ANDERSON — Step inside. The air is warm and humid. A puff of mist gently wafts over you. Green, growing things stretch out before you in long rows. Winter may be encroaching on Indiana’s fields, but Aspire’s Harvestland Farm remains in the growing groove right here in Madison County.
“All of our hoop houses are pretty much filled to the max,” said farm manager David Robb. Harvestland has almost 20,000 square feet in a half dozen hoop houses, all but one of which are heated. They are kept at 40 degrees throughout the winter. “There’s a wide variety of crops that do well.”
Everything from lettuce, dandelions, radishes, arugula, spinach, kale, radishes, celery, a raft of herbs and plenty more green things are busily pushing their way skyward, planted in the ground under the plastic-tarped structures.
“Our best money comes from selling off-season,” said Robb, noting the desirability of fresh local produce in the middle of winter. On top of that, Harvestland’s product is grown naturally and chemical-free. The produce goes to markets, restaurants, farmers markets and co-ops in Indiana. It’s also available for purchase at the Farm Stand on site at Harvestland.
The farm also has eight drop sites for Community Supported Agriculture members, who number over a hundred.
Harvestland isn’t just about growing produce, however. The other big part of its mission is employment and training for persons with disabilities. Aspire’s Barbara Scott launched the program six years ago in the city of Anderson.
“She had a real passion for growing good food and providing employment for people with disabilities,” said Robb. He has overseen farm operations at the current location on Indiana 32 west of Anderson for about five years.
“We’re a training ground,” said Robb. “There’s a lot of support here. They work in crews. They can have their questions answered.” He also pointed out, “If they’re employed here, they know how to work. This is hard work.”
Harvestland has a staff of 13 part-time workers, and one other full-time worker besides Robb. Most of the workforce are individuals with disabilities.
Although the hoop houses are in full swing, crews are still wrapping things up in the field. Harvestland typically has 12 to 14 acres under production during the growing season.
“We are trying to get the last of our field stuff in,” said Robb. Other end-of- season work includes pulling irrigation drip lines and planting cover crops.
Monday, workers were in their fourth week of harvesting 2,000 row feet of Brussels sprouts. Before that, it was cabbage and broccoli.
The crew rolled in from the field, then carried the harvest into one of the hoop houses. Bill Amsden, Joe Huff, Howard Stanger, Michael Farley, Wes Martin, Alexis Hulett and Josh Kirtley started piling it all up on tables as they brought it in from the van.
“That’s a lot of Brussels sprouts,” said crew member Hulett, marveling at the mountains on the table.
The next task was to pluck sprouts from the stalks. No doubt those fresh, local sprouts will be among the offerings at some lucky Thanksgiving get-togethers.
In another nearby hoop house, Bailey Hunt loaded up a cartridge with radish seeds.
“Cherriettes. They’re all red,” noted Hunt. She attached the cartridge to a two-wheeled seeder, then pushed it along the earth.
Robb observed, “Then, it’s just patience. Waiting.”
Check things out at the Farm Stand to see what fresh vegetables are available. Right now, you’ll no doubt spot recent harvests like the Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, or turnips. You’ll also find fresh eggs from GMO-free chickens on an Amish Hagerstown farm. Other local items like honey, sauces and condiments are on the shelves as well.
Visit the Aspire Indiana Harvestland Farm page on Facebook for the latest.
Like Nancy Elliott on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ NancyElliott_HB, or call 640-4805.
If you go What: Harvestland Farm Stand Where: 6775 Ind. 32, between Anderson and Lapel When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week More info: The Farm Stand offers fresh chemical-free produce, fresh eggs, and some other local items like honey for sale, cash only. Check out Aspire Indiana Harvestland Farm on Facebook or visit their website at www.yourmarketgarden.org.