For the past year or so, while we've been sitting around the office here, NUVO Contributing Editor David Hoppe has been roaming the state, chatting with people from across the spectrum of the food and agriculture world, joined in his journeys by photographer Kristin Hess. Their travels have been in service of Food for Thought, a program launched in 2010 by Indiana Humanities to help Hoosiers think, read and talk about food.
And now the fruits of their labors have been collected in a new book, Food for Thought: An Indiana Harvest, that's the basis of a wide range of public programming, starting with an interview series at the DuPont Food Pavilion during the Indiana State Fair and continuing into the fall with visits to cities throughout the state. We provide here an apertif from the book in the form of three lightly edited profiles, each of a Hoosier food figure who will take part in a public interview at the pavilion. The book will be available at bookstores and via indianahumanities.org by early August, as well as during all Food for Thought programming.
Wildflower Ridge Honey, Anderson
(Appearing Aug. 8, 4-5 p.m., at the Indiana State Fair's DuPont Food Pavilion)
David Barrickman of Wildflower Ridge Honey in Anderson is a fourth-generation beekeeper. A former president of the Indiana Beekeepers Association, Barrickman made raising honeybees his business after a thirty-seven-year career as an engineer for General Motors. Lately, Barrickman has focused on trying to replenish Indiana’s diminishing honeybee population, which, he says, is stressed due what he calls “a concoction of chemicals that are now in the ground out there.” Barrickman says that about 50 percent of the state’s honeybees were lost in just one year. When we meet at a farmers’ market where he’s selling raw honey and other beehive products, including soaps and bee pollen, Barrickman says, “I’m not interested in producing a lot of honey. I’m more interested in making bees.”
I found out that my grandfather’s father-in-law was a beekeeper. I learned that through a sale bill flyer that I found. When he passed away, they had a farm auction and there were two hives of bees listed in the auction.
My grandfather had bees for as long as I can remember. I was forty-six when he passed away at ninety-six. I really enjoyed being over at the farm and watching him catch swarms and put supers on and off—that’s the top box on the beehive, where you get the honey from.
The one thing I always hated when I was a little kid was when we were out working bees I would get stung, and Grandpa chewed tobacco and he’d always spit on the sting. He said it helped, but I don’t know. He said the tobacco juice would draw the poison out.
I enjoyed the whole biological aspect of the bees, the movement of them. Of course, I’ve gotten to know more about bees in the last fifteen to twenty years than I knew up to then. I really started studying and understanding the bees. In order to make it a business, you have to understand every aspect. If you don’t know what’s going on with your bees and inside your beehive and what seasons are bringing about for you, pretty soon you’re out of business.
These honeybees are my employees. They’re just like dairy cattle in a barn. Those dairy cattle are making milk, and if they’re not, that farmer wants to know why. That beehive is my barn and those bees are working for me. I want to make sure they’re in full production.
In the summertime, when there’s a nectar flow or the bees are working hard, the life expectancy of a worker bee is about forty-five days from the time it’s born until the time it dies. They work themselves to death.
Consequently, you want good, fertile queens. A queen will lay anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 eggs a day to keep the hive replenished. At the height of the nectar season, you want to have 60,000 to 80,000 bees in that beehive. When you come out in the springtime, that hive has dwindled down to 6,000 to 8,000. You have to build that hive up so it’s ready for the nectar flow when it gets here.
My grandfather kept bees because he loved bees. He had thirty or forty hives around the farm. He never worried about selling honey. He practically gave it away. I used to carry it into work for him and sell it. He wouldn’t even extract it; he just sold the frames, big honeycomb frames. He’d sell the whole thing for two bucks. Back then honey was about fifteen, twenty cents a pound. Today the retail price is six dollars a pound.
Granddad taught me a lot. He taught me patience, mainly. Granddad was a [widower]—Grandma passed away in 1919, during the swine flu epidemic that came through—he never remarried, and he raised his two boys and farmed his whole life. Patience was his virtue. He never got in a hurry, never got in a rush to do anything. He’d always think things out before we tackled something. He was a good teacher.
I went through a couple of phases in beekeeping. For years I wore a full suit and gloves and the veil—the whole thing. I had the bees out there and I worked them, but I didn’t feel I was part of them. About twelve, fifteen years ago, I decided if I’m really going to get to know these bees, I’m just going to have to work them with no gloves. I took the gloves off and I never wear them when I work bees. I get stung quite often. But it slows you down.
Before, when I wore the full gear, I would go in there and pull hives apart and throw this in that direction, pull honey out, and damage a lot of bees. When I quit wearing gloves, it slowed me down. I’m more patient. I’m slower. My observation time is much longer. I can inspect a beehive by just walking up to it and looking at it from the outside. Most people, when they open it up, all they see is bees. But I see bees, I see new nectar flows, I see brood, I see any type of disease I can recognize. Plus, I used to have some arthritic fingers and I don’t have those arthritic fingers anymore. That’s what we call bee venom therapy. A beehive’s God’s medicine cabinet, believe it or not.
Next page: Thom England
(Appearing Aug. 18, 3-4 p.m., at the Indiana State Fair's DuPont Food Pavilion)
Chef Thom England’s culinary career began when he was a teenager, washing dishes in the kitchen of a local country club in Warsaw, Ind. Four years later, he was the club’s executive chef. Following stops at the University of Evansville and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., England returned to Indiana in 1999 to work at the Chateau Thomas Winery in Plainfield. He currently serves as culinary arts instructor for the Ivy Tech Hospitality and Culinary Arts program in Indianapolis. He is also a cofounder of Dig-IN, a nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of Indiana food and agriculture.
In 2000, I started teaching the wine class at Ivy Tech and just loved it. I loved how thirsty the students were for knowledge. Then, in 2004, I went full time at Ivy Tech because I felt like I could make a difference.
We’ve got over 900 students in our culinary classes this fall. When I started, we had 240. We’re still placing 100 percent of our graduates. Two other culinary schools have opened up in the city, and they’re placing 100 percent of their graduates. So there was a need in the community for people to work in restaurants, to produce real food.
I also knew that if I could go in and teach more people about some of the nutritional aspects of food—how to prepare good, healthy food—that they were going to go back to their own pockets and start doing the real work that needs to be done in some of those areas.
You have this skipped generation that did not teach their kids to cook. Now those kids are learning from their grandparents or from watching the Food Network on TV. There’s a whole other training that has to happen to teach those younger people how to cook.
I started going into the community and teaching people. I’d talk about sautéing and, afterwards, I’d have two or three people come up to me and say, “Okay, how would I do this in my microwave?” They didn’t have stoves because those things weren’t provided in their apartments or their houses.
But then there isn’t a lot of food available in some parts of Indianapolis. I know people who have to take two or three buses to get to the grocery store. How much are you going to buy at the grocery store if, to get home, you have to change buses two or three times? It’s crazy. So one of the things I started doing three years ago was going into some of those communities, helping to build urban gardens and teaching more people how to grow a tomato on their balcony.
When I see people cooking with an Indiana tomato for the first time, and how that leapfrogs into their going to a farmers’ market and trying to eat as much locally as they can, that’s amazing. It makes a huge impact when we start to eat local and that money stays local. We know that the average small Indiana farmer will spend that money in the community. Whereas, buying something that’s packaged, the money goes out of state almost immediately. If each Indiana resident spent about $5 per week on local food, it would make a $1.5 billion impact on the state’s economy.
Over the past three years, Indiana has been ranked one of the top states for the increase in the number of local foods sold. We’ve seen huge increases in the number of farmers’ markets and farm stands; that food is getting out there. Where before we didn’t see much planted other than corn, wheat, and soybeans, we’ve got more small acreage crops now.
Through my work with Slow Food over the years, it’s been neat to see how other states are actually coming to us and asking, “How are you doing it?” We’re Indiana! We’re supposed to be behind the times. But people are starting to look to us as leaders. It’s amazing to think the president of Slow Food wants to come out and spend a couple of weeks here to see things.
But I think there’s a real divide between what I would call the slow food people and big ag. They’re on the opposite ends of things and won’t talk to each other. When the little urban farmer starts to realize that the big ag people are really just trying to make a living, it broadens the conversation.
Next page: Lali Hess
The Juniper Spoon
(Appearing Aug. 13, 4-5 p.m., at the Indiana State Fair's DuPont Food Pavilion)
Lali Hess and her husband, Doug Miller, have lived on their five-acre homestead farm in Montgomery County since 2004. This is the bucolic base for Lali’s catering business, the Juniper Spoon. Within sight of rows of blackberry bushes and fruit trees, is Lali’s kitchen, a gleaming state-of-the art workspace. When Lali and Doug decided to move from their home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they first considered settling in such foodie capitals as Madison, Wisc., Ann Arbor, Mich., or Iowa City. “We looked at all of them and then we decided together that we wanted to be part of the revolution and not just bask in what had already been established,” says Lali. “We were young and healthy and strong and had a little base of knowledge of agriculture—let’s go to where we would do more. We wanted to be part of the revolution.”
I grew up in a Mennonite family in Goshen. It was not traditional Mennonite. My dad is a professor, so it was more progressive, but there were certain traditions that were important to them that were brought from their farming background in Pennsylvania.
My dad gardened—we had an organic garden in our backyard, a compost pile, all of that—and this was in the seventies.
My mom made everything from scratch. I didn’t even know there were canned soups until I left home.
They were influenced by a lot of the service work that happened through Goshen College and our church. They traveled overseas a lot, and so Mom made curry and baba ghanoush—she could make anything—and I had the stool up at the counter to watch her.
But what led me to want to cook as a profession is a little different. There are plenty of people who grow up with a good cook and a gardener as parents and don’t end up cooking as a profession. For my college graduation, I asked my parents to send me to a ten-day permaculture conference.
Permaculture is a philosophy of life and agriculture in which every resource is used to its fullest ability. It marries sustainability of household and garden with animal husbandry. It can be backyard gardening or it can be an agricultural system, but everything works together.
When my parents sent me to the permaculture conference it was like, “Oh, yeah, this is it. I’m not going to go to another country and change the world there.” I realized that I was going to stay right here and grow my own food.
It took a few years to earn enough money, waiting tables, for me to be able to do what I wanted to do. So I took an internship first, and then I got my own farm, far away from anything. I felt starved for culture and for connection with people. There was no one like-minded there; it was just cheap land.
I drove to the Broad Ripple famers’ markets — this was in the late nineties — and I loved what I did. I had this beautiful farm and two acres of loved produce that I would take to market and make this beautiful display, but it wasn’t sustainable for me.
Meanwhile, my customers were saying, “Well, what do you do with Asian eggplant? And what do you do with fennel bulb? What would you do with baby beets?” I didn’t make any money, so all I did was cook with leftover vegetables. So I had five years of cooking vegetables in every possible form. Amazing vegetables: organic, beautiful, wonderful varieties.
Then a friend, who’s an artist, had a gallery opening in Cincinnati and said, “They’re just going to serve cheese and crackers and there’s a $500 budget.” This was more money than we could imagine at the time. It was at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, and my best friend and I said, “Sure! We’ll make the food.”
We outdid ourselves. The Aronoff asked if they could sign us up for a contract. We had some business cards made, and people started calling us. After the second year, we realized we were making more money catering than we were at the farmers’ market.
At that point I met my husband. He had a house outside of Philadelphia in Lancaster County. I moved there with him, and we were there for two years. I worked for two caterers, and I wrote down everything. I knew nothing about business, but I learned how to be a caterer. Then we moved back to Indiana and went to start the Juniper Spoon.
We just knew what we were going to do. We were going to have a garden, an orchard, and try to supply as many vegetables as we could. We would also try to support local economy by getting vegetables and meats and cheeses around here.
Within ten miles of my house, I get pork, beef, lamb, chickens (I could get ducks if I wanted to) eggs, goat cheese, any vegetable I want, herbs. And we just picked a spot on the map and moved here; we didn’t move here for those reasons. We were looking for a three-bedroom house on five acres anywhere around Indianapolis; I would guess this can probably be replicated all over the state.
There are cottage industries cropping up, and not all of these places were here when we moved here. The goat cheese place is new, the lamb place is new, where I get my vegetables is new. We can have anything.
But along with that, you need to have a consumer that is willing to go either out of their way to find things or willing to pay to have it provided to them conveniently. In Europe and certain coastal cities, they have created those networks. Here, we’re having to create them from scratch. Our roads and our cities aren’t designed to support cottage industry, but I hope there’s a day when consumers and producers can work seamlessly together. I’m a consumer, but I also feed a lot of people because I do large events, so I’m trying to do that now, in a way. What I’m trying to do is seduce people with good food.