|By ORA & SHIRLEY CALLAHAN
McCORDSVILLE, Ind. — Mark and Debbie Apple are the third generation to operate the farm and the Apple Family Farm Store in rural Hancock County, Ind.
The Apples believe the future of farming must include an emphasis on the small family farm with natural methods. They realize their neighbors and community should know where their food is produced and be able to reconnect with their neighboring farms.
Mark and Debbie use a natural or organic approach to farming - without the use of chemicals, hormones or antibiotics. On their 235-acre operation, they raise mixed breed chickens, Scottish Highland beef cattle, Cotswold sheep and Belted dairy cattle using only 80 acres. The rest of the farmland is rented out for grain production. Mark’s mother, Jo Apple, owns the farm.
All the animals are fed on pasture and get all the grass and sunshine they need. The sheep, cows and steers never receive any grain.
All the chickens are range fed to ensure healthier, better tasting meat and eggs.
Most of their animals are rare breeds that are not suited to high-production farming, but they fit well with their philosophy of a smaller family farm.
“It’s my heart’s desire to educate the community on the natural type of farming for better health,” Jo Apple said.
The customers who come to the farm enjoy seeing how their products are raised.
The Apples are encouraged to hear the satisfied customers tell them how much they appreciate being able to buy the healthier and delicious foods. They service more than 150 customers who come from the local community and from distances of 100 miles or more, including Ohio and Illinois, to buy unique farm products.
“One of our main goals is to be together as a family and be able to grow the farm so our children will have a thriving farm and home to inherit,” Mark explained.
Originally Debbie used the wool of the sheep to spin her own yarn and weave. Soon, she will have enough wool to sell the skeins of spun yarn. She also teaches spinning and weaving, as well as nutrition and healthy cooking four times a year at Traders’ Point Farm Market on the west side of Indianapolis.
The Apples first started using raw milk for their own use. Then other families began requesting this unique product. After a few months, the Indiana Board of Animal Health began investigating their operation and issued a cease-and-desist order in 2000.
Mark and Debbie met with their county extension agent to help them understand the laws in Indiana.
Debbie soon formulated the structure of Indiana Cow Shareholders as a cooperative to provide the raw milk the customers desired.
The members buy one or more shares of a cow for a $50 annual fee with an additional boarding fee. They pick up their milk when they need it.
Presently, 150 shareholders own shares and receive gallons of milk based on how many shares they own.
Another 50 families are on a waiting list for spring, when more cows will come into production.
The dairy cows are milked once a day, and their diet consists of grasses and minerals, including seaweed kelp. The meat and milk from these animals is high in Omega 3 healthy fatty acids.
Customers say the taste is superior, and the nutritional values are prized.
How they met
Debbie was a resident of Toronto, Canada, when a friend asked her to go with her to a Michael W. Smith concert in Vancouver. After the concert Debbie and her friend started talking with Mark, who was a member of Smith’s ministry team from Nashville, Tenn., selling their musical items.
Debbie never expected to see him again, but was pleasantly surprised when she received a phone call from him. They began a long-distance relationship, which ended two years later in marriage.
Debbie made the move to Nashville, and they both worked in marketing and promotion of several musical concert ministries.
Debbie enjoyed farming, and she soon bought cattle, sheep and chickens and did all the actual work with their animals. Mark had grown up on the farm where they now live, and he had no desire to farm again.
Debbie’s vision from the beginning was to feed her neighbors. In 1999 when Mark’s father, James Apple, died, they agreed to return to the farm in Hancock County and help his mother. They brought the animals with them and soon expanded in every area of their farming operation, and also found ways to provide other natural food choices.
Mark and Debbie have two children, Brayden, 14, and Rhayna, 8. They are homeschooled and enjoy their farm tasks. Brayden has been helping to manage the farm since he was 10 and is preparing to assume the farm operation when he is old enough.
Sean Feavel is an intern on the farm. He had heard Debbie speak at a meeting and wrote her a letter asking if there would be a possibility of him serving as an intern with them.
His offer was accepted, and they have welcomed him into their home and farm business.
Feavel said he is grateful to have this opportunity to work and learn about natural farming operations.
Every Saturday morning, the Apple family travels to the Trader’s Point Farmers Market to sell their farm products. That market is thriving with approximately 200 farmers there every week. On their return trip, they bring back other products to sell, including the label of Swiss Connection’s cheese, butter, chocolate milk, yogurt, pepperoni, honey and maple syrup.
The family also encourages any other farmers with natural eggs or other food items to contact them about selling their foods. The demand is much higher than the Apples can provide alone.
The Apple Family Farm Store is open during daylight hours Monday through Friday. The store is at 3365 W., State Road 234 in McCordsville. For more on their store, call 317-335-3067 or visit their website at www.applefamilyfarm.com
Published in the December 21, 2005 issue of Farm World.