On a hot, June day on the east side of Indianapolis, Genesis and Eli pull garlic scapes from the ground. The long, sweetly pungent ropes will be washed and trimmed by hand before they're sent off to a local chef that afternoon. Soon, their boxes are full.
Genesis and Eli are the husband-and-wife team behind Full Hand Farm, a veggie farm in its first year in Greenfield. The two high school sweethearts grew up in Indiana before dirtying their hands together in the soils of Iowa, Oregon, and their home state. Now, the couple is preparing for their next and biggest farming adventure: their very own 25-acre farm in Perkinsville, Indiana.
The momentum that’s followed them has been terrific. Already, downtown Indianapolis restaurants like Patachou are lining up for whatever kinds of fresh produce Full Hand has to offer. “The demand definitely outweighs the supply right now,” says Genesis. But she and Eli are hopeful the supply -- Indiana's population of small farms -- will find a way to catch up soon.
Everyone has their own theories about why Indiana has been slow to respond to the nationwide movement towards local food and better production systems. To Genesis and Eli, it's the state's lack of farmer-centric policy and communities that has many start-up farms feeling a little bit out to sea.
But no one knows it better than a farmer: some things just take time to mature. In the meanwhile, says Genesis, "it's a really exciting time to be in Indiana. The good thing about being behind is that you get to learn from others."
When This Old Farm first took root in Colfax, less than an hour’s drive from downtown Indianapolis, it was ten years before the nutrient-starved soil was restored and ready for grass. Erick and Jessica Smith had originally envisioned using the land for a vegetable garden, but when the soil is sickly, it turns out that what a vegetable garden really needs is a few animals.
Today, This Old Farm is a leader in sustainable, pasture-raised meats. They work with forty farms within fifty miles, enabling other local producers to process meats in a way that makes sense economically and environmentally.
“We try to help farmers figure out what’s best,” says Conner, Erick and Jessica’s teenage son, and one of the farm’s most valuable players.
For the Smith family, helping farmers figure out what’s best means researching and experimenting with new methods. One of the farm’s refrigerated compartments, for example, draws on Erick’s thesis in solar energy, and a fleet of reclaimed livestock trailers is the farm’s simple but brilliant solution to maintaining clean, nontoxic chicken coops.
“Farmers are smart,” says Conner, who, at 16, will be headed to Purdue this year. “We’re combating those old stereotypes about farmers and showing everyone what farmers can do.”