Meandering along Highway 33 a few Sundays ago, after passing what seemed like the 100th small town with a smaller population than our neighborhood; L leaned over to me and said "you know you'll never want to go home, right". She said it with a smile, in a playful way, but I knew she meant it. I also knew she was right. When we finally arrived, Finn's wild eyes punctuated how much we all truly appreciate, and long for the quiet of the country.
The destination was a homestead, belonging to Tom Stinson and Casandra Byler; half of Blue Heron. The home itself was beautiful; rough timber beams, and an inviting floor plan that centered around the kitchen (as any good home does), punctuated by an amazing wood oven right in the middle. Despite never meeting Tom and Cas, as soon as we walked through the door, we felt instantly welcome; setting the tone for our entire visit.
Adam and Elise, the other half of the farm, showed up only a few minutes later, and we got to work. Work, being mostly drinking beer, playing with babies, talking about the surrounding area, with a little bit of cooking thrown in. It was all I could do to stay on track, and try to ask the questions I had outlined in my head. It didn't take long to realize that this was not how today was going to work. The formality of my notepad was a waste of time. We were there to have a meal, and enjoy the farm, so we did. Obviously, I did ask some questions, and the more we talked, the clearer the vision for the farm became. I think I was foolishly trying to separate the idea of work, and home. Here, there really is no separation. Despite the fact that 3 of the 4 owners have jobs in addition to the farm, they live and breathe community, and hard work.
The farm itself began in 2001 as a small plot, owned by Tom and Cas. They grew produce, and sold it at the local farmers market. Chickens were soon added to the mix. They let them forage, and pick at the scraps; which in turn, fertilized the gardens. In 2009, Adam and Elise decided to come back to the place of their Alma Mater, and make farming a full time thing. Per the suggestion of mutual friends, the couples got together to talk about a possible partnership. They immediately clicked, and before they knew it, Tom and Adam were sitting on the auction floor bidding on pigs. Admittedly, pigs were something they knew very little about at the time, but "it just seemed like the right direction", they said. Judging from the operation now, I would say I have to agree.
They are by no means the only small farm in this part of Indiana. However, they reside among a select few that do it the way they do. Their dedication to sustainability is inspiring.
Taking cues from masters of low impact farms, such as Joel Salatin (look him up), the two families work with their surroundings to create a place where their herds can thrive, doing what they do naturally. The animals are encouraged to root, forage, and roam freely, in large areas around their land. Just fresh air, sunshine, and the things that nature provides. These animals are happy, and healthy; and that makes all the difference. This was especially clear, at the dinner table.
The quality of their product is unbelievable. One bite was enough to immediately coax one of the (very) few questions I actually asked the entire time "What will you do next? How will you get more of this, to more people?". Because, what they have needs to be shared. Not surprisingly, the answer was staid, and to the point. They want to grow, but it has to be on their terms, and in the right way. A good deal of care goes into everything that they sell, and they have no intention of moving to fast, and compromising what they have built. Which, from our short visit, I can tell you is an unbelievably impressive network of relationships, that have allowed them to create food that we should all be very excited to see more of.
So, the way that should have read, is that you all need to do your part, and stay informed about the goings on at Blue Heron (as well as other local farms, and CSAs) and start supporting real folks, making real food. Ya dig!
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