Vallonia farm stand opens kitchen

VALLONIA — John Voelker and Laura White recently opened a commercial kitchen at their Driftwood Trading Post farm stand at the old gas station on State Road 135 in Vallonia.

When the kitchen opened in January, the couple served evening meals to mostly friends, but now, they’d like for the public to know they are open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for lunch and 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

“We’ve had the Driftwood Trading Post for three years now where Laura and I have been operating a farm stand,” Voelker said. “Last fall, we got a license for a commercial kitchen, which we started up at the first of the year.”

He said the post used to be a garage when he was a kid, and the oil pit from the garage is located under a magazine rack now.

“In 1988, someone bought this place and made it into Vallonia Gas and Grocery, and there was a tiny commercial kitchen, so that gave me the idea to expand into a larger commercial kitchen,” Voelker said.

White said the commercial kitchen came about as a way to market the foods they grow.

“Some of our menu items in the restaurant are pizza, pork burgers and barbecue pulled pork sandwiches,” White said. “All of the pizza dough and sandwich buns are made from scratch with organic flour.”

She said their pizza sauce, pepperoni, sausage, ham and bacon are all made by them, and the pigs are raised free range at their farm near Vallonia.

“Laura and I were doing the Bloomington Farmers Market and doing wholesale with Bloomingfoods and places like that because they were certified organic,” Voelker said. “But it got to the point where we can’t compete with wholesale places and the prices have gone down since the 1990s, even the organic produce.”

He said if there were other farmers around there, they would carry their produce, but unfortunately, bigger stores have taken over, so Voelker and White have had to be creative to find a market for what they grow and raise.

“We’ve just started harvesting potatoes, and so now, instead of paying one or two dollars a pound, we’re buying our own produce for our restaurant,” Voelker said. “We have our own produce, so we actually have a market for everything now, and it’s really intensified how much we care about what we grow.”

He said instead of growing a lot of one thing, such as watermelons, they now try to grow a little bit of everything.

“Vallonia has been famous for watermelons for hundreds of years, and when I was a kid, I grew up not too far from Tiemeyer’s Farm Market,” Voelker said. “There were probably 50 farm stands in Vallonia in the 1970s and 1980s, selling sweet corn, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, cabbages, and now, there are just a handful of markets left trying to hang on.”

Voelker and White’s pigs are free range, and they get corn from Hackman Family Farm Market to supplement, but there aren’t any antibiotics used on them, and the pigs live in a pretty natural environment, he said.

“I bought my first sprayer when I was 14 and was growing watermelons, and I used chemicals back then and was involved in a couple of chemical accidents and started to question that,” Voelker said. “Then I moved to California and started growing produce organically out there, and now, I’ve been back in Jackson County for 10 years.”

Voelker and White sell frozen pork products, eggs from free-range chickens and organic produce in season. They also have bait, ice and firewood available for purchase.

“Right now, I think we grow more carrots than anybody in southern Indiana, and that was our main crop to take to Bloomington,” Voelker said. “Later on, we’ll have watermelon, tomatoes, sweet corn, but the produce season is just getting started.”

Cindy Barnard of Brownstown, a veteran of 22 years, is their sole employee. White said she is extremely reliable and is really into learning what they do.

“She’s really smart, and we are teaching her how to grow produce,” White said.

Voelker said it’s hard to find good employees, but Barnard is a good one.

“I’m going to have our business grow as we find more people who are committed and actually be partners,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in northern California and I’m into a co-operative, like Bloomingfoods Co-op Market in Bloomington, and the goal is to have something like that here.”

Business has been slow but steady, and they have a lot of regular customers, but many people don’t know their kitchen is open since they haven’t gotten around to fixing up the outside of the building yet.

“Currently, we have two tables in the dining area, and it has been kind of fun for us to come in and make pizzas after we’ve been outside working all day,” Voelker said. “I guess you could say we’re into slow food, not fast food.”