Close to the Land, Rooted in Tradition

December 23, 2014
Rodney Rhodes, 15, collects eggs Oct 23  in a barn on his family’s 300 acre farm in Newberry. –Isaac Smith
Rodney Rhodes, 15, collects eggs Oct 23 in a barn on his family’s 300 acre farm in Newberry. –Isaac Smith

The Rhodes family sits for a meal as the sun rises over the hills of their Newberry farm. It’s still dark as the breakfast of eggs, sausage, and milk is passed around the table. Before they eat, they take a moment to reflect as Luke Rhodes reads from the Book of Psalms. The respite of quiet and good company comes after the morning’s chores of bringing in and milking their herd of dairy cows, which was son Jesse Rhodes’ responsibility that day.

This is a routine deeply engrained in the Rhodes’ family. For Luke, farm life runs deep.

“My parents were both raised on farms,” Luke says, adding that his mother grew up on a potato and dairy farm, while his father grew up with livestock and dairy. Luke’s education in farming came from a combination of these.

“My growing up years, earlier years, were with vegetable crops and hogs and steers, and when I was about 15 we got into dairy,” he says.

By the time he was 22, it was time for him to strike out on his own. Newly married, he purchased his Newberry, Indiana farm and moved with his wife, Arlene, from his native Ohio. He, Arlene, and seven children have all helped tend the land these last 28 years and grow the now 300 acre farm (the family owns 100 and rents 200 acres for grazing) into the diverse operation that it is today.

The original 100 acres house the integral parts of Luke’s business: egg and milk production. From their flock of chickens and from neighboring farmers who raise hens to their standards, Rhodes Family Farm provides eggs not only to be sold at Bloomingfoods, but also to be used in our kitchens as well. The Rhodes also rear hogs and steers, and in all that they do, there is a particular ethos at work. For years, Luke and his family sold milk to Organic Valley, and he says he implemented many organic practices throughout his farm. This choice was dictated as much by the market as by the personal preference of the Rhodes family.

“We like to eat products like that ourselves and we like to share it with others who have the same interest,” Luke explains.

At the moment, nothing on the farm exceeds the capabilities of Luke and his family, which he sees as a positive thing.

“I think it helps us to keep a handle on it,” Luke says of the hands-on nature of his farm, adding that he believes they could grow and still maintain this level of control. Luke says that he has always enjoyed this kind of work and feels spiritually connected to what he does.

“I think a fellow could still be spiritual and do another job, but we feel close to nature and close to what God has created. We can enjoy the benefits of seeing the nature of how it all works,” says Luke. This understanding of the natural world and food production is something Luke says his children have been immersed in all their lives.

“They are involved from the time they are old enough to be out walking around,” Luke says. He explains that his children have learned from seeing and doing. “It’s just there all of the time. They see it, observe it. There’s not really a lot of teaching because they are just in among it.”

Because so many do not grow up raising animals or growing food, Luke invites his customers to visit his farm and to understand where their food comes from. He believes this kind of education as an important part of being a customer.

The Rhodes farm is a special place. In the fall, green fields are dotted with grazing cows and are hedged with brilliant autumn color. There is a quiet sense of satisfaction when Luke talks about what he and his family do and the grandeur of the place they call home. He says that while they may take it for granted sometimes, they are still struck by its beauty.

“There are particular times—sunrises, sunsets—we do stand in awe at the creation of God,” he says. “Being there 28 years, I think it’s just a part of us.”

Story and photos by Isaac Smith