Sustainable farms offering more for local consumers


It may be a little hard to believe, but area farmers markets will open soon, and farmers already are preparing to reconnect with customers.

One group that has had an impact on the Seymour Area Farmers Market in recent years are producers who consider themselves sustainable farmers.

Sustainable farms are those that focus on chemical-free production; use practices that have a smaller impact on the environment; and work to build community.

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“It’s not like we’re perfect, but we all are focused on caring for the land, caring for the community and having viable businesses,” said Liz Brownlee, who operates Nightfall Farm in the Crothersville area with husband, Nate.

The Brownlees and a group of sustainable farmers that recently gathered to talk about their efforts said they want consumers to know they can make every meal from products offered at the Seymour Area Farmers Market.

“They have a lot of options to buy sustainable local food in the Jackson County area,” Brownlee said. “You can get almost everything you can make a meal with.”

She said multiple kinds of meat, fish, milk, cheese, butter, fruits, grains, popcorn, honey and more can be purchased from local farmers.

Tricia Bowers, who operates Plumer and Bowers Farmstead in Seymour, said the market is all she needs for her groceries.

“You have to plan ahead, but you can get everything you need at the farmers market,” she said.

Bowers operates a farm that produces meat, eggs, popcorn and whole wheat flour.

The Bowers still are transitioning to sustainable practices and still have some acreage that is farmed conventionally. Many acres, however, have been converted to sustainable practices since 2010.

“Each year, we convert more,” she said.

The Bowers and Brownlees, along with Jon Claycamp from Lot Hill Dairy Farm, Mike Searcy from White Creek Farms of Indiana and Julie Hoene from Julie’s Farm Fresh, all sat down recently to discuss sustainable farming, farmers markets and other farm-related issues.

The group, for instance, does not use genetically modified organisms in their crops and don’t feed their livestock or animals GMOs. Many across the country are concerned with GMOs, contending they’re unnatural and the use has not had enough studying.

But GMO products have taken a majority over of the markets in recent years.

“When you take stuff to market now, you have to tell them it’s non-GMO because they assume it is,” said Claycamp, who is a dairy farmer that does not feed his cows GMO grains.

Liz Brownlee said she and Nate believe it’s best to avoid GMOs because they feel it is better for their land, their animals and community.

And there’s another reason.

“The customers are demanding it,” she said. “That’s the number one question we get.”

Butch Plumer, who operates a farm with his daughter, Tricia Plumer, said he stopped using GMO crops years ago because he was not satisfied with the yield and what it left behind.

“I didn’t like the field corn because the stalks were so hard,” he said. The stalks were so hard they would puncture tires on combines the years they used GMOs, he said.

“We think the corn itself is hard for the cows to digest.”

Since the local farms have set goals for sustainability, that means they’re tasked with educating customers and potential customers about their products.

Some customers are more experienced, while others need to know more about the food.

“One customer may know how to prepare a whole chicken, but they next may not have been to a farmers market before,” Liz Brownlee said. “You have to help them think about their food and give them a boost. It’s great being able to educate people on what we offer.”

Sometimes customers are looking for different things, so farmers need to be prepared to switch to different topics quickly.

“We get a lot of customers that are interested for different reasons,” Nate Brownlee said. “One might be concerned with the environment, the next wants to know about the health benefits and then another one is interested in small business.”

The group is looking forward to this year’s farmers market, which is set to open next month. This will be the third year under a new format, where consistent hours and multiple vendors are available.

They predict the market will continue to grow because farmers will have an expanded, consistent customer base and the customers will see an expanded supply of offerings and continue to support the market.

“I think people like having a relationship with the people they buy their food from,” Hoene said.

Claycamp said the market offers people an opportunity to get out and enjoy better weather.

“If you’re out doing something and socializing and being able to just be out, then you feel better and that’s something that will help continue to make the market successful and grow,” Claycamp said.

Searcy said the farmers market can help improve the quality of life for communities because they can help people make better choices about the foods they eat.

“We need to get people into better habits,” Searcy said. “The farmer’s market is key to that.”

Liz Brownlee said consumers in Jackson County have a choice each day to support all local farmers for locally grown food and the support helps keep dollars local.

“The money stays here, so it’s not only good for our values, but it builds up our community and creates connection at the same time,” she said. “People have a lot of power because we vote with our forks three times a day and people can vote for Jackson County.”

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