DALEVILLE – It’s really, really green. Cabbages, broccoli, radishes, kale, spinach, beets seem to be just bursting at the seams.
It’s a quarter-acre of land just brimming with growing things, and they’re growing without benefit of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. It’s the sustainable agriculture work of the O’Donnell family and Pinehurst Farm.
“I’m passionate about it,” said Michael O’Donnell, wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat that keeps the sun off. “I love learning about agriculture.”
It’s a family affair. Michael, 31, and Sara, 32, along with their children Owen, 10, and Aidan, 7, are the brains, the heart, and the labor behind the endeavor known as Pinehurst Farm. They raise their produce organically, first for their own consumption, and then to bring to market.
The garden is laid out neatly but densely, and it’s chock full of growing vegetables. The O’Donnells use all organic methods.
“It’s a lot of handwork,” said Sara. She glances at the hoses running along the raised beds. “We’re forever grateful for the drip irrigation.”
In addition to the garden, the family keeps about a hundred laying hens, and they raise batches of 50 meat birds in 8- to 12-week cycles. All the birds are pastured in moveable pens or yards with room to roam. They are fed grains that have no GMOs – meaning the food has not been genetically modified, engineered and altered.
The family makes a weekly trip to the Pendleton Farmers Market where they sell their farm fresh vegetables and eggs. They also supply a small grocery stand in Muncie. They are enjoying the reaction to the very fresh, organic food they deliver.
“We’ve always gotten really great responses back,” said Sara. She said people like the freshness. ““They notice the difference... They like the way it tastes.”
Work in progress
Pinehurst Farm is located on a Daleville Hoosier Homestead Farm first established in 1841, owned by Sara’s parents, Mike and Beth Reed. Although Sara grew up there when her parents were managing a dairy farm, the eighth-generation farm operation she’s currently involved is a new adventure.
Sara moved back to the farm with the entire O’Donnell clan in the fall of 2011 where they now live in an adjacent building with an apartment on the property. The entire family has a hand in the farm.
“I work on it all day,” said Sara. “The boys and I are outside…. They get right in there.” She noted they especially like the chickens, and they raise bunnies. They help with weeding and watering. Michael does all of his farmwork on his off-hours from his full-time job as a Purdue University Extension educator in Delaware County specializing in agriculture and natural resources.
The O’Donnells’ return to the family farm and their deep commitment to sustainable agriculture was actually inspired in Texas. It was in Austin, Texas, where Michael was pursuing his doctorate degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas where the bug bit.
“My research was in biofuels,” said Michael. He started working for an organic Community Supported Agriculture farm. With that, a passion was born, and Michael’s course immediately veered into sustainable agriculture.
“I think a lot of people our age, if they find a way to get connected… it just ignites something in you,” said Michael. That spark led the family back to Indiana, first to Montgomery County, where Michael worked at a livestock and grain operation using sustainable practices. In 2011, they made the move to the family farm to launch their own small- scale operation.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Michael.
While their first priority is feeding themselves, the plan right now is to be able to feed a small amount of people who are likeminded – that means people who are looking for wholesome, fresh foods that are grown with sustainable practices. Community is an important part of the motivation.
On a recent evening, the whole family’s on the outside porch. Grandpa Mike is breaking asparagus. Beth is doing needlework. The table holds a tempting array of snacks including fresh peas, strawberries, lettuces, radishes, crackers and jalapeno jelly. The bright colors alone are irresistible, but the fresh taste seals the deal. As Sara and Michael look on, Owen and Aidan load up their dishes with strawberries.
“To me, it’s deciding to make a life in one given place and trying to improve it,” said Michael. It’s a way of life that seems to agree with everyone.
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If you go What: Pinehurst Farm organic (non-certified) produce, eggs, chickens Where: 6690 S. 700 W, Daleville, also at Pendleton Farmers Market More info: Look for Pinehurst Farm on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org