Fields of Agape offers Specialty Crops to our Region

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Field of flax in bloom
Bloomingfoods shoppers support a wide array of local producers, purchasing fresh greens and other produce, eggs, meat, cheese, and milk, as well as  grocery, garden, and beverage items. A reset of the bulk department at the East store highlights another local producer, Fields of Agape, a sustainable grain, fiber, and specialty crop farm located in Carthage, Indiana. What follows is an account of this operation, based on discussions with the owners and first hand observations made during a recent visit. We hope you enjoy learning more about this fine operation, and that you'll enjoy the little photo essay provided at the end, showing just a bit of what we saw on our visit.

Fields of Agape represents the effort of a number of people with longstanding ties to the land. Instead of going the route of all-things-King-Corn, Anna and Keith Welsh and their partners focus on growing golden flax seed, hard red and white winter wheat berries, soybeans, and organic popcorn. All of these products are available in the bulk bins at Bloomingfoods, making them the first bulk grains and seeds we’ve had from the state of Indiana.

 

Growing specialty row crops requires vision, persistence, and dedication. There are numerous challenges involved in successfully introducing these items to market, especially when consumers don’t expect to see them available from our state. The farm is also midway to gaining organic certification, a process that takes a number of years. It takes time for customers to understand the value of purchasing local, sustainably-grown products, and the farm needs to survive in the meantime.

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The family
“In agriculture, the window of opportunity is very small, and it takes a full year to recover from a poor decision,” says Anna Welsh, who relies on her 87 year old father as a consultant. He farmed the land from the 1950s through the 70s, using the same sustainable methods the group is using now.

“The idea for Fields of Agape is to work together with family, friends and neighbors to cooperatively grow whole food – as an act of kindness to one another, and to bring healing to the land and to the members of the communities in which we live,” Welsh explains.
The name of the group reflects this ambition: agape is a word from ancient Greek that means “to nourish, to love, to serve, and to perform acts of kindness.”

Welsh became determined to grow flax when she experienced benefits to her own health as a result of adding the Omega-3 rich seed to her diet; it took five years of experimentation to bring the sensitive crop to market. Wheat berries can be ground to make fresh flour for bread and other baked goods, or cooked whole for use in porridge, salad or pilaf. The soybeans will be sold for making local tofu.

“Working with those who have ‘been there, done that’ is invaluable,” says Welsh. “Those who are starting out in sustainable agriculture should find a good mentor who has life experiences as a farmer – they hold valuable knowledge that we as a society mustn’t lose.

“Those who help in our project include Michael Smallwood, Judy Avery, Dave Johnson, and Keith and I. We all have various gifts – Keith and Mike do all of the field work, cleaning, and packaging, as well as selling at the farmers’ markets. Dave Johnson contributes land and his knowledge and expertise from years of growing specialty crops. Judy contributes land, equipment, and hosts all of our co-op meetings by cooking with recipes that utilize our field crops. Keith and I contribute land, equipment, and accounting and computer skills. Our son Marc, who lives in Portland, Oregon, contributes grant writing, web, and graphics skills. My Mom and Dad offer moral support, consulting in field work, equipment maintenance, construction, and agriculture. Another friend is joining us to offer carpentry skills for storage spaces that we must have to be certified for bulk food distribution.”

“The biggest message I could offer to anyone is that it takes all of us to meet the needs of the community. We have gifts and talents that we can share with one another to nurture, serve, and bring hope to our communities.”
Plans for the future include adding garlic, greens, beans, and potatoes to the group’s line of specialty crops.

ImageField of beautiful flax. Flax is recognized as an Indiana wild flower, as well as being a fabulous nutrition source. The Welshes dedicate approximately 23 acres to the production of this crop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ImageGeorge surveys the field of heritage corn, which had been too wet to cultivate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

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Bloomingfoods Merchandising Manager Mac McLauchlin bestows a benediction on Spartacus, the Welsh's Great Pyrenees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Keith Welsh on his Farmall Super C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Keith needed specialized equipment with which to deliver an organic soil supplement to his fields. When no suitable model could be found, he simply fabricated his own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 


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In addition to the newer Farmall, the Welshes also own and operate this fine piece of equipment, a Co-op brand tractor, probably built between 1946-55. It still works just fine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

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Two row planter, for planting heritage corn. 





























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One of the most important steps in bring grain to the table is separating out the desired grain from chaff and the other seeds picked up during harvesting. The Welshes use this separator, which performs it's task using a series of screens.  The separator, ia Clipper Seed and Grain Cleaners, was made by the A.T. Ferrell Company, in Bluffton, IN, where they have been in business since 1869.









































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The harvested and screened flax seed must be stored in a cool environment. To provide that, a block building was constructed within the Welsh's barn, and then sealed on the inside with a soy-based foam. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
ImageAnd here is the grinder which converts Fields of Agape wheat and corn into flour and meal, respectively. This machine houses two 4" stone grinding wheels, and has the capacity to handle 50# of corn or 60# of wheat per hour. The corn they grind into meal is actually popcorn, secured from a farmer near Decatur, Indiana, and is the only commercially available organic popcorn in the state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ImageHere is Hannah, closely watching the grinder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The grinder deposits the ground grain into the drawer at the base of the machine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

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Storage bins for ground corn and wheat.