eric says. When they built their first bakery,  the plan was to stay in it for at least five years. Eric says at the time of the fire they had not quite maxed out their space, but they were getting close.

The day after the fire, Eric and Katie spent a lot of time on the phone talking to their parents (Katie’s were already on their way from Connecticut to see their new grandchild) and to anyone they felt could help. After speaking with their insurance agent and an insurance adjuster, they were relieved to know that the structure was well insured, but there still were a lot of uncertainties.

Once word spread of the fire, community members and loyal customers wanted to know how they could help. Their chance came when Katie’s cousin set up a crowdsourcing fund using gofundme.com. Eric and Katie were reluctant at first to accept this kind of help.

“We weren’t sure at first if we were going to let them do it,” Eric says. At the time, they didn’t know how much money they would need, and they did not want to take more than would be necessary to get going again. However, after some discussion, they gave the go-ahead. In just four days the website raised nearly $15,000. While family and friends were certainly among the 169 donors, Katie and Eric did not recognize many of the names.

“I think we were just overwhelmed with just how generous everybody was,” Katie remembers. “That was moving and uplifting and gave us total certainty that what we wanted to do was to rebuild the bakery and as quickly as we could,” Eric adds.

Katie Zukof, reaches for a dish, as Eric Schedler, middle, and Brandt Badger shape loaves May 30, 2014 in Katie and Eric's Bloomington home.

Katie Zukof, reaches for a dish, as Eric Schedler, middle, and Brandt Badger shape loaves May 30, 2014 in Katie and Eric’s Bloomington home.

They were not down long. Katie and Eric missed only three Farmers’ Markets after the fire. They only had granola to sell, but they were happy just to be back. After the fire, they quickly made arrangements to rent space in the Bloomingfoods commissary kitchen so that they could at least continue production of granola, granola bars, and muesli. They slowly added things at the Farmers’ Market, offering smoothies and even branching into onsite pizza production, which Eric says was incredibly popular and crucial to keeping them going while they were without a bakery.

Muddy Fork employees make granola April 15, 2014 at the Bloomingfoods Commissary Kitchen in Bloomington, In. Eric Schedler says they missed only three markets after the fire. They rented space at the Commissary Kitchen to continue making granola and selling it in shops around Bloomington as well as at the Winter Market.

Muddy Fork employees make granola April 15, 2014 at the Bloomingfoods Commissary Kitchen in Bloomington, In. Eric Schedler says they missed only three markets after the fire. They rented space at the Commissary Kitchen to continue making granola and selling it in shops around Bloomington as well as at the Winter Market.

The first step to recovery was to excavate the land where the old bakery was. Demolition day was an emotional one. As the crew pulled the bakery down, wall-by-wall, Eric, Katie, and Leda watched as one chapter of their lives ended. As sad as it was, Eric had to keep looking forward.

“I was sentimental about it. I always though that Leda would grow up and we would show her the little, tiny loft where she lived her first two years… [but] you have to let go of things like that,” Eric says.

Despite the incredible damage to the building, after careful inspection, Eric determined that he could still use the old oven, allowing Muddy Fork Bakery to bring bread to market for a few weeks over the summer. Katie says that as emotional as it was to see the old bakery come down, she was far more upset to see the old oven dismantled. While there were a lot of big changes happening, it was comforting to still have the routine of baking.

“Even when we didn’t have any building at all, we still had this oven and were still able to produce something in it,” she says. “It was really, really hard to see it gone.”

Eric Schedler prepares loaves for baking May 30, 2014 at the site of his old oven. Eric was able to use his old oven for a few weeks in the summer of 2014 to bake bread before it was torn down so that construction on his new bakery could begin.

Eric Schedler prepares loaves for baking May 30, 2014 at the site of his old oven. Eric was able to use his old oven for a few weeks in the summer of 2014 to bake bread before it was torn down so that construction on his new bakery could begin.

  Despite the stopping and starting that accompanied the construction project, in early September, 2014 Eric finally got back to work. He lit several small fires in his brand new oven to kiln the masonry and prepare for that first bake on September 13th.

“It was pretty exciting to make that first big fire,” Eric recalls. However, even with all his excitement, part of him was still nervous. “I had to remind myself, even the old bakery didn’t burn down for four years,” Eric adds with a grin.

Eric Schedler puts loaves on the baker’s peel Sept. 13, 2014 during the first bake using Muddy Fork’s new oven. He says many of his customers asked each week at Market when their new oven facility would be ready. It was incredibly exciting and satisfying to go to that first market after baking in his new bakery.

Eric Schedler puts loaves on the baker’s peel Sept. 13, 2014 during the first bake using Muddy Fork’s new oven. He says many of his customers asked each week at Market when their new oven facility would be ready. It was incredibly exciting and satisfying to go to that first market after baking in his new bakery.

The new bakery sits over the footprint of the old facility and has many added perks, including a larger floor plan, a bigger oven, and a walk-in cooler. Eric says because of the increased capacity of his new oven, which can hold nearly twice the volume of the old oven, he had to learn the most efficient way to use it. After overcoming the learning curve, he says the bread is even better and they are selling more of it.

A crew from Solid Rock Masonry, of Duluth, Minn., cleans up the job site Aug. 4, 2014 where he and his team were building the new Muddy Fork Bakery oven.

A crew from Solid Rock Masonry, of Duluth, Minn., cleans up the job site Aug. 4, 2014 where he and his team were building the new Muddy Fork Bakery oven.

Both admit the fire was a terrible experience, but Katie and Eric both say it presented them with new opportunities. They were able to plan ahead and build in new features that will allow them to continue grow. But for now, they both say it is incredible to be back and to be doing the best work of their careers.

“There definitely was a silver lining,” Katie says. “What we have now is definitely better than what we had before.”

Eric Schedler leads a class in making pizza October 17, 2014 in his new bakery in Bloomington, In. One thing that took a back seat while the new facility was being built was baking classes. Eric says once the bakery was built he was excited to offer classes again. He adds that as the bakery has gained recognition, enthusiasm for the classes has increased.

Eric Schedler leads a class in making pizza October 17, 2014 in his new bakery in Bloomington, In. One thing that took a back seat while the new facility was being built was baking classes. Eric says once the bakery was built he was excited to offer classes again. He adds that as the bakery has gained recognition, enthusiasm for the classes has increased.

Locally Laid and the importance of mid-range agriculture

We loved this post from Locally Laid Eggs to a customer who was offended by the name of their company. The full blog post covers a lot of topics, but this passage about the importance of mid-range agriculture to rural communities really resonated with us at P6:

But we’re more than just free chickens, fed well. We’re champions of something called Middle Agriculture. This is the most stressed, least understood agricultural segment in America. Mid-sized farms, like awkward teens, don’t fit in anywhere. They tend to be too large to sell all they produce directly to the public (think farmer’s market or CSA) and way too small to romp with the big dogs of commodity markets.

As such, there are less of us mid-level producers every day. Between 1997- 2012 the number of these types of operations have declined by 18%. That’s over 130,000 farms that have been shut, barn doors closed, tumbleweeds cued.

You might ask why this matters. Well for a lot of reasons, but especially for the 46-million Americans who live rurally. And I mean right now, not in some sepia-toned, yesteryear memory. When mid-sized operations go away, it doesn’t just affect one family, it dings ALL the regional ag-based industry: grain mills, feed stores, processing facilities and farm jobs. So there’s just a lot less money floating around a community. This erodes tax bases, which affects schools, roads and livability issues. As the Agriculture of the Middle Project puts it, the loss of mid-sized farms “threatens to hollow out many regions of rural America.”

VCS_smallThis is the difference between the “value chain” of mid-sized businesses working together versus “vertical integration” where all the links of the supply chain are owned by the same company, concentrating profits and power at the top.

So, here’s how we’re growing the Middle Ag sector. Locally Laid now partners with other mid-level farmers to produce eggs to our brand standards. Because we take on all the financial risk to find shelf space for these eggs, our farmers are able to do what they do best while fetching a fair price for their goods.

There’s been some real upsides to this in the small community of Henriette, Minnesota. There our partner farmers have commissioned tons of corn from their neighbors, buy implements from a nearby farm store and use a local mill to grind and store their grains. And because Locally Laid eggs are only sold regionally, all that retail income sticks around, too, all the while stamping down food miles. I can honestly say this community now enjoys a higher quality of living thanks to a public willing to pay more for a different kind of egg.

Definitely check out the full post for impassioned defenses of sustainable farming practices and sassy marketing, as well. Locally Laid eggs are available at Seward Co-op, Eastside Co-op, and Bloomingfoods.

Close to the Land, Rooted in Tradition

A version of this post by Bloomingfoods’ Isaac Smith originally appeared in at their website

Rodney Rhodes with chickens

Rodney Rhodes, 15, collects eggs Oct 23 in a barn on his family’s 300 acre farm in Newberry.

The Rhodes family sits for a meal as the sun rises over the hills of their Newberry, IN farm. It’s still dark as the breakfast of eggs, sausage, and milk is passed around the table. Before they eat, they take a moment to reflect as Luke Rhodes reads from the Book of Psalms. The respite of quiet and good company comes after the morning’s chores of bringing in and milking their herd of dairy cows, which was son Jesse Rhodes’ responsibility that day.

Rodney Rhodes, gathers eggs October 23 in a henhouse on his family’s Newberry farm. Chickens are one facet of the Rhodes dynamic farm. They also raise cows for beef and milk as well as hogs.

Rodney Rhodes, gathers eggs October 23 in a henhouse on his family’s Newberry farm. Chickens are one facet of the Rhodes dynamic farm. They also raise cows for beef and milk as well as hogs.

This is a routine deeply engrained in the Rhodes’ family. For Luke, farm life runs deep.

“My parents were both raised on farms,” Luke says, adding that his mother grew up on a potato and dairy farm, while his father grew up with livestock and dairy. Luke’s education in farming came from a combination of these.

“My growing up years, earlier years, were with vegetable crops and hogs and steers, and when I was about 15 we got into dairy,” he says.

By the time he was 22, it was time for him to strike out on his own. Newly married, he purchased his Newberry, Indiana farm and moved with his wife, Arlene, from his native Ohio. He, Arlene, and seven children have all helped tend the land these last 28 years and grow the now 300 acre farm (the family owns 100 and rents 200 acres for grazing) into the diverse operation that it is today.

Hens fly from their coop October 23 on the Rhodes Family Farm in Newberry. The Rhodes house their chickens in movable coops so they can regularly move the animals to fresh grass.

Hens fly from their coop October 23 on the Rhodes Family Farm in Newberry. The Rhodes house their chickens in movable coops so they can regularly move the animals to fresh grass.

The original 100 acres house the integral parts of Luke’s business: egg and milk production. From their flock of chickens and from neighboring farmers who raise hens to their standards, Rhodes Family Farm provides eggs, which are sold and labeled P6 at Bloomingfoods, as well as being used in the co-op’s kitchens. The Rhodes also rear hogs and steers, and in all that they do, there is a particular ethos at work. For years, Luke and his family sold milk to Organic Valley, and he says he implemented many organic practices throughout his farm. This choice was dictated as much by the market as by the personal preference of the Rhodes family.

“We like to eat products like that ourselves and we like to share it with others who have the same interest,” Luke explains.

Roger Rhodes, 15, left, Rodney Rhodes, 15, middle, and Luke Rhodes eat breakfast Oct. 15 after morning chores on their Newberry farm.

Roger Rhodes, 15, left, Rodney Rhodes, 15, middle, and Luke Rhodes eat breakfast Oct. 15 after morning chores on their Newberry farm.

At the moment, nothing on the farm exceeds the capabilities of Luke and his family, which he sees as a positive thing.

“I think it helps us to keep a handle on it,” Luke says of the hands-on nature of his farm, adding that he believes they could grow and still maintain this level of control. Luke says that he has always enjoyed this kind of work and feels spiritually connected to what he does.

“I think a fellow could still be spiritual and do another job, but we feel close to nature and close to what God has created. We can enjoy the benefits of seeing the nature of how it all works,” says Luke. This understanding of the natural world and food production is something Luke says his children have been immersed in all their lives.

“They are involved from the time they are old enough to be out walking around,” Luke says. He explains that his children have learned from seeing and doing. “It’s just there all of the time. They see it, observe it. There’s not really a lot of teaching because they are just in among it.”

Rodney and Roger Rhodes work on their walnut shelling machine October 16 on their family's farm in Nerberry. The two collect walnuts throughout the fall to sell for extra money.

Rodney and Roger Rhodes work on their walnut shelling machine October 16 on their family’s farm in Nerberry. The two collect walnuts throughout the fall to sell for extra money.

Because so many do not grow up raising animals or growing food, Luke invites his customers to visit his farm and to understand where their food comes from. He believes this kind of education as an important part of being a customer.

The Rhodes farm is a special place. In the fall, green fields are dotted with grazing cows and are hedged with brilliant autumn color. There is a quiet sense of satisfaction when Luke talks about what he and his family do and the grandeur of the place they call home. He says that while they may take it for granted sometimes, they are still struck by its beauty.

“There are particular times—sunrises, sunsets—we do stand in awe at the creation of God,” he says. “Being there 28 years, I think it’s just a part of us.”

Products from Rhodes Family Farm are labeled P6 at Bloomingfoods.

A New Millennium for Musgrave

A version of this post by Bloomingfoods’ Isaac Smith originally appeared in Bloomingnews. 

There is no run of the mill day for the Hamiltons.

Andy Hamilton and his wife Amy work late nights and early mornings raising three children and operating the decades-old Musgrave Orchard, which they purchased 10 years ago just before it ceased production altogether. Since then, Andy said the family has operated on farm time, building their day around the needs of their 300 apple trees and 2 acre vegetable patch.

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Andy and Amy took over the 5 acre orchard as well as the old farm store; however, with this the Hamiltons also inherited a hefty reputation. Musgrave Orchard has historically been known for some of the best fresh cider in Southern Indiana and this legacy is something Andy said they have worked to preserve the past 10 years. “Since we bought it we have been in preservation mode,” Andy said of their efforts to maintain the reputation of quality the Musgrave family built.

The cider house where they produce the community favorite has not changed much since the farm started nearly 80 years ago. Andy still uses the antique cider press the Musgraves counted on to produce their cider. Patched together with home-spun fixes, Andy said though he fights with it often, he always gets the press to start each time he needs make to cider, which is at least once a week and often multiple times a week as the season progresses. The nectar Andy bottles, he sells in their farm store as well as to Bloomingfoods.

The Musgrave farm store also operates much the way it did 80 years ago. The Hamiltons accept only cash and check, which Amy said slows the pace of the store. She said it is less fast-paced mega-mart and more old-world market. “Sometimes there is a line from the register to the garage door. I don’t accept credit cards and it moves very slowly,” This is deliberate, Amy said. She explained she and Andy want to encourage fellowship and conversation in their store.

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Andy and Amy homeschool their children and see value in raising them around their family business. Their first-born, 12-year-old Grace Hamilton, was three when they bought the orchard and said growing up around a farm has been an experience she would not trade.

“I do not think I would have it any other way.” Grace added she is exposed to a lot of foods most kids her age miss out on, which has inspired her future career path. “I hope to someday be a chef,” she said.

The orchard was not the only new project the Hamiltons took on in 2003. That year they also founded the Core Farms CSA. With several other farms in the area, the CSA provides seasonal, fresh produce to local families for both the summer and winter seasons.

Stefanie Voucher and her family have been members of the Core CSA for three seasons now and said they have explored new foods through the program. “For us, it has broadened our pallets,” she explained. She said they ate their way through many unfamiliar vegetables simply because they did not want to waste the food.

Douglas Guilick and his family have tried several other CSA’s in the area, but found many to be too business-minded. However, he said the Core CSA is the opposite with a strong focus of family and getting to know their patrons. This is a key reason Guilick has come back for the last three years. He said it is simply the people. “We think Amy and Andy are the best,” he said.

They may get high marks from customers and make the operation look easy, but the work is daunting. The family often has 16 hour days when the farm season is in full swing. However, despite the intense work schedule, Amy and Andy said they truly love what they do. Amy said even when she spends such long days at the farm store, she has a tough time leaving.

“I have the hardest time shutting the door,” she said.

Musgrave Orchard products are labeled P6 at Bloomingfoods in Bloomington, Indiana.