Give Now  »

Monroe County BIPOC farmers connect through a fellowship

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript


KAYTE YOUNG:  From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats.

ASH TENG:  And so I really love to be able to see how other BIPOC farmers in the community are doing good with the land.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This week on the show, we talk with recipients of a fellowship that brings BIPOC farmers together to build community in Monroe County, Indiana. The farmers also receive funding for farm projects. We talk about what the fellowship has meant for the three farmers, and how they'll put the funds to use enhancing our local food system this season. That's just ahead, stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thanks for listening to Earth Eats, I'm Kayte Young. If you are a regular listener to this show, or if you grow food yourself, you probably understand that farming is hard. The physical labor can be difficult, yes, but also the planning. And working with natural elements like weather and pests and disease, all of which are unpredictable, makes planning anything a huge challenge. And even when everything goes right, the profit margins for farming are always slim.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I think it is safe to say that most small scale farmers aren't getting rich growing food. For young farmers and beginning farmers there are plenty of barriers to getting started. For black, indigenous and farmers of color, there are often even more hurdles to overcome. For one, like with any profession, if you don't see people who look like you doing this work, it can be hard to imagine yourself into that role. If you don't have inherited land or wealth, or if you didn't grow up on a farm, you're starting at a disadvantage. And all of this is more likely to be the case for BIPOC folks due to settler, colonial practices and slavery in the distant past, and discrimination and structural racism in the recent past and present experienced across the nation and right here in Indiana.

KAYTE YOUNG:  The Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition is an organization of young farmers and food advocates who work to recruit, support and promote young and beginning farmers throughout Indiana, in an effort to make our food systems more localized, sustainable and just. In recent years, they have offered a fellowship for beginning farmers. Here's founder and former board president, Liz Brownlee talking about how the fellowship has evolved.

LIZ BROWNLEE:  This was year three of running the fellowship for beginning farmers in Indiana and this year the fellowship was specifically in Monroe County. The point of the fellowship is to bring together beginning farmers who are ready for some big step forward on their farms, but needed some capital and some community. So, we invite people to apply who have shown that they have a working business model, their farm is functioning, but then they have some big investment that they want to do; they need to add cold storage, they want to expand their orchard, they need a wash pack area, they want to hire their first employee, etc., and they have some big thing they need to do to take a step forward on their farm, so the fellowship gives them that.

LIZ BROWNLEE:  It gives them a sense of community, they get time with other beginning farmers that are at similar stages and it gives them capital. Each fellow gets $4500 to invest in their farm, and time and money to spend with the other fellows to learn together and commiserate and celebrate together.

KAYTE YOUNG:  How does that part work? How do you connect the farmers with each other?

LIZ BROWNLEE:  The first two years we ran the fellowship was during COVID and so it was all virtual. So, it was like, virtual farmer Zoom meetings and boy, that was less than perfect. So, listening to the farmers input they said, "We really want time together in person," but you can't do that very easily as a state-wide program. So, we started being on the lookout for some place where we could do this on a regional scale, so the farmers would be within an hour drive of each other. The city of Bloomington actually reached out and said, "Hey, we've got some money, would you run your fellowship here for BIPOC farmers?" So, black, indigenous and people of color farmers. And we said, "Yeah, that sounds great. That fits our goals, that fits your goals, that's going to serve the farmers."

LIZ BROWNLEE:  The way it worked this year was, they had a kick off retreat where they went out to dinner together and started getting to know each other. Then three visits, a visit to each of their farms where they led a tour of their farm just for the other fellows and our fellowship coordinator, sharing what they're working on, what's going well, what they're struggling with, how they're going to take big leaps forward on their farms this year. And then they'll have a wrap up retreat at the very end.

LIZ BROWNLEE:  It is just the winter and spring, about five interactions. It is relatively condensed because farmers are busy people. And so, we wanted it to be in the off season when they had the most time, and we wanted to get the capital in their hands at the start of the season so they could invest in what they needed to right away.

LIZ BROWNLEE:  The first two years we ran the fellowship we had a certain number of seats set aside for BIPOC and women farmers. We wanted to ensure that there was representation and also space for those under served farmers. So, when the city of Bloomington reached out they said, "We want you run a round of the fellowship only for BIPOC farmers," we thought that was such a good idea because having a BIPOC majority space is really powerful to have in-depth conversations. And yes, we were thrilled.

LIZ BROWNLEE:  The very first step we took was to hire BIPOC farmers as consultants about the fellowship program, because we had run it for two years, but as a state wide program, and we didn't want to come in as a bunch of white folks saying, here's how to run a program that is going to fit BIPOC farmers. And so, we asked these BIPOC farmers for input about everything from the application process and the description of the opportunity, to the selection process for the fellows, how are we going to judge the applicants? To, how do we make a safe space for BIPOC farmers, in who are selected for the fellowship and the actual interactions, and that was so helpful.

LIZ BROWNLEE:  An example of something we learned, in the past we had asked fellows to create a short video highlighting how they had utilized the fellowship experience to build their farm and help it move forward. We were told really clearly, not everybody wants to be on video and not everybody wants to have to do that work, so are there other options? Can we have some more decision making power about how we share out about our fellowship experience? And we said, "Yes, that's a great idea, we hadn't even thought of that." And that's a blind spot and it does relate to race because being in charge of how your image is used, how your progress is portrayed that's really important.

LIZ BROWNLEE:  The other example I'd give is, in the past we had a selection committee for our fellowship that used a general rubric, just basic, "Do you feel like this person's application reflects the goals of the fellowship?" But the consultants that we worked with were really adamant that that needed to be much more specific and objective because bias, whether implicit or explicit happens and so we needed to remove that opportunity for bias and make the review process more objective, and that's going to strengthen the fellowship overall.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You also paid the consultants, is that correct?

LIZ BROWNLEE:  Oh, yes, for sure, because very often farmers, and especially farmers of color are asked to give input or serve on committees so that there's representation which is great, except time is valuable and it could be used to build their farm business or work in their off farm jobs, etc. And so, we're working really hard to pay farmers for their time and their expertize at every juncture.

LIZ BROWNLEE:  We hired Shanna Poveda who's a member of the farming community. She's an indigenous farmer and she has a company called Medicine Mija. And she's a grad student who is learning a ton about how you convene people, and so it was a really neat fit to be the fellowship coordinator. Shanna is gathering these folks on a regular basis and putting them in touch and ensuring they get the money in time, all the back end stuff that is needed to have the fellowship working. It's just going so smoothly having her at the helm. We're really grateful for Shanna.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Liz Brownlee, founder and former president of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition. She was talking about this year's beginning farmer fellowship for BIPOC farmers in Monroe County, Indiana. After a short break we'll talk with one of the recipients of the fellowship, Nic Garza of Outlier Farmstead. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Kayte Young here, this is Earth Eats.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I first visited Outlier Farmstead in the summer of 2020, their first year. It was a strange year to be starting anything. Nic Garza and his partner Marie O'Neill and I talked about getting fresh food to people during a pandemic, and about their view that farming is political, even if people don't always think about it that way. This spring I headed back out to their farm in South West Bloomington to talk about the beginning farmer fellowship that Nic Garza received along with Ash Teng and Enrique Hernandez, who we'll talk with later in the program.

LIZ BROWNLEE:  We started with a mini tour of Outlier Farmstead. A lot had changed in three years.

NIC GARZA:  We just got done putting lots of lettuce out and some leeks. We're about to put tomatoes out into our tunnel, which feels remarkable for April 9th or 10th or so. Today is the big transplanting day.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You have a lot of fields planted. This is amazing.


KAYTE YOUNG:  They have several high tunnel structures that weren't here when I visited in 2020. They received assistance from the EQIP program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service or NRCS, to purchase high tunnels and for some native plantings on the farm. We approached one of the tunnels which consist of a metal framework covered with translucent plastic and tall enough that you can walk through them.

NIC GARZA:  This tunnel has something interesting going on. We can walk to a better vantage point. We are collaborating with Purdue on some crop research trials. The researcher that we are working with, Wenjing is very interested in strawberry production and wanted to see how that can be applicable to really small farms. And so, we're working on this project with her. We planted out five or six different varieties of strawberry in this tunnel. They're all doing really well. We have lots of fruit on them.

KAYTE YOUNG:  They look really good.

NIC GARZA:  Yes, we have lots of fruit already and that seems remarkable for April as well.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I have talked to Wenjing before about a cucumber grafting project that she did with Candace Minster in Terre Haute at the White Violet Center. Her name is familiar to me from that. That's awesome. That's so great that you're working with her. How do you like doing research?

NIC GARZA:  I love it. We think it is really conducive to our farm. We're definitely a part-time farm. None of this is a full-time commitment, so we feel like we can take extra time to dedicate more to abstract things like research, rather than always being to the knuckles about planting and weeding and harvesting and all that. So, that's nice. Some farmers don't have the time for it or it just doesn't work with their model, but we're happy to do it. We're also working on cucurbit trials with Wenjing, and we are talking about designing projects to test ginger and turmeric cultivars in high tunnels. And we're doing a couple of research trials for Johnny's Seeds, trialling new varieties that they haven't yet seen how they perform in our area.

NIC GARZA:  Stuff like that is easy. It's really difficult at first to pin down an organizational structure to manage things like that. But once we got that figured out it's really easy and comes naturally, I think.

KAYTE YOUNG:  It sounds fun, to me. Just interesting.

NIC GARZA:  Definitely, yes. I feel like we have learned a lot and we would have never planted strawberries in this type of culture before. It's been really rewarding so far.

MARIE O'NEILL:  We were giving up on summer squash at the time before we talked to Wenjing. Then she asked us to grow summer squash with cucumbers and the summer squash was actually really successful that year. It was nice to see. It was like, "Oh, there are ways that we could manage summer squash," because all the bugs went to the cucumbers first. It was unfortunate for the cucumbers, but then the summer squash did better.

KAYTE YOUNG:  There was a car port tunnel as well that you tried?

NIC GARZA:  There's a couple more steps and we can take a look at it.

NIC GARZA:  We have figs planted in that, which is really exciting and we definitely struggled with the spring warming up too early. It caused the plants to produce some very vulnerable tissue very early, and then it dipped back down in March and they suffered some damage from that. It's less than ideal, but the idea is that, in the greenhouse they'll be trained like a grape and a cordon, a horizontal trunk will go along the length of the tunnel. And along that cordon we'll expect shoots to come up and pop up along it and then we can train those shoots up towards the top of the tunnel.

NIC GARZA:  We went to Maine this past late summer and that was our first time in the north east, and they have such a fascinating culture about fruits and weird farming. We were really enamored by it, and so we decided that we wanted to plant an apple orchard up on that north facing slope up there. We've ordered 300 apple root stock that are currently at Darren's in Paoli, waiting for us to get them and plant them. That will be another undertaking that we are taking on this year.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Wow, 300. That is a lot of digging.

NIC GARZA:  Yes, luckily we have access to a tractor with an auger. I've never used it before, hopefully that will make it go faster.



KAYTE YOUNG:  That's great. That sounds fun.

NIC GARZA:  This tunnel will be planted to tomatoes that we grafted earlier in the year. We have maybe 25 out of 70 survived the grafting process, so we're excited to see how they do in there. Then we have lots more tomatoes to put outside too.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, the grafting part of the research with Purdue?

NIC GARZA:  No, the grafting is actually just an independent project. Although, I talked to Wenjing about it, seemingly too late because she was like, "Oh, you should have told me that, I did my doctoral thesis on grafting tomatoes." I thought, yes, that would have been helpful. Maybe we would have had more than 25 survive.

KAYTE YOUNG:  What is the objective behind the grafting? What are you grafting it to?

NIC GARZA:  Tomato breeders work hard to develop these tomato root stocks which would be the bottom part that the top part is grafted on to. The idea of grafting is that you can focus in your breeding work, on developing things like resistance to soil borne diseases or vigor in the root stock, and then devote time to fruiting characteristics and marketability and storage in the top scion cultivar. So, you can mesh those two worlds together by literally splicing them and shoving them together. And they took and it worked, and we will see, I guess, how they stand up to one another. We're doing it mostly for added vigor. We don't have many soil borne diseases that we know of yet, that we would be trying to avoid.

NIC GARZA:  Yes, we can check out the greenhouse. We added a greenhouse in the past year. It's funny because, now that we have it, I can't really imagine what we would have done if we didn't have it. It was almost immediately full in the beginning of March. So, we were able to turn this into a greenhouse space. This used to be a very dilapidated structure. We had to take the roof off and then redo it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This is great. Is it heated?

NIC GARZA:  It is not heated. It is pretty drafty, so we gave up on the goal of heating it. But we made one heated table that we looped a gutter heating cable through some sand and just like a wooden tub on legs. It can keep the soil up to a good enough temperature when it gets really cold. It has worked almost flawlessly and it was probably $150 to make.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes. You've got a lot of things started already.

NIC GARZA:  Yes. We've got parsley and we are trying celery again this year and some romaine. Ginger is back there sprouting, tomatoes in the back corner, green onions. It feels really good to get trays out of here. There were trays all along these barrels and these tables were full and this thing was full and just that slog of getting everything out.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Do you want to tell me a little bit about the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition Fellowship program that you are a part of?

NIC GARZA:  Sure. In early winter last year Hoosier Young Farmer Coalition announced that there would be a fellowship program that was targeting specifically BIPOC farmers in Monroe County, Indiana. When I saw that was announced four or five names ran through my head. I was like, "I'm sure I'll get it if I apply for it," and that was the case. And I know, Enrique and Ash. And that was a funny thing that I talked about with them when we first met up, that we all had a couple of names in mind that we figured it could be. The fellowship's goal is to paste us all together for a certain amount of hours, and we'll alternate giving farm tours on each other's projects, and get together for some group meet ups. Building community, showing each other what we are up to, and there is a stipend or reward along with it of $4500 that goes towards any kind of project on your farm.

NIC GARZA:  I think that we would use it too build a larger walk-in cooler space. That would give us some wiggle room in terms of scheduling harvest days. This year we were able to hire a couple of people, and I'm hoping that that will really be great for us. I cannot imagine having extra help here. We've definitely held off on hiring people because we feel really passionately about paying well and we've not been in a position to pay well until this year, and certainly, some of the funds will also go to that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  You said you were wanting to have a bigger walk-in cooler space. Do you have a walk-in cooler space now?

NIC GARZA:  Yes, it is very small. It might be eight by four feet. We're also limited by the size of our cars. We don't have a truck, we have two sedans. One is a Prius which is more than a sedan, but still. The walk-in cooler that we have now seems to match our cars, so we can take that amount of produce. But I feel like if we get the larger walk-in cooler we can take more trips or maybe even get a truck later to haul more things.

MARIE O'NEILL:  And then that would be nice because we could use the other space for storage crops. Being able to keep the two spaces at different temperatures would allow us to keep things in storage longer, because we don't have a space really for storage.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, you mean things like winter squash or potatoes or something like that, is that what you mean by storage crops?

NIC GARZA:  Definitely, yes.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Or those apples when they-- [LAUGHS]

NIC GARZA:  Yes, definitely.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's a long way off, but yes.

NIC GARZA:  Yes. All the root stock that we have or dwarfing root stocks they're precocious and so they're meant to fruit at year three or four. So, that was a serious consideration on deciding on the walk-in cooler because I figured, at our rate of planting, we could have thousands of pounds of apples that we would have to store over winter. I'm glad to do it, but we definitely need the space.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, a lot of plans and also so many things that have happened in the past couple of years. Where are you currently selling, or where does your produce end up going?

NIC GARZA:  We sell mostly, almost exclusively with People's Market. People's Market just got access to a LFPA grant, a local food purchasing assistance grant that was, I think, a part of the Climate Bill that was passed earlier in the year last year. And that unlocked a lot of funding for hooking up under served communities with local food, helping purchase food from farmers at a fair price. That's the grant that we're most working with this year. And that's been positive because we've been able to receive some payment up front. That had always been a challenge to work with the whole invoicing system of not getting paid until two to four weeks after you deliver on produce. So, it has definitely been a good way for us to build well and be able to afford things like hiring people or maybe buying a truck or a walk-in cooler if we hadn't got this grant.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Have you been able to work with Mother Hubbard's Cupboard at all with providing food?

NIC GARZA:  Yes, definitely. They have a wonderful program as well that we were a part of. I don't know if it has a fun acronym, but they are forming relationships with local farms in or near town, giving them $2,000, sort of a capital investment for the farm which is great. Then they are committing to purchasing, I think it is $5,000 or maybe $7,000 worth of produce from the farm over the course of the year. It is a really great program. We've been working with them on that for two, this will be our third year. Lots of flexibility. Very awesome to have another day to be able to drop produce off somewhere. Last year we looped that in with People's Market, and People's Market has become sort of a distribution system. It does have a farmer's market, but they put a lot of work into distributing the food. Last year we would bring produce on Friday or Saturday and they would take it to Mother Hubbard's and that would be factored into that original grant.


NIC GARZA:  Yes. It was really great that we could work together on that.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I remember talking to you before, and you really wanting to find a way for the food that you grow to not just go to those who can pay the price that it costs to grow good food.

NIC GARZA:  Yes. And that's definitely a core value. There are plenty of farms that can cater towards that demographic of people and that demographic of people seems very well catered to already.

KAYTE YOUNG:  It is also interesting to hear that the fellowship with the Hoosier Young Farmers, it wasn't just about a stipend, it was really also about building community among farmers, and among farmers of color in this area.

NIC GARZA:  Yes. And that's been really great. I knew Shanna, Enrique and Ash peripherally. We were on the edges of the same circle for a while, but it's been nice to get to talk to them and see what they are up to. And I love getting to see other people's projects because it really is just a manifestation of the way that they think. So, it is very interesting to get tours of farms, especially, I think, when you're a farmer. There's like an undercurrent that you can feel when that happens. That's been great. And we have also been able to talk and share experiences about what it means to be a farmer of color and just experiences we've had that might pertain to that, and that's been nice to hear as well.

KAYTE YOUNG:  And it seems like, like you said you knew them peripherally and you might have wanted to get together, but having something where it's like, "Oh, this is part of the program." Where we have structured time that we're supposed to spend together, makes it happen.

NIC GARZA:  Yes, definitely, especially in the spring when things can be so busy, it is helpful to have those chunks of time blocked off for you in a way.

KAYTE YOUNG:  We talked about the consultants that the Hoosier Young Farmers had hired and how that contributed to the design of the program.

NIC GARZA:  It is interesting because, I think as a person of color, it can be tricky to look at programs that are designed for people of color. I struggled to perceive them not as performative things, so it's hard for me to perceive them as genuine, helpful things. That's probably the case with lots of things that fall under affirmative action. And so that is definitely something that I struggled with at first. It seemed to me, to be something that was performative in nature, but I think going into it, that dissolved and I was able to talk to other members about that and it seems like other people have those internal conflicts as well.

NIC GARZA:  I think, being in it, that it is well designed. It seems like a respectful program that asks not much of each participant. It's been a positive experience entirely thus far and so I'll give props to the people that designed it. I think it is well maintained and they hired a person specifically to coordinate it, and I think that was another valuable piece of the program working smoothly, is having a dedicated person manage it and I am not sure if it was that way in the past.

MARIE O'NEILL:  Do you want to see the chickens?

KAYTE YOUNG:  I do want to see the chickens. I always want to see the chickens.

KAYTE YOUNG:  When I came before, I think you had just got them recently and you were really thrilled with them.

MARIE O'NEILL:  That's true. I'm always thrilled with them.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So that has not worn off?

MARIE O'NEILL:  No, well, not the chicken personally, but being a chicken owner has worn off a little bit. We had 30 birds at one point and now we have 15 and we didn't eat any of those, so.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Somebody might have, but not you guys. Some animal, I'm guessing.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I love how they're all different kinds. Look at this one waddling over with its fuzzy feet.

MARIE O'NEILL:  That's a Salmon Faverolle. They're the cutest chickens in the world, I think, or my favorite.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I think that one's really pretty with the brown and black.

NIC GARZA:  She's the kindest one. She'll come up to you and peck at you and hop into your arms.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Nic Garza and Marie O'Neill or Outlier Farmstead in Bloomington, Indiana. Nic is one of three recipients of this years Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition Beginning Farmer Fellowship. After a shorty break we'll speak to the other two recipients; Ash Teng and Enrique Hernandez. Stay with us.

KAYTE YOUNG:  This is Earth Eats, I am Kayte Young.

KAYTE YOUNG:  We've been talking about the Beginning Farmer Fellowship awarded by the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition. This year they partnered with the city of Bloomington to offer fellowships specifically to BIPOC farmers in Monroe County, Indiana. We spoke with Nic Garza out at Outlier Farmstead, and I invited the other two fellowship recipients into the studio to learn more about their work and to hear about how they plan to use the funds. I started by asking each of them to describe their farming practice.

ASH TENG:  Hi Kayte, thanks for having me. My name is Ash Teng, I am a farmer, grower also a tea crafter and food product development person. All things food and plants and the earth really. The name of mine and my partner's farm is called Bread and Roses Gardens. It is a three acre, no-till forest farm surrounded by the Hoosier National Forest. I also have the herbal tea line which is called Blossom and the Bee Tea and Botanicals, where we create all kinds of botanical products as well. That's including skin oils, salves, flower bath teas as well. So, it is really awesome to be able to not only focus on the food products, but be able to do the herbal products and the medicinal products as well.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  Hello, my name is Enrique Hernandez and I am a grower, farmer, artist, entrepreneur. Just this last year I, alongside an acre of vegetables, got a license to grow hemp. And so, I have been pivoting towards working with the cannabis plant in general as a medicinal product and as a potential fiber product. It is very aligned with the practices I was into about organic farming and growing something that sequesters carbon from the environment and adds benefit to the people. The laboratory that I started to process it is called Official Extracts, and I am still currently partnering on the farming growing with [UNSURE OF NAME] Farms.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, you're both recipients of the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition Fellowship this year, and this year they specifically focused on Monroe County and on BIPOC farmers. I was wondering if you could each talk about your experience with that. I know that there's a stipend that goes with it, and then there's also a community part of it. First, if we could hear about how it might help you in developing your farm project at this time.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  First I want to say I'm extremely grateful for the Hoosier Young Farmers Fellowship. I've been using it to jump start my business. I just moved into a lab space to process all the hemp. The equipment is expensive, rental fees, marketing fees, just bringing awareness to the brand. So, it's been a really big help just to jump start, and I think that a lot of the times is what's missing is just that initial push to get over that hump to have enough product to at least start doing it part-time to make it worth your time. And hopefully, to grow this BIPOC community, small farm community, people that are more interested in growing crops other than corn and soy and bringing their culture into the Bloomington culture as well.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  It's cool that they're focusing on BIPOC growers. My experience with growing up here in Bloomington is that there isn't a lot of BIPOC growers in the direct area. And so, it was also a part of my mission to bring camaraderie around growing food, maybe as a BIPOC person, share resources, share experience and knowledge. Because I do know people that want to do it and it sounds great, but they don't know where to start, they don't know where to access land. It's a lot of work, it's really competitive.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Ash, can you talk about the fellowship and what it is helping you with this season?

ASH TENG:  Yes, again, super grateful to be one of the recipients for the Hoosier Young Farmers Fellowship this year. It's been really awesome to meet and hang out with Enrique and Nic and Shanna and share ideas and share what's been working for us and share our experiences, because farming is a really tough industry to thrive in and we could use all the help we can get. I think that why it is really important to give a little push to BIPOC farmers in this area who have been marginalized in history. And it's important to give that support back and I am excited to be able to invest more into our business.

ASH TENG:  This year, one of the things that we really wanted to do with some of the grant money is to get FDA certification on food processing. One of the certifications is called the Better Processing School. It's quite a high priced certification to get. There's a lot of barriers and I think that's why not many farmers or many other businesses can go ahead because it is quite highly priced. So, with this grant we're really looking forward to being able to complete that FDA approved certification, and that means I will be able to process more goods into canned goods and sell canned goods in lots of different retail locations as it will follow all the safety requirements of the FDA.

ASH TENG:  So, that's a really great part of being able to invest in and use that money for normally expensive certification, and to be able to expand our business through that. Hopefully, it will mean that we get to have some of our products on more shelves in the local area and have additional revenue streams. It's important in being able to farm full-time and to be able to make sure, not only are we doing what we believe in, but also what is profitable. Because you need to find that good balance of what is profitable and what you believe in at the same time. Hopefully, doing this will enable us to farm full-time and keep doing this nourishing work.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I would love to hear a little bit more about what is involved in value added goods in terms of what you're able to do from a home kitchen or from a farm based kitchen. I know that Indiana has particular laws around home based vendors and where you can sell and what you have to have if you are not using a commercial kitchen. And so, you're talking about the FDA certification that you're looking at, might expand what you're able to do and where you're able to sell your products. What is the current situation for the products that you make?

ASH TENG:  Originally, we started as home based vendors. In 2020 was my first season here in Indiana growing, and we had a lot of time to be at home and create delicious goods because it was the start of COVID. So, we were originally home based vendors, but that meant we could only sell at farmer's markets, road side stands or direct to consumer. We did that for the first couple of years and realized that there was this demand for kimchi, hot sauce, really great teas and tinctures. And so we wanted to build up on that and have enough for the demand and the community.

ASH TENG:  So, we rented commissary kitchens so that we could have that commercial kitchen license and be able to sell and retail locations as well. That has been a really great step in being able to increase that revenue already, but at the moment we're limited to the food items that we can make, so we're not allowed to can things in a commercial kitchen without doing that FDA certification. That's the next step into us being able to expand and grow with the business to complete that certification and then hopefully, being able to have jams on the shelf as well.

KAYTE YOUNG:  I was just going to say, so you can make jam and you can sell it and you could can it and sell it at a road side stand or a farmer's market or direct to consumer, but you couldn't sell that retail.

ASH TENG:  Right.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Because even commercial kitchen canned products, you can't sell them in a retail space without this extra certification.

ASH TENG:  Exactly.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thank you for that clarification, I appreciate that.

ASH TENG:  Yes, of course.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Enrique, I hadn't thought about the processing that might be involved in a hemp crop. I would love to hear a little bit about that.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  Yes. So, processing hemp into CBD specifically in Indiana is a much bigger task than I thought at first. It requires a license to process and then it requires expensive equipment that is all priced as laboratory equipment. Even though it is simple technology, such as distillation and evaporation, to do it right you need this very high end glassware that you can only buy from scientific websites. The simple answer is you pretty much can mix this plant with ethanol, extract it all through the ethanol and then you put it through a rotary evaporation process, which is pulling a vacuum and spinning at the same time, so that all of the ethanol boils off and you're left with just plant fats, lipids, all of the plant's cannabinoids, or whatever their medicinal compounds are.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  And then from there, you have this crude wax which tastes extremely bitter. So, to make it more consumable you have to further distill the lipids and the chlorophylls out, so that it's a smoother taste. This all takes several weeks where you really have to be watching the whole process. These pieces of equipment can go for a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, I'm very thankful to have a business partner that is a chemist, so we've been able to work around certain challenges, save costs and try to keep the process as simple as possible.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  What we're focused on is creating an extremely simple, whole plant product that is as true to its live fingerprint as possible. Which means doing things at low temperatures, doing things in as few steps as possible and not processing it too much, so it will be a little bit bitter, but also, it's a plant.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  Another thing that the fellowship is really helping with, that Ash mentioned is that whole retail sales. In order for me to put these products in stores, it requires a very expensive product liability insurance. In the past I was selling vegetables to Bloomingfoods and I even got some products into Lucky's Market when it was open, and that was $200 a year, for me to sell micro greens and mushrooms and stuff. With hemp products, because everyone wants to make money off of this industry, it's ten times as expensive for me to have product liability insurance. So, it really limits where I can sell it, so that's just another thing the fellowship is really helping with to break down these barriers so that we can increase our revenue streams and keep doing this.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Hemp only became a legal crop in Indiana in 2018. I asked Enrique about the regulations and the legal challenges that come with growing hemp.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  Yes. It has certainly been a long process, a bit of a roller coaster to do all the paperwork and jump through all the hoops and pay all the fees. The law makers don't really understand the product or what the farmers have to go through and they just say, here are all the rules, this is how you have to do it. And they're learning since it has only been five years in total, and I think that the commercial license opened up in 2020. So, there's only really been two to three growing seasons that have been open to the public. For example, the 0.3 percent TCH limit is something that people just created out of nowhere. A lot of times even the hemp plant wants to go anywhere from 0.4 to one percent TCH. So, what happened to a lot of farmers in Indiana is that they grew this beautiful, medicinal crop and they were forced to burn it all or destroy it.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Yes, I had heard that.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  Another part of that is the anxiety that comes with being a BIPOC person and trying to navigate all of these laws. And with the police and the law makers not really understanding what they are even doing, it's been an interesting experiment and once again, I have to be thankful for the support. There's a hemp council that's very supportive and connected with law makers and continually pushing.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That sounds so frustrating. To pass the law that allows it, but then make it so hard to do it. Just mostly, it sounds like out of ignorance. Like, not taking the time to actually find out how this might actually work.

KAYTE YOUNG:  So, the other piece of the fellowship, of just fellowship with each other, connecting a cohort of farmers in the area to get together, to share resources or share information or just build community. I would love to hear your thoughts about that and why you think it is important.

ASH TENG:  I really enjoyed actually being able to visit the other fellow's farms, and it's just really great to see all the different ways that you can be farming, depending on the land you're on, depending on what crops you're growing. I really loved to be able to see how other BIPOC farmers in the community are doing good with the land. We had a really awesome dinner together at the beginning as one of our Hoosier Young Farmers Fellowship retreats. We got to sit over some really great farm to table food and just connect and enjoy food together. Honestly, that is one of the things that brings me so much joy and a big part of farming is being able to connect with other farmers and share good food together ultimately.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  I just think it is really cool to develop these relationships that go further than, "Oh, I know who you are. I know what you are doing," and spend some time eating together, spend some time at each other's properties and hopefully have these relationships last far into the future, and invite new people that are interested into this sub community that's now been created because of the fellowship. And I hope that other farmers, beginning farmers, small farmers, BIPOC farmers can see that there is support and a place to go to learn more and to get connected, because that is really how I got started.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  I got taken in by the farmers at the farmer's market and they said, "Oh, you need to meet this person, you need to meet that person, they are great." So, yeah, I mean that's really what it takes as a community.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Do you feel like that kind of thing maybe is either missing or can be more challenging for farmers of color in a community in the Midwest? I mean, It sounds like you had a positive experience of sharing resources and information inviting you in. But I have heard from other farmers in Indiana, black farmers in Indianapolis saying socially, "There's a community of white farmers who are sharing all these resources and I am outside of that. So, how do I build something else or connect with that?" I've just heard that as sort of a barrier, or this is one of the ways that racially there is an inequity at times in the farming community.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  Yes. I mean, I've certainly felt that the whole time. And entering into farming I was like, "Oh, what am I going to do? Go up to a random white person's farm and ask them for help and they're going to tell me to get off their land." So, I felt very nervous to approach it at the start, but thankfully, there are really special people here. I mean, I heard about what Salem and Jonas were doing while I was in college, so that was a great start for me to reach out to them. They were doing permaculture, so it is not large scale farming, and entering into their social sphere, and then expanding on that. And they said, "Oh, our friend Bobbi is great, you need to meet her and you need to meet this person and that person." Then you start to find the people who are really welcoming. And that's also a big reason why I want to continue farming, to be a person that people can come up to and ask for help and relate to when they might not feel that way towards everybody else, and just keep building this group of like-minded individuals that want to support each other.

ASH TENG:  Yes, totally. It can definitely feel quite isolating as a BIPOC farmer in the Midwest, in Indiana, so it's really awesome to be able to connect and share our experiences with other BIPOC folks who are doing the same thing and wanting to thrive. Because it is hard to thrive as a farmer, full stop. It's hard and you have to find your niche and what works for you to maintain that and to make it a sustainable business. And so, I think, having this fellowship and being able to share our knowledge, hopefully invites more people from the community to see, actually I can do this, and yes, there is this supportive network of BIPOC farmers here that are doing it already, and there is room for more. And we want to invite more BIPOC folks, more smaller farmers, socially disadvantaged people to know that there is a way to farm and make a living out of it and thrive.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  My biggest surprise wasn't just the fellowship, but just in general, bringing my attention to the BIPOC farming community and the size of it. Yes, that was just surprising to me to learn that maybe we do know all of the BIPOC farmers in Bloomington, because it is just such a small community. And maybe it takes creating more support for people to enter farming rather than necessarily just increasing people's projects already. It's really hard to just jump in.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  And I would say that because of the isolation, not only of farming, but of the size of the community in the area, it would be interesting to use Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition's network to meet people in the greater area of Indiana. So, we're actually scheduling a visit soon to Indianapolis to meet the people behind Flanner Farms. So, yes, I think there is a big need to connect outside of the town and Hoosier Young Farmers brought my attention to the Jamerson's and some other BIPOC farmers in the state. I think it is going to be really important for all of us to stand together, even if we are separated by a few hours.

KAYTE YOUNG:  Thank you both so much. I really appreciate this.

ASH TENG:  Thank you so much for having us. This has been a really awesome time here.

ENRIQUE HERNANDEZ:  Yes, thank you.

KAYTE YOUNG:  That was Enrique Hernandez in conversation with Ash Teng in the WFIU studios. They're recipients of the 2023 Beginning Farmers Fellowship through the Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition. We have links to more information about the program on our website,

KAYTE YOUNG:  That's it for our show this week. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time. The Earth Eats team includes Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Schemenauer, Peyton Whaley and Harvest Public Media. Special Thanks this week to Brock Hamman, Liz Brownlee, Nic Garza, Marie O'Neill, Ash Teng, Enrique Hernandez and Shanna Poveda. The show was produced and edited by me, Kayte Young. Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on the show comes to us from Universal Production Music. Our Executive Producer is John Bailey.

Ash Teng, Nic Garza and Enrique Hernandez standing in a staggered row inside a greenhouse, facing camera

Ash Teng, Nic Garza and Enrique Hernandez took tours of each other's farms as part of the beginning farmer fellowship they each received from Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition. (Courtesy of Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition)

“And so I really love to be able to see how other BIPOC farmers in the community are doing good with the land.”

This week on the show, we talk with recipients of a fellowship that brings BIPOC farmers together to build community in Monroe County, Indiana. The farmers also receive funding for farm projects. We talk about what the fellowship has meant for the three farmers and how they will put the funds to use enhancing our local food system this season. 


If you’re a regular listener to this show, or if you grow food yourself, you probably understand that farming is hard. The physical labor can be difficult, yes, but also the planning. Working with natural elements like weather, pests and disease–all of which are unpredictable–makes planning anything a huge challenge. 

Even when everything goes right, the profit margins in farming are always slim. Iit’s safe to say that most small-scale farmers aren’t getting rich growing food. 

For young farmers and beginning farmers, there are plenty of barriers to getting started. 

For Black, Indigenous and Farmers of Color, there are often even more hurdles to overcome. For one, like with any profession, if you don’t see people who look like you doing this work, it can be hard to imagine yourself in that role. If you don’t have inherited land or wealth, or if you didn’t grow up on a farm–you are starting at a disadvantage.

All this is more likely to be the case for BIPOC folks due to settler colonial practices and slavery in the distant past; and discrimination and structural racism in the recent past and present–experienced across the nation and right here in Indiana. 

The Hoosier Young Farmers Coalition is an organization of young farmers and food advocates who work to recruit, support, and promote young and beginning farmers throughout Indiana –in an effort to make our food systems more localized, sustainable, and just.*

In recent years, they’ve offered a fellowship for beginning farmers. This year, through a partnership with the City of Bloomington, the fellowship was offered specifically for BIPOC farmers in Monroe County, Indiana.  I spoke with HYFC founder and former board president, Liz Browlee about the details. 

Then, I visited with the 2023 Beginning Farmer Fellows:  

Nic Garza of Outlier Farmstead, 

Ash Teng, of Blossom and the Bee Tea and Bread and Roses Gardens, and 

Enrique Hernandez of Official Extracts

Listen to our conversations on this week's episode. 


*Taken from the HYFC mission statement

NOTE: The new board president of HYFC is Taylor Hartson. Liz Brownlee is now Co-director of Partners IN Food and Farming

Music on this Episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.


The Earth Eats’ team includes: Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Alexis Carvajal, Alex Chambers, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Daniella Richardson, Samantha Shemenaur, Payton Whaley and Harvest Public Media.

Earth Eats is produced, engineered and edited by Kayte Young. Our executive producer is Eric Bolstridge


Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Earth Eats

Harvest Public Media