Agriculture in Indiana

Tell us what you know about community {A Letter}


Indianapolis Star Columnist Erika Smith recently wrote about the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood of Indy.  She told the story of Justin Moore, a resident of the area whose grandfather was the agricultural director for Flanner House in the mid-20th century.  Inspired by his grandfather, Moore and his family are trying to educate their inner-city neighborhood about self-sufficiency.

Smith described their mission this way:

“We’re talking about teaching people how to grow their own food, how to can it, how to cook it. How to sew so that people can make and repair their own clothing. How to renovate their own homes, repair their own appliances and build their own raingardens. And most of all, how to reconnect with their neighbors and rebuild the social cohesion that has been lost over time.”

The Moores want to create community.  And they realize that two of community’s building blocks are ingenuity and productivity.

"Meal Time" by Brunette

“Meal Time” by Brunette

“We have just become consumers,” Joyce, Moore’s mom, says in the article.  “We forgot how to do for ourselves.  And it’s important people know that.”

Do you hear what the Moores are say, my friends in ag?  They recognize their lifestyle is one of consumption, and they want to engage in the processes involved with production.

I know you are acutely aware of the gap between producers and consumers.  You encounter it every day when you turn on the news, visit social media sites and talk to those outside your rural communities.  I know you often hear hurtful and false things about your practices, farms and way of life. 

If you read my bio, you know I’m not a farmer.  I didn’t know the difference between a Holstein and Jersey cow until I got to college.  But I know enough about agriculture to see an opportunity for you.

You hold important knowledge about what makes communities.  You understand the need to invest yourself in a single place for the long-haul, make wise use of your resources and act with integrity in everything.  I’m not the only one who recognizes this.  Smith described it this way:

To many older people, and perhaps those who grew up or still live in Central Indiana’s rural communities, all of this may sound like a no-brainer. Of course, you have gardens. Of course, you can food for the winter. Of course, you learn how to repair a leak in your roof. Of course, you depend on your neighbors for help.

I’d add an important item to Smith’s list.  You know that community doesn’t happen— it’s made.  It’s made by offering your garden’s bounty to those nearby.  It’s made by sharing a tractor with your neighbor, and helping him repair his truck.  It’s made by inviting people into your home for a meal.  It’s made by serving at your church, volunteering with PTA, and showing up at

"Raking Hay" by Seest

“Raking Hay” by Seest

the town meetings.

You also know that anything worth making takes hard work.  I remember sitting in an ag econ class at Purdue and being shocked hearing the stories of my fellow classmates putting in 80, 90, and 100 hour weeks during planting and harvest.  Your work ethic is the quiet force behind your communities.

So I have a question for you.  Will you engage in this conversation about what makes community?  I think we’re ready to learn from you.  You know consumers are concerned about some of you practices, and it might take people time to trust you.  So be patient as people quiet the buzz of the media and learn to listen to you, not just listen to what’s said about you.

And I think there’s an opportunity for you to learn too.  The Moores are making themselves vulnerable as they figure out how to make the place where they live better.  That vulnerability in seeking out solutions to problems sets a model for anyone to follow.  I know that you bear the burden of producing a lot of food to feed a lot of people; I don’t envy you.  But I challenge you not to bear the burden alone.  Make yourself open to learning new ideas and having conversations with unconventional allies. 

I believe the future of agriculture is bright in the United States because of the men and women like you.  Share the wisdom you have with burgeoning leaders, and be ready to listen to their good ideas too.

Thanks for reading,


Categories: Agriculture in Indiana, Farming in the 21st Century | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Facts & Figures of Indiana Ag

October is National Farm To School Month.  Check back every Monday of the month for a post about how to incorporate agricultural themes into the classroom.

Agriculture is an important aspect of Indiana’s cultural and economic identity.  As we talk to students about farming and agribusiness, we need to make sure we’re not merely talking about the science of the industry, but the social contribution of agriculture to our communities and state.

Below is a fact sheet about the agriculture in Indiana.  As you read through the handout, remember that each fact and number represents families, farms and agribusiness throughout Indiana.

Indiana Agriculture

Fact Sheet by Indiana State Department of Agriculture

Categories: Agriculture in Indiana, Farming in the 21st Century | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

4 links about farm safety

Although National Farm Safety Week may be officially over, I’ve been seeing articles, posts, tweets and pins about farm safety all over the Internet.  In 2012, more than 300 deaths were attributed to livestock and crop related accidents.  Farm safety is a topic to learn more about, and here are four items to look over during the weekend if you have an opportunity.

Have a great weekend, and stay safe!


Categories: Agriculture in Indiana, Farming in the 21st Century | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Happy autumn!


By: James Whitcomb Riley

Photo by: Cline | Tipton, Ind.

Photo by: Cline | Tipton, Ind.

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,

And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,

And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,

And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;

O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,

With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,

As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

Photo by: Cline | Tipton, Ind.

Photo by: Cline | Tipton, Ind.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere

When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here–

Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,

And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;

But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze

Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days

Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock–

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.


Photo by: Springstun| Warrick County, Ind.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,

And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;

The stubble in the furries–kindo’ lonesome-like, but still

A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;

The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;

The hosses in theyr stalls below–the clover over-head!–

O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Photo by: Springstun | Warrick County, Ind.

Photo by: Springstun | Warrick County, Ind.

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps

Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;

And your cider-makin’ ‘s over, and your wimmern-folks is through

With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! …

I don’t know how to tell it–but ef sich a thing could be

As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me–

I’d want to ‘commodate ’em–all the whole-indurin’ flock–

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Photo by: Cline | Tipton, Ind.

Photo by: Cline | Tipton, Ind.

We’re excited to share this post AgChat’s “Harvest” Pinterest Board.

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Harvest is approaching…

The following is an excerpt from “A Friend to the Farmer,” the latest installment of ISDA In-Depth.  To read the complete article, click here.

Photo by: Rothwell

Photo by: Rothwell

Harvest time is quickly approaching as rows of corn and soybeans are slowly drying out across Indiana. Over the next few months, farmers will harvest their crops and haul them to local grain elevators to sell their 2013 bounty.

But like any area of commerce, things can go wrong in Indiana’s grain industry.  Grain may not be accurately weighed going in and out of the elevator, creating a discrepancy between what farmers sell and what they get paid. Or, farmers may sell their grain to an elevator, and the promise of payment may go unfilled.

Since the early 1970s, the Indiana Grain Buyers and Warehouse Licensing Agency (IGBWLA) has worked to ensure that farmers are protected in the grain industry while creating an environment for the industry to be competitive, innovative and efficient. IGBWLA accomplishes  this mission through issuing licenses to grain firms and auditing the licensed firms to ensure integrity and consistency in their business practices.

To read the rest of the article and hear from IGBWLA Director Jerome Hawkins, click here. For more information on IGBWLA, visit ISDA’s website.

Categories: Agriculture in Indiana, From the Field to Your Fork | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Talking with an Indiana Farmer | Part 1

Kip Tom

Kip Tom

Today, I have the privilege of introducing you to Kip Tom.  Kip is the CEO of Tom Farms, a family-owned business located in Northern Indiana.  Tom Farms was established by Everett and Marie Tom in 1952 and is currently one of the largest suppliers of seed corn to Monsanto.

Kip kindly agreed to do an email interview with me discussing sustainability, agriculture in the 21st century, and family business.  Enjoy the first part of the interview today, and check back for the rest of the interview on Thursday.

AM: Obviously, your family’s connection to agriculture is deep and important to you. How does your family’s farming history impact the way you think about the Ag industry?

KT: Our family settled in our community 176 years ago this summer, about seven generations before my children joined the business.  Each of us who have a role in this business must take responsibility to assure that the business continues.

AM: Sound economics and business principles are key components of running an operation that can last for multiple generations.  Why is it important to run a family farm using sound business principles?  How does a sound business model contribute to the overall livelihood of an operation?

KT: Oftentimes financial decisions have been made on the farm in the past with little-to-no due diligence.  A business can only survive through good and challenging times if the financial impact of all decisions is clearly understood prior to making the decision.  It is critical that leaders understand where the income and cost centers are, and how the contribute to the business’s bottom line.

AM: As I listen to the conversation surrounding agriculture, I hear a lot of talk about sustainability.  What does sustainability mean to you? How is an operation like yours sustainable?

KT: Sustainability is a word that can span many conversations, but to our business it means:

  1. Succession of the family business;
  2. Protection of all resources spanning generations; and,
  3. A systems approach to our manufacturing processes.

AM: You’ve spent many years on your family farm, and have also chosen to be actively involved in the national and international discussion about agriculture.  In other words, you have the knowledge and experience of working on the farm while also understanding the various dynamics of national and international Ag concerns.  From your perspective, what are the top three challenges farmers are facing in the 21st century?

(Photo by Roberts)

(Photo by Roberts)

KT: The first challenge I see is a failure to recognize that production agriculture is a manufacturing business and that we need to invest in developing a systems approach to producing the products that we “build” on our farms to feed the growing global demand.  Farm structures will be much different in the future as they are in essence a “biological manufacturing plant” producing food, fiber and energy.  Success in this endeavor will require extensive capital investments, coordinated supply chains, and talented management and staff.

Additionally, education will continue to be the differentiator in the future as it is now.  The successful farm business will need to have qualified leaders in the management positions as well have educated technical staff to operate the complexity of the “manufacturing plant”.

Finally, agricultural advocacy will continue to be a challenge with less connectivity between consumers and the farm.  It is the responsibility of our industry to step up from all levels and engage in local and global discussions.  We also have the responsibility of engaging with policy makers to ensure we are helping the food insecure.

Check back here on Thursday to hear more from Kip!

Categories: Agriculture in Indiana, Farming in the 21st Century, The Faces of Modern Agriculture | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What’s to come on this blog

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Indiana State Fair reminded me of some important agricultural lessons: Farmers feed me, agriculture is more than corn and cows, and people are at the heart of farming and agribusiness. 

And those lessons gave me insight into what to cover on my blog.  I have decided to take the lessons I learned at the Indiana State Fair and focus blog posts around them.

Photo by Beeker.

Photo by Beeker.

My first area of focus on the blog will be “The Faces of Modern Agriculture.”  People are at the heart of farming and agribusiness.  I want to introduce you to the people who comprise the field of agriculture.  In the next few weeks, I’ll feature Kip Tom of Tom Farms.  Kip was recently profiled in “Indianapolis Monthly” and was noted for championing private business and his commitment to family.  In addition to farmers like Kip, I want to talk with ag economists, agronomists, commodity specialists and the next generation of farmers.

I will also feature posts on “Farming in the 21st Century.”  If you watch the news, you know that agriculture is more than corn and cows.  As agriculture has grown more complex over the years, the vocabulary has too.  Words like biotechnology and organic are perfect examples of terms that can be confusing.  What do those words mean for you and your food choices?  That’s the question I want to answer.

“From the Field to Your Fork” will look at the products we grow and produce in Indiana, and show you where they can be found in your daily life.  If you visited Indiana Soybean Alliance’s Glass Barn at the fair, you know that you can find the products of local farmers on the shelves of your grocery stores.  Farmers feed us, and I will show you how they do that.

My friends in the Ag community are fond of sharing this quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will, in the end, contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.”  While I would contend there are other disciplines we would be wise to pursue (medicine, humanities, etc…), I do believe that agriculture is one area of life in which everyone should take an intense interest.  What and how we eat shapes who we are as individuals.  So join me in this journey of exploring Indiana Ag and learning about the people and practices that put food on our kitchen tables.

Categories: Agriculture in Indiana, Farming in the 21st Century, From the Field to Your Fork, General, The Faces of Modern Agriculture | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Ag lessons from the Indiana State Fair

For an agricultural communicator, the Indiana State Fair is dream come true. Where else can you find almost a million people in the heart of a major metropolitan area congregating around an event that is in large part all about youth, education and agriculture?

During the 17 days of the Indiana State Fair, I found myself making numerous trips to the fairgrounds to work ISDA’s exhibit, generate content for social media and cover various events. I also had the opportunity to spend two afternoons at the fair with family and friends, enjoying the food and activities as an attendee.

Beef Sundae (photo courtesy of my dad, David).

Beef Sundae (photo courtesy of my dad, David).

Sitting at my desk in Indianapolis, I can easily forget about various aspects of the farm-to-fork continuum. The fair showed me three important facets of agriculture of which I needed to be reminded.

Farmers feed me. Like most fair goers, I had the opportunity to eat a lot of good food. Milkshakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, pork burgers, beef sundaes, ribeye sandwiches, funnel cakes, popcorn and soft pretzels were on my menu at the fair. As I ate classic fair fare, I was reminded that I owe a debt of thanks to the men and women who make it possible for me to eat.

Agriculture is more than corn and cows.  As the industry has advanced over the years, the jobs and needs of farming and agribusiness have evolved. During the fair, I had a chance to hear men and women like Norman McCowan and Marianne Ash. McCowan serves as the president of Bell Aquaculture, the nation’s largest yellow perch aquaculture facility. Ash is an Indiana veterinarian who works for the Indiana Board of Animal Health, planning and coordinating responses to animal health emergencies. People like them remind me that there are numerous components of agriculture that play an important role in safely and sustainably placing food on the kitchen table.

ISF Opening Ceremony_08022013_ISDA (19)

Taken at the Indiana State Fair opening ceremony.

People are at the heart of farming and agribusiness. I had the privilege of helping with the Hoosier Homestead Awards Ceremony, a biannual ISDA event that honors Indiana farms that have been in the same family for over 100 years. The 69 farms honored at the ceremony had stayed in business through World War I, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II. A handful of the farms have been in the same family since the Civil War era. One of the farms honored has been operating since 1812 (four years before Indiana became a state). Family businesses like these don’t happen by chance. They’re the result of people who faithfully invest in their operations for the sake of their families and communities.

The Indiana State Fair reminded me of the vital role farming and agribusiness play in placing food on the kitchen table. I’m thankful I have a job that offers me the opportunity to continue learning about the products, people, and processes of Indiana agriculture.

Did you attend the Indiana State Fair this year? If so, what did you enjoy most about the event?

Categories: Agriculture in Indiana | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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