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Sisters working to bring local artisans together in small Indiana community
By SUSAN BLOWER
Indiana Correspondent

CARTHAGE, Ind. — Some saw an old abandoned lumber and hardware store, but one of Carthage’s oldest farm families envisioned something entirely new. Community Harvest Market Place is an artisan center utilizing the local talents of herb and produce farmers, basket weavers, bakers, painters and musicians, among others.

CHaMPs, for short, is housed in a 1908 lumber mill and general farm store, which eventually became a hardware store. It is ideally situated next to a working railroad between Carthage and nearby Knightstown, Ind., two small towns 35 minutes east of Indianapolis, accessible by Interstate 70.

Building on the old, the merchandise is handcrafted and reminiscent of a bygone era.

What isn’t old is the idea.

First hatched between two sisters a few years ago, the center opened in May, appropriately with a community open house. Unlike most new businesses, CHaMPs does not want to compete with other local merchants.

“We’re not coming to rock the boat. We’re coming to get in the boat,” said Jenny Kimberly, CHaMPs owner.

Kimberly said the family is working closely with the railroad owner and other local vendors to augment their business, not replace it. That unselfishness and the desire to be a platform for the community’s artists make CHaMPs different.

“Our merchandise ranges from $1 ceramics to $110 silk skirts. It runs the gamut in uniqueness and reflects the uniqueness of the community,” Kimberly said.

Also on the agenda are dances with local bands, oral history, classes in horticulture and arts, and train rides from Knightstown, known for its antique shops.

Finding her passion
Kimberly is excited to return to her roots after living in Chicago and working as an anesthetist. She plans to use her new degree in fashion design to create new fabrics and designs to sell at the center.

“The career in anesthesia I’ve always had, but it’s never been a passion. When I went to design school, I found out what passion meant. We want to give the community the opportunity to nurture their gifts and find out about some they didn’t know they had by taking (art) classes,” Kimberly said.

Her plan is to “keep her day job” to pay bills while living in an art studio above the old mill, which also houses antique table saws and a lathe. She plans to work part-time in the area.

The goal is, of course, to become self-sufficient as a business, said Kimberly’s sister, Anna Marie Welch, whose farm, Agape LLC, is partnering with CHaMPs.

She said the coffee shop and Amish baked goods will be a big draw, while the art for sale and artisan classes will likely be “labors of love.” The coffee is flown in from around the world and is ground at CHaMPs to make a variety of aromatic lattes. The proceeds, funneled through a church in Muncie, Ind., will benefit missions and ministry, Welch said.

Mint-scented soaps, sunflowers painted on an old window, beaded jewelry, carved wooden trains, quilted flags, and Amish baked breads are examples of products locally produced and for sale at the market place. How did such a network happen?

“It’s God,” Welch said, smiling but serious. “He’s blessed us as a family. There’s no other explanation for it.

“This is a lifetime development, a life’s journey that my parents started. My parents are both from farm families. It’s such a blessing that my dad has 80 years of farm knowledge and techniques that he is sharing with me. It’s a science,” Welch said.

A family affair
Her parents, Marc and Evelyn Ellis, are helping with the project. Marc runs the lathe, making cedar vases and mini baseball bats. Evelyn stops by and helps Welch. Their farm is adjacent to the Welch log cabin, which was built by the family, except for the roof.

“We don’t take on small projects, but we love it,” laughed Welch.

Her mother agreed that the projects are big.

“They’re the ones with the vision - and the energy - for it. It overwhelms me,” Evelyn said.

Welch hopes this change in lifestyle will enhance her overly busy corporate life.

With her father’s help, Welch, a technical writer for a Muncie business, is digging deep into the earth.

At her and husband Keith’s 15-acre farm, purchased from the family farm, she is growing a circular labyrinth design from the 1800s with 12 organic gardens, just four miles from CHaMPs.

Her barley, flax seed, ornamental squash, rosemary, and other herbs and produce will serve a variety of purposes at the market place.

In her garden last week, Welch gathered Job’s tears, a kind of seed, for a beaded jewelry maker at CHaMPs. She pointed with pride to her blue-flowering flax and spoke of the savings when she can harvest her own flax seed oil instead of spending $10-15 a month on the bottled vitamins.

Her broom corn will be used to make brooms and her heirloom seed produce sold in their farmers’ market. With seven pounds of a wildflower mix planted, meant to draw butterflies and hummingbirds, the labyrinth will be a colorful place in a month or two.

“I want this to be a healing garden, for people to come here and find peace and reconnect with nature,” Welch said. “Eventually, we want to offer health and nutrition classes.”

More than for a few tomatoes or freshly ground grains, Welch hopes that families will come for an experience. She said the proximity of Indianapolis, with plenty of marketing, should help bring in urban people who are looking for family fun.

“Our goal is to develop a regional (customer base). We are still in the process of cleanup and landscaping and will be adding things throughout the summer. Our full coffee shop will be coming in early fall, when we will also begin classes with artisans, such as horticulture, painting, learning the lathe, etc.,” Welch said.

“We want families to come in and make a birdhouse together or paint a gourd.”

Kimberly added that she hopes the center helps to connect people to the Creator as they develop their own creative talents.

“We are nurturing the creative. Whether a person’s talent is as a grower, singer, painter, we are nurturing a community of gifts,” Kimberly said. “The arts is an untapped resource for finding a relationship with God, the Creator.”

It’s also an untapped resource for finding out about your neighbors.

“When we hosted a community open house, it was wonderful to see people finding out something about their neighbors. They were saying, ‘Oh, you can make this?’” Kimberly said.

CHaMPs is open Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will also be open when the train is scheduled to run. For more information, visit www.coharvestmart.com

This farm news was published in the June 21, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

6/21/2006