News and blog
Fall is normally a time in the northern climates when the growing season comes to a close and farmers start planning for the next year, but this is not the case at Blue Yonder Organic Farm, as we have a new addition to the farm team. Steve is a military (US Army 1994-1997) and Persian Gulf War veteran and is returning to BYOF as the farm manager, after working part-time here for the past two years. And he is in no way about to slow down, as he has plans for more chicken coops, specialty crops, among many other projects.
Although I have known Steve for over six months, I had never actually heard the story about how he met Sara and how he wound up at Blue Yonder, so I decided to sit down with them both and listen to the story.
In 2012 Sara left Florida (where she had been living for five years) and purchased her farm in North Salem, planning on turning her 43 acres into a fully functioning organic farm. Soon after her arrival she realized that she needed a tractor and thus headed over to Edwards Equipment in Danville, where she met Steve. He was one of the first people she met after her move to Indiana, and when she explained her wonderful vision of starting a farm that grows fresh, organic produce and also trains veterans in agriculture, Steve fell in love with the idea and he soon became one of the farm’s biggest fans. She didn’t go home with a tractor that day, but instead she made a new friend. Since their first meeting, Steve has been a major supporter of Blue Yonder Organic Farm, working part-time and finally coming on board this fall as a full-time employee.
“I love her vision. I get what she wants to do,” he tells me excitedly. His enthusiasm is both contagious and inspiring.
“Sustainability…providing healthy food for people which is chemical free, [it] is definitely a great thing; our foods have too many hormones and chemicals. I think that the farm has a great mission and I can bring value and skill to that vision. I hope to increase productivity and help with cost cutting measures in order to be more profitable.”
Steve says that he is glad to be at the farm once again, explaining that he finds a sense of peace here, which is what we think farming should be all about: “I’m looking forward to reconnecting with nature; it is incredibly peaceful out here on the farm and I just love it” he tells me with a smile.
He is bringing years of experience, knowledge and skill to Blue Yonder and we’re definitely glad to have him here. In addition to his agricultural know-how, Steve also brings his incredible drive and passion, honed by years of spending time and working at his family’s property in Parke County, where his family owns a timber farm. This is also where Steve learned how to tap Maple trees and learned the age old process of producing maple syrup. The family farm is a member of the Indiana Maple Syrup Producers and his family continues to tap trees every winter and sell the finished product, a delicious dark, and caramelized syrup. It tastes better and has a richer, deeper flavor.
Blue Yonder customers will be in for a treat next year, when Steve will start selling his maple syrup at the farmers market alongside Blue Yonder produce. Steve will of course use the special USDA “Homegrown by Heroes” label which Blue Yonder places on its produce. This label designates his maple syrup as a special agricultural product which is made by military veterans, letting customers know that they are supporting veterans when they choose to purchase these products.
The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing and the air is a bit more crisp and cool. Autumn is a time of both reflection and planning, when the long hot summer is over but winter has not quite gripped us in its cold clutches. Good to see you again Steve, thanks for all you do and welcome back to Blue Yonder.
Would you be more inclined to buy food which had been grown or raised by military veterans?
In July, Blue Yonder Organic Farm received excellent news: the farm had been certified to carry a special USDA product label called “Homegrown by Heroes.” This designation is given to agricultural products grown, raised, or cultivated by military veterans and Blue Yonder is the first farm in Indiana to earn such a label. Homegrown by Heroes is a brand-new USDA certification for agricultural operations owned by veterans (if you would like to learn more, please visit www.hgbh.org).
HGBH requires that veteran farmers have written plans in place to deal with variety of issues, such as sanitation, growing standards, methods to deal with customer grievances, etc. The standards for this certification are high but well worth it in order to show customers that we grow and raise high-quality, nutrient-dense products which are free of hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics. When customers purchase items from Blue Yonder Organic Farm, they are not only supporting local agriculture but also supporting veterans through training, employment, and internships. At the farm veterans can find a calming environment while learning new skills. Veterans are exposed to a variety of agricultural production models, such as growing produce, raising livestock, and learning the basics of farm management.
Additionally, we are tackling another growing issue: the lack of farmers in the US. Currently, the average age of the American farmer is 60, and there are not enough young farmers to replace those who are retiring. If we do not take an active role in our food system, who is going to feed us?
Once again, a big thanks to everyone who has shown their support to us and the farm. Words cannot express our appreciation!
By Alicia Moore and Sara Creech
It’s been a while since we last posted, our sincerest apologies! We promise to post more blog entries during the season! We have still been keeping up on the Facebook page, thanks to the people who drop by the page to look at the photos and say hello.
We are quickly approaching August and time is flying faster than we ever could have imagined. Our days on the farm are awesome, but busy. Livestock chores, meetings, weeds, fencing, broken equipment—it all seems to add up and eats away mercilessly at our work time. We have plenty of people come out to visit the farm to pick berries and buy produce and eggs, and we have had several military veterans come visit us as well, learning a little bit about agriculture and finding a sense of peace. We have started a special photo album on Facebook for the veterans who come visit us, entitled We Love Veterans. But to be honest, we always love visitors who come willing to learn about agriculture and spend some time with us.
One of the most exciting recent events is that we received some funding from a non-profit organization called World Learning. In April, Alicia went to glamorous New York City and gave a presentation on the importance of placing military veterans in agriculture so that we can work on two problems at once: the disgusting rate of veteran suicide (22 per day) and cultivating a new generation of farmers to meet the growing demand for food. Currently, the US does not have enough young farmers to replace those who are retiring; veterans want the job, let’s give them the training and support they need. With this new fellowship funding, we will be able to train ten veterans for one week here on the farm and offer additional employment opportunities afterward.
While not completely done, we are putting together the curriculum of our veterans training program for the late spring/ early summer of 2015. Veterans who participate in the program will receive guest lectures, field trips, educational materials, housing and food. They will be shown a wide variety of agricultural production models, eat good food, and get to bond with other veterans. We have tentatively named this program Battlefields to Farm Fields and we are really excited to have the vets here on the farm next year.
We are still selling every Saturday at the Danville Farmers Market, thanks again to the community who has been supporting us and visiting our booth—we couldn’t do it without you!
Per her fellowship, Alicia writes a monthly blog for World Learning. To read June’s blog, click here: http://blogs.worldlearning.org/now/2014/05/21/battle-buddies/
To read July’s blog, click here: http://blogs.worldlearning.org/now/2014/07/01/adapt-and-overcome/
Spring has finally arrived at the farm! It seems as if we have gone from 0 to 60 in no time at all—there are new babies (lambs, ducks, turkeys, chickens) and plenty of chores to keep us busy. The weather has been a bit tricky this year, and as of today we only have a few items planted in the ground (leeks, garlic, some flowers) because it has been too cold and too wet. We are planning on tilling everything up sometime this week, once the fields dry out just a little bit more. A long, cold winter coupled with a wet, cool spring has made us hold off on planting our starts.
The fields are a beautiful shade of emerald green, nurturing the animals who in turn replenish the fields through their droppings. Nature is perfectly designed to work symbiotically with all living things, giving nourishing life in its many forms. How lucky we are to witness the perfect miracles of nature every single day here at Blue Yonder.
The hens are laying several dozen eggs per day, and they are flying off the shelves! We feel both privileged and honored to be supplying such a simple item to the locals who purchase them. As always, our produce is free of hormones, antibiotics, and all animals have a wonderful life, roaming the pastures during the day and put back into their respective houses at night.
We are working on a special program here at the farm next spring, a program which will train US military veterans in sustainable agriculture. For one week here on the farm, we will train ten veterans in a variety of topics: pastured meats, farm taxes, orchard operations, etc. Veterans will meet other local farmers, ag specialists, professors, etc, and have a nice balance of hands-on field exercises and guest lectures. When they leave our program they will also have a business plan outline and have a better understanding of what type of agricultural enterprise they wish to pursue. They will also have the option to rent some of our land and equipment at a very low price if they are in need of agricultural space and tools. The program is tentatively entitled “Battlefields to Farmfields” and we are already looking forward to our 2015 class!
Several people have contacted us and asked about volunteer days on the farm, how incredibly wonderful! Indeed we have a long list of chores which will only get longer as the season gets going. Hopefully we can get all of the broken fences fixed this year, and get the barns painted, in addition to weeding, harvesting, and all of the other chores we have going on! As this new season gears up, there is a sense of excitement and wonder in the air; our freezing cold winter has finally come to and end and life begins once again. Nature is a powerful reminder that life can and must go on, that there is a season for everything and that in time, it will all work out.
I cannot believe it is almost April already. It surely doesn't feel like it! Spring, where are you!?!?
My name is Alicia and I am a beginning farmer. I am proud of that title, because I have wanted to be a farmer for a while now, and I finally am able to tell folks that "yes, I really am a farmer!" I wear this title proudly like a badge of honor; I will be a beginning farmer for the next decade, and I am completely fine with that.
I work here at Blue Yonder Organic Farm, a happy little place nestled off the back roads in North Salem, Indiana. To be perfectly honest, while I was growing up, I never saw myself as...a farmer. I lived in Paris (the real one, in FRANCE!), traveled around Europe and the US, and never thought I'd be living and working on a farm.
I wound up here through a very weird set of circumstances and happenings. I spent six years in the US Army, and when I got out, my world kind of fell apart. It took me a while to sleep without nightmares, to be able to leave my house, to stop thinking about war. I decided to attend graduate school because I really had nothing else going for me (and it was also paid for by the GI Bill, aka your tax dollars), and I was pretty much at the end of my rope.
I worked on my masters degree in international education in Vermont, and along the way I learned a few things: the average age of the American farmer is 60, and there not enough young farmers to replace them. The US needs one million farmers over the next decade or it could face a food crisis. Hhhrrm. Well, that is interesting. While my degree was not directly related to agriculture, I became very interested in agriculture education in the US (I'll get into that in another post) and I was shocked to learn that we are not graduating enough farmers in this country. Without farmers, who is going to grow YOUR food?
I was living in Detroit in 2013, working and writing my thesis and studying urban agriculture (it's fascinating!) when I received a phone call. On a cold, snowy day I received some very bad news: a friend whom I loved, someone who was struggling with PTSD, someone I knew for a decade, someone who was losing his battle--committed suicide. He was a very good friend to me, he inspired me in life, and in death. Through the grieving process I became very angry, and I realized: there has got to be a better way to help military veterans. I cannot sit idly by and let another vet take his own life, knowing I did nothing to help whatsoever.
Ever since that day I had become determined to help veterans heal their souls through agriculture. By spending time in nature and learning useful agriculture skills, I wanted to show veterans that they can heal after war, that nature is magical, calming, and therapeutic.
By the grace of God, I found a veteran who owned a farm and who needed a farm hand. I met Sara in June of 2013 and joined her farm a few months later, learning as much as I can and trying to just take it all in. We are working on a program to train military veterans to be held at the farm sometime next year, and I am super excited!
But for now, the work remains. Seeds are turned into starts, which are planted in the ground; baby chickens and ducks need to be fed, the barn needs to be cleaned and organized. Sara and I work hard, putting our sweat, hope, and love into the farm, a place which is healing us and which will help to heal other vets as well; I'm looking forward to meeting them already.
I need to confess that Winter is my least favorite season...I know I know, there are lots of wonderful things that you can do now that the busy growing season is over. There is no more weeding, no more fencing, mowing, harvesting...animals chores become minimal, and of course there is the beautiful snow. Every summer as I collapse in to bed after sweating yet another day away, I dream of sipping hot tea by the fire during a crisp winter, while reading the perfect novel. Truth be told, I have yet to do that. Instead, I spend hours planning next years farm...studying the seed catalogs, working on business planning, attending farm conferences. I have already grown restless and am counting down to spring. I can't wait for baby animals- too cute for words! I love the flush of light green peeking out from the trees, the seeds pushing through the soil. Ah...I remind myself that those days will come but right now I need to sit back and soak in the beauty and quiet that winter offers.
Here are some yummy pictures of some recent Lamb and Chicken from our Farm. Thanks to Alicia for sending these for me to drool over :) Winter is the perfect time to try new recipes and hang out in the kitchen.