By DEBORAH BEHRENDS
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — “Heroes in the Heartland” is the theme of the 2019 Indiana State Fair, and alongside first responders, military service men and women, and educators, the fair is presenting 17 Featured Farmers.
Visitors can attend a live chat with a Featured Farmer at 2:30 p.m. each day of the fair in the Glass Barn. "Our Featured Farmers program introduces fairgoers to Hoosier farmers each day during the fair, with opportunities to learn more about where their food comes from," said Cindy Hoye, executive director of the Indiana State Fair Commission.
"These farmers have incredible stories to tell. On average, an American farmer feeds more than 165 people – that's up from 25 people in the 1960s. American agriculture is doing more, and doing it better."
Some of those farmers, such as Christian Huber of Huber's Orchard and Winery, have never known any other life. He is the seventh generation of Hubers to farm the land since their ancestor, Simon Huber, arrived from Baden-Baden, Germany, and settled in Clark County in 1843.
"When you work in a family business, you live, eat, and breathe it. You worry about it even when you're away from the business," Huber said. "A farmer has the ultimate passion and care, not only for his farm, but the people he feeds. This is one of the most rewarding industries you can work in.
"We're celebrating our 175th anniversary this year, but we're still learning each year things that will help us sustain our soil for another 175 years, to keep our soils clean and continue to produce a great-quality product."
As it has evolved, Huber's has become an agritourism destination in southern Indiana, and he said the business sees more than 700,000 visitors each year. The family will be featured on the first day of the fair, August 2.
Jill Houin echoed the sentiment about the passion farmers have for their work. "Farming is not just a job, it's a lifestyle," she said.
Originally from New Jersey, she said she had never set foot on a farm until she married her husband, Brian, a fourth-generation dairy farmer at Homestead Dairy in Marshall County. When she moved to the farm, she experienced culture shock, but "I learned to love it … after a while."
The home dairy was established in 1945 by Elmer and Lena Houin with just nine cows. In 1979, sons Dan and Floyd transformed that herd into a 110-head firm they named Homestead Dairy.
Brian and Matt joined the family business in 2003 and 2009, respectively, after graduating from Purdue University. Today, they milk about 4,900 cows on three different farms.
Houin said the whole family will attend the fair on the day their farm is featured, and talk about how they keep their cows healthy and happy to make a nutritious product.
"I'm always amazed that so many different dairies can do things so many different ways but still produce such a perfect product," she said. Homestead Dairy and the Houin family will be featured on August 10.
Jeff Martin of Triple B Tilapia in Jasper County has a lot to talk about on August 9. With several career changes behind him – in education, construction, and power sports – he said he loves to teach about his product.
"Tilapia has gotten a bad rep because so much of it comes from China. People want to know where their food comes from, and I'm happy to show them," Martin said.
He chose to raise fish in the middle of the heartland because he said it's the third-most consumed fish behind trout and salmon. With a year's worth of study before he started the business, and the mentorship of others, he's learned a lot to be able to provide the best-quality fish. The next step in his business journey is state licensing to open a processing facility for the fish he raises.
"There are no processing facilities in Indiana," Martin explained. "We want to process our own fish and to offer the service for other farms."
While many of the farms featured are ramping up production, Russell Veggies in Floyd County is slowing down. According to Val Russell, they started growing and selling vegetables after she took a Master Gardener course and her husband retired from the railroad.
They were instrumental in establishing and running the New Albany farmers’ market for 11 years. This year, she said, they plan to sell produce only from their own roadside stand.
"It kind of got too big for us," Russell said, adding it has become more difficult to find people to work on Friday nights to harvest and then work at the market on Saturdays, and other involved family members decided they were ready to retire from the business.
"It was just too much for us,” she added. Russell Veggies will be the featured farm on August 3.
The other 13 farmers and the dates they will be featured are:
•August 4: Rodibaugh family – Rodibaugh Show Pigs (for soybeans and pork), Jasper County
•August 5: Mark Smith – Mark Smith Farms (llamas), Montgomery County
•August 6: Sean Smith – Culver Duck, Elkhart County
•August 7: Gelfius family – Gelfius Farms (tomatoes and pork), Bartholomew County
•August 8: Arnholt family – Arnholt Farms (corn and green beans), Bartholomew County
•August 11: Lamb family – Lamb Farms (popcorn), Boone County
•August 12: Sommer family – Sommer Farms (corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and dairy cows), Adams County
•August 13: Sam & Darren Schwoeppe – Schwoeppe Dairy Farm, Dubois County
•August 14: Glenn Morris (beef, corn, and soybeans), Gibson County
•August 15: Emily and Cory Studebaker (poultry), Whitley County
•August 16: Smith Family – Smith Family Farms (beef and pumpkins), Madison County
•August 17: Cline family – Cline Farms (corn, soybeans, and pork), Tipton County
•August 18: Kevin Bohman – Bohman Bee Co. (honey), Jefferson County
In an email, Sharon Smith, director of communications for the Indiana State Fair Commission, explained how the farmers are chosen.
"The Indiana State Fair Featured Farmers vetting process begins with us requesting nominations from commodity groups and other ag partners, Indiana Farm Bureau and the Indiana State Fair board. We then narrow the list by considering the farmers’ commodity or commodities, geographic location, et cetera.
“We then check with the Board of Animal Health and Indiana Department of Environmental Management to make sure that there have been no reported issues with these farm operations. Finally, we contact each of the nominated farmers to see if they are willing to participate in the program, and confirm that they are available to attend the fair and participate in a Featured Farmer chat at the Glass Barn."
The program is sponsored by Corteva Agriscience.
"At Corteva Agriscience, we are committed to enhancing lives and helping farmers succeed," said Ben Kaehler, Commercial Unit leader, Eastern Corn Belt, in a statement. "We are pleased for the fifth year to be the sponsor of the Featured Farmer program at the Indiana State Fair, which is a perfect place for fairgoers who are consumers to meet farmers who spend their days working to feed all of us."
For more information about the fair, visit www.indianastatefair.com