Wednesday, July 1, 2015

We Are Indiana Agriculture: Frey Farms

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Watermelons have been a part of 47-year-old Leonard Frey’s life for as long as he can remember.  As a kid, his parents and five siblings would grow and harvest watermelons and sell them from the back of a pickup truck.  Now, the Freys raise cantaloupes, watermelon, sweet corn, hard winter squash, pumpkins, Autumn Coleur  which is a unique and colorful heirloom variety pumpkin, and several different types of fall ornamentals.   The watermelon varieties they grow are: red seedless, red seeded, yellow meat, and personal seedless.  The Freys rotate with corn, soybeans, wheat, and canola.

Frey Farms have growing locations in Florida, Georgia, Missouri, West Virginia, Illinois, and Indiana.  They began growing in Indiana in 1999 and harvest at their Poseyville, Ind. farm usually takes place anywhere from the 12 to15 of July.  The family has about 250 acres of cantaloupe and 350 acres of watermelons at their Poseyville location.

Leonard explains that they use seeded watermelons as pollinators, then the seeded watermelons are used to make a delicious juice, Tsamma.  “Every bottle of Tsamma is packed with over one pound of fresh watermelon.  It is 95% watermelon juice with a blend of other juices; has no added sugar; no artificial colors or flavors; is rich in vitamins C, B, and A; and is only 80 calories per serving.”

All of the Freys’ produce is available at several local stores including Wal-Mart, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Whole Foods, and many more.  “We ship directly from the fields to the distribution centers, located minutes from each field, where it is then shipped to the store where customers can find it just as sweet and fresh as the day it was picked.”

Leonard, who has a PhD in Agriculture from the University of Illinois, says that it is hard to pick the one thing that he enjoys most about farming, but did say, “I enjoy seeing the crop grow and taking it from transplant to harvest.  Hearing people say they look for our sticker on produce at the store because they like it ranks at the top of the list.  It means we are doing a good job!”

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

We Are Indiana Agriculture: The Trosts

 By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Claire Trost never dreamed she would be part of the agriculture industry.  She was born in downtown Chicago and spent much of her childhood in Dublin, Ohio just northwest of Columbus.  “As far back as we can tell, my family has no connection to agriculture and not one of my friend’s families was involved in the industry.  My high school did not offer 4-H or FFA, and I didn’t know one person who drove a truck.  I honestly had no clue where food came from, and I still have not been to a State Fair.  That’s changing this year though!  I didn’t get introduced to the agriculture industry until attending college at Purdue.”

Fast forward a few years and Claire is now married to her college sweetheart, Adam; they live in Russiaville, which is Adam’s hometown.  “We married four years ago, and since then we have focused our energy on our careers, building our new home on 40 acres of land that is currently rented to a local farmer, traveling, and learning as much as we can about producing food.” 

Even though no one in Adam’s family farms, Adam grew up very close to agriculture.  His extended family farms in Illinois, and his dad has owned his own grain handling equipment construction business.  “As a kid, Adam dreamed of being a farmer.  He now hobby-farms about 20 acres.”  Adam is transitioning into ownership of his family’s grain handling company, Indiana Farm Systems.  He majored in Building and Construction at Purdue and, after a year with an engineering firm in Indianapolis, he knew his heart belonged with the family business.

Claire majored in Hospitality Management at Purdue and now does development for a company called “Campus Cooks.”  “We partner and manage professional chefs in sororities and fraternities across the nation.  I work closely with students and alumni and love being surrounded by incredibly creative culinary talent every day.  It’s a great job for me because I was Greek as an undergrad and because I absolutely love great food!”

Their backyard garden is full of delicious fruits and vegetables and they are constantly trying to figure out how to grow more, either through succession planting or the addition of new plants.  Some of their favorite things to grow are tomatoes, beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, garlic, and lettuces.  They are trying onions, leeks, and potatoes for the first time this summer and looking forward to having grapes and berry bushes in the ground next year.

“The produce we grow is mainly just for us to enjoy seasonally or to preserve.  I have taught myself how to can and we freeze many items like carrot coins, pesto, kale, and green beans to enjoy throughout the year.  We also love to share with family and friends throughout the summer.  Recently, we have been considering producing food on a larger scale to sell either to farmer’s markets or through our own CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  We still have a lot to learn, but it is something we are really considering and are pretty excited about.”

Claire and Adam also raise backyard hens.  “Currently we have 25 hens.  They are our first experiment in seeing if there is a market for the food we raise and grow.  The birds should be laying around September.  We have raised hens for about two years but never had this many.  We initially started with hens, because we kept reading that composted chicken droppings are a great, natural fertilizer.  But, we learned that we loved the hens not just for the droppings in the garden’s soil, but also for the beyond-amazing fresh eggs and their funny personalities.  We can’t imagine not having hens.”

Claire has always worked in the food industry, so her jobs have always been connected to agriculture.  Changes in food prices; weather, such as droughts or late frosts; and keeping up with food trends are a big piece of her career.  “Today many consumers desire transparency and want to know the farmer.  Since 2008, I have had a lot of really neat experiences in forging connections with local farmers in my roles.  I got my first taste of the ‘Farm to Table’ movement when interning in Southern California, then, as a local school corporation’s Food and Nutrition Director, then I got involved with Indiana Farm to School as it was getting off the ground.  Now, in my role with Campus Cooks, we have made connections with a handful of local, Indiana farms for veggies and greens in particular.  Sorority women love it!”

When asked if she had any tips for someone who wants to start a garden for the first time, Claire said, “My number one tip is to grow things you like to eat.  You will be more apt to take care of a garden when you are looking forward to eating the fruits of your labor.”

You can follow along with Claire’s backyard gardening journey by visiting her blog where she talks about gardening, local food and growers who direct-market their produce or meat to consumers.  She also shares real, fun stories about life.  “I did not grow up around agriculture, so all the dirt in my life and the fact that I thought a home on a 1-acre lot had a lot of land sometimes makes for funny moments!”

Follow Claire on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

We Are Indiana Agriculture: New Generation Dairy

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Brian Rexing and his wife, Ranell, own and operate New Generation Dairy in Owenville, Indiana, along with their four children:  Blair, 12; Mylie, 10; Alleah, 8; and Case, 21 months.  Brian is a 4th generation farmer.  They currently milk 1,200-head of Holstein cows in their new milking facility that was built in 2008.  The cows are milked three times a day and, since it takes 6 hours to milk each time, a single cow is milked every 8 hours.  The Rexings also raise corn, beans, wheat and alfalfa.

The milk from New Generation Dairy is shipped to Nashville, Tennessee where it is processed at the Country Delight plant and sold under the Purity label.  While most dairy farms sell most of or all of the bull calves, New Generation is trying something new by beginning to raise all of their bull calves.

A balanced feed ration and quality care is important in keeping the cows healthy and aids in the production of quality milk.  “We use sand bedding; we think that is the most comfortable for the cows. We also have sprinklers and 80 3-foot fans in each barn. We think comfortable cows produce more high-quality milk. Our farm’s milk parlor is oversized so that we can minimize the cows’ wait time in the holding pen,” Brian explained.

Ranell is a former school teacher, but now works on the family farm and manages the books and payroll.  She also organizes several school farm tours throughout the year, which allows her to get her “teaching fix.”  “We love to tell our farm story and, hopefully, the kids leave with a different perspective of farming than when they first stepped foot on the farm.”

The four kids are active on the farm and while Brian says they don’t have any chores yet, “their time is coming.”  Blair and Mylie are active in 4-H and Alleah is in exploring 4-H.  They show dairy at the fair and Brian says, “That is a requirement.”

When asked what he likes most about farming, Brian replied, “All of it!  It’s exciting to produce food and watching things grow is cool.”

You can find New Generation Dairy on Facebook.  If you would like to schedule a tour for your school, you can email them at

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

We Are Indiana Agriculture: The Nichols

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Abby Nichols and her husband, Andy, live in Franklin with their two kids, Ellie,3, and Tyler, 2.  “We live and work with my family on a grain and beef farm in Franklin.  I mostly stay home with my kids, but also help manage our freezer beef business with my cousin, Zach Dougherty.  I also help out on the grain farm during the busy season.”

The Doughertys’ farm, around 2,000 acres, includes beef cattle and a retail fertilizer and chemical business that custom applies fertilizers for other farmers.  “My family settled in this area in the 1800’s.  My grandpa was always a farmer, with the exception of the 4 years he served in WWII.  My grandpa and grandma purchased the farm where we are presently located in 1961.  My grandpa had dairy cows, but in the late 60’s he switched to raising beef steers.  We have been raising beef cattle on this farm ever since.”

Angus is the breed of choice on the family farm.  “We have 20 cows that have babies each year starting in February through March.  We also purchase about another 50 head from an Indiana producer when they are about 700 pounds and finish feeding them out for freezer beef.”   Abby and her family work hard to ensure proper nutrition, which produces delicious beef.  “We believe it starts with a quality diet and proper care.  We feed the steers corn that we raise and mix in a soybean-based supplement for additional protein.  They also eat grass or hay every day.  In addition, we provide ‘free choice’ mineral.  Basically, we leave tubs with mineral and salt and the cattle just know when they need to eat it.  I always say mineral is like the cow’s Flintstone Vitamin.  Of course, the cattle have access to clean water.  We feel a corn-based diet helps to yield beef that consumers desire--tender, well-marbled and delicious. The cows are fed quite differently.  We really just want to maintain their weight and keep them healthy so they can have healthy pregnancies and deliveries.  They also get free-choice mineral, as well as corn silage and hay in the winter and grass and hay in the summer.”

Abby says that she enjoys so much about her job.  She enjoys working with her family and teaching her kids about agriculture.  She also enjoys raising cattle and connecting families to their farm and the beef they raise.

Friday, May 1, 2015

I Am Indiana Agriculture: Kristin Flora

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Kristin Flora and her husband Justin live in Avon with their 1 ½ year-old son, Gunner and are expecting a baby due in October.  Justin owns Flora Brothers Painting, along with his brother.  Kristin is a Purdue University graduate with a degree in Agribusiness Management and a minor in Communications.  She was very active in the College of Agriculture while at Purdue and continues to be active on campus by speaking in classes and at club meetings.  “I recently participated in the Leaders in Action program through Indiana Farm Bureau and had the opportunity to visit our Senators, Congressmen, and Congresswomen to lobby about issues that affect the agriculture industry.  It was a neat experience to be able to not just learn about issues, but be able to make our voice heard and make a difference.”

After Kristin’s parents graduated from Purdue University, they purchased their family farm shortly after she was born.  The farm is a  1,000  sow farrow-to-finish operation that markets approximately 20,000 pigs each year, and is still owned and managed by Kristin’s father and employs 8 people.  Kristin and her two other siblings were homeschooled through grade school “allowing more time to be spent following her dad around and learning the ropes.” 

“One of the fondest memories that I have from growing up on the farm is always feeling a sense of responsibility for the success of the farm.  I had chores from the time I could walk that taught me to always pull my weight and see what needed to be done.  I was blessed with parents who were very financially wise.  Rather than receiving an allowance, I was paid an hourly rate for my farm chores.  I would save up my hours and turn them in a month at a time.  My mom took me to the bank to cash my paycheck in small bills.  We would then divide the amount up and put 10% in the ‘church tithe’ envelope, 50% in the ‘college’ envelope and I was able to keep the remaining 40% as spending money.  With my 10 years of showing hogs in 4-H and taking a foods project that was sold in the auction, I would tithe 10% to our church and put the remaining 90% into my college savings account.  Although I thought all of these rules were completely unfair at the time, I am very thankful that I was able to cash flow all 4 years at Purdue with scholarships, college savings, and working between classes.  This gave me a leg up in the real world.”

While farming is in Kristin’s blood, she also gets to work with farmers every day.  A Corn Specialist for AgriGold Hybrids, Kristin works with growers to suggest the best hybrid seed choice with their ground.  “I love taking the time to sit down with my growers and make a field-by-field plan of what hybrid will be planted, what populations to plant at, and how to manage its nutrients throughout the growing season.  I scout their fields over the summer to check plant health and growth and to learn more about that field for future seed recommendations.”

Kristin wishes that others could see the heart that farmers put into their operations.  “One of the things I enjoy most about working with farmers is seeing their passion for what they do.  Farming isn’t just an 8 to 5 job behind a computer.  They care about their animals, about their land and the future.  Sharing in that passion has provided me not only a financially rewarding career, but more importantly, an emotionally fulfilling career.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I Am Indiana Agriculture: Tom Landrum

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Tom Landrum is a Dairy Farm Supervisor for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH). The third-generation dairy farmer resides on the family farm in Dearborn County.  The farm was purchased in 1916 by Tom’s grandfather.  “We milked cows up until 1990 when a tornado destroyed seven barns.  Since then, I have kept dry cows (a cow that isn’t lactating) and heifers on my farm while another dairy farmer milks the lactating cows.  My wife, Judy, has been a part of the farm operation since we married in 1979.  Judy drives tractors and helps manage the operation.  I have shown our Registered Milking Shorthorns at state, regional, and national shows since 1956.  I worked at Farm Credit Services for 30 years. After retiring from Farm Credit Services, I began working for BOAH in 2007 as the state farm supervisor.”

Tom Landrum (center) was recognized for his service to the Indiana State Board of Animal Health and the citizens of the state by Board Chairman Lawrence Stauffer, DVM (left) and State Veterinarian Bret D. Marsh, DVM (right).

Each Grade A dairy farm must be inspected by BOAH at least twice annually to check for compliance with state and federal regulations to produce milk for public consumption.  The division has 11 dairy inspectors who regularly visit each farm for compliance.  This involves evaluating cow care, equipment care, sanitation, and timeliness.  “The dairy division has the enforcement power to regulate dairy farms and ensure the milk they produce is safe and wholesome,” Tom says.  Inspecting a farm is no small task.

“The inspection begins at the mailbox,” Tom explains.  “We check for cleanliness of the entire operation.  We use a 19-point check system to score the cows, milk house, milking parlor, surrounding barns, water wells, and medication cabinets.  We inspect for proper care, proper location and administration of medications.  We look especially at the equipment condition and cleanliness.  We also monitor milking conditions, milk storage, milk sampling, and milk hauling.  All of these must meet the state and federal standards.  My job impacts Hoosiers by being a reliable safety net for milk.” 

BOAH’s dairy division permits and inspects Indiana’s 1200-plus dairy farms, 37 processing plants, 500 milk haulers (drivers), and more than 350 tanker trucks.  Indiana’s dairy farms range in size from 20 to 3000 cows, but, regardless of size, all farms receive the same level of inspection by BOAH staff.  “Dairy inspectors are also responsible for inspecting dairy product processing facilities in Indiana.  Every tanker load of milk is tested before processing to verify no contamination by antibiotics that may have been used on the farm.  Milk is the most highly regulated and closely inspected food product on the market.”

On modern dairy farms, the milk is never touched by human hands and is not exposed to contaminants.  “My job is important because the public wants to know where their food comes from and how the animals are treated.  I get to see and monitor much of this.  Dairy farmers are good, hardworking people, and I enjoy being around them.  Not many people see as many dairy farms and cows as I do.  I enjoy people and ‘good’ cows.” 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I Am Indiana Agriculture: Don Villwock

By Sarah Mahan of This Farm Family's Life

Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock farms 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans, seed soybeans and seed wheat in Knox County.  His ground is 100% no-till, which means it isn’t plowed or turned between plantings. That reduces soil erosion and aids in the preservation of soil nutrients.

Don has practiced no-tilling for 30 years and has also planted cover crops for almost that long.  Cover crops help build and improve soil in between planting of other crops.  He has also served as a Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor and hosted several soil health field days.  But he feels there is always “an opportunity to do more.” 

Don began practicing soil conservation in the 1970s by no-tilling double crop soybeans into wheat stubble.  This practice allows you to get two crops from one field in one year.  He says that no-tilling offers multiple advantages for his farm.  “For me, what got me started in no-till was the bottom line.  In the 70s, we were running on small margins and no-till allowed us to reduce our machinery costs and labor force while still maintaining the same yields.” 

On top of maintaining his yields, Don has won several awards in the National Corn Yield contest.  His conservation practices also get the attention of landlords who specifically seek out no-till farmers.
The no-till journey hasn’t always been easy.  “Planting corn after corn was a particular challenge,” Villwock says.  “It takes extra management, and we had to make sure we had a good stand row cleaner to allow us to meet our yield goals.” 

Don works closely with Barry Fisher of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to incorporate conservation practices on his farm.  “Barry is practical, pragmatic, and his experience on the land sets him apart.  He’s been with us every step of the way on the no-till journey.  The more we learn, the more we continue to improve.”