Local farmers, growers work together
Safe, fresh, nutritious food available

Beth Rumsey
Staff Writer

“I have a passion for good food, healthy soils, and fairness to farmers,” said Sister Claire Whalen, president of the Laughery Valley Growers FarmFresh CSA. Whalen began the CSA in 2006 after retiring from Michaela Farm. “I wanted to continue to work and I had ideas that I wanted to develop regarding sustainable farming,” she continued.

The Laughery Valley Growers is a collaboration of local farmers/growers in Ripley and Franklin counties. The FarmFresh CSA, or community supported agriculture, creates a direct relationship between those who want to eat safe, fresh nutritious food and those who grow it. Growers from around Ripley County and surrounding areas agree to provide a weekly share of their harvest to subscribers, who pay in advance of the harvest season.

According to participating grower Andy Schewe, the CSA is a great way for the community to support agriculture. Schewe grows different types of salad greens for the co-op at Wind Dance Farm, his family’s farm on the edge of Ripley County.

Schewe, a co-op grower for two years, practices intensive farming where the produce is closely planted in order to prevent weeds. He also uses organic methods of gardening. Besides contributing to CSA, Schewe offers his produce for sale at the Madison Grove CSA in Madison and at the Northside Market in Cincinnati.

Wind Dance Farm also produces a variety of herbs, which are used in the soaps made by Schewe’s mother, Mary. The several gardens provide such delicacies as squash, potatoes, okra, popcorn, pawpaws (native to Indiana) and Jerusalem artichokes, which are not artichokes at all, but rather a tuber similar to a potato, according to Schewe.

Produce provided by other growers include corn, onions, pumpkins, and other vegetables in season. Fruit from local orchards as well as growers will also be in the weekly boxes. Strawberries are provided by grower Mike Swango, Holton, and apples and pears provided by Salatin Orchards in Moores Hill. “It’s important for people to have good, fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Swango. In fact, the produce found in the CSA subscription boxes was picked and packed within 12 hours.

Swango, along with wife, Christy and son, Paul, has been growing for the CSA for three years. Through the use of beneficial insects, Swango has been able to reduce the need for pesticides. According to Swango, there are no chemicals on his produce.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” he said. Swango and his family can and freeze a lot of their produce grown. “It’s how I was raised,” he said.

“My goal in life is to be on the farm and never leave,” said Swango. “We have a great life!”
Another grower in the Holton area, Sue and Kenny Keyes, provide corn, eggplant, and a variety of squashes, hot peppers, watermelon and tomatoes as well as other types of produce.

The FarmFresh CSA also helps to ensure income for the local grower. According to Schewe, prices are set each winter by the co-op. “The co-op tries to give fair prices to growers,” he said.

Swango agrees. “The growers get a good price for their produce,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Purchasing produce through the CSA allows for traceability in the event of a food safety incident. Accurate records are kept of the produce received each week from each grower, according to Whalen. This information would be available to authorities investigating a claim. It also serves to protect the reputation of the grower.

There are 50 shares offered for the 2009 season on a first come, first serve basis. The weekly portion averages, a half bushel, enough for two adults and one child, according to Whalen. Subscribers share the risk of bad weather with the growers. Each week, the food offered by the CSA changes depending on what produce is available.

New this year is a green market at the Walhill Farm in Batesville, owned by Peter Hillenbrand. When subscribers arrive to pick up their boxes of produce at the renovated winery building, they will also have the opportunity to purchase other vegetables, meat and other products not found in the boxes.
“Everyone is welcome to visit the green market,” according to Whalen. Opening day is Tuesday, June 9 and the market will run every Tuesday through October 27 from 5-8 p.m. Whalen noted that there will be artisans and those who sell value added products such as jams, jellies or salsa.

Those who enjoy fresh grains will have the opportunity to purchase fresh grains from a grower in Rushville, and grind the grain before they leave. “There’s nothing that tastes better than homemade bread made from fresh grains,” said Whalen.

Local food growers and producers are invited to set up a booth at the green market. According to the market rules, vendors must sell only locally grown produce with all baked and processed foods approved by the applicable health agencies.

There is a fee charged for set up at the green market. For more information, contact Claire Whalen at 812-933-0181 or Walhill Farm manager, Terry Prickel at 812-934-2600. Information on the Laughery Valley Growers, as well as a link to the FarmFresh CSA, can be found by visiting www.foodandgrowers.org.

“The CSA supplies good food to the community,” said Swango, “and that makes the community stronger.”

ABOVE: Andy Schewe, a CSA grower, works in his gardens on Wind Dance Farm, where he grows many items for the co-op. He uses intensive farming to minimize weeds. BELOW: Mike and son, Paul Swango, of Holton, enjoy farming. They, too, are suppliers for the co-op and believe everyone should benefit from fresh fruits and vegetables.