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Postcard from Paoli

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Alex Chambers: Andy had only been in Paoli a few years when he met the kids touring the U.S. Naturally, he had an invitation for them.

Andy Gerber: Would you like to come up and see the Tomato Factory?

Alex Chambers: They did a tour, he asked them to read a poem in French. The next year, they wrote to him and said

Andy Gerber: They thought Paoli was the most magical place they’d seen.

Alex Chambers: This week on Inner States: A postcard from Paoli.

Alex Chambers: There’s a local economy in Paoli, Indiana, that can’t be measured by money. It’s neighbors saying “Hey, I got another deer. Do you want this one?” It’s trading skills, knowledge, and time. It’s yard sales. It can’t be entered into a spreadsheet. No one knows exactly who owes who what or how much. Because everyone’s in debt to everybody, there’s a kind of grace in the exchange.

One node of this economy is at the Tomato Products Company. They don’t sell tomato products. It is an old factory building, though. It’s where Kara Schmidt and Andy Gerber host lecture series, teach yoga, make bagels to sell at the local co-op. They also live there.

I went and visited in March of ’23. They were hosting lectures that evening. Kara and Andy told me why they moved there from Chicago, how grief plays a role in the Tomato Products Company, and why those Europeans thought Paoli was the most magical place in the country. Their friend Heather Nichols teaches journalism at the high school, and she stopped by and we talked about how, 20 years ago, all students wanted to leave Paoli. Now they want to stay. She’s got some theories. Then more people showed up for the lectures, and we thought together about local economies and what creates the magic of this place.

This is a story about making community in a small town. It’s a photo taken from one angle, with a fairly narrow lens. Which is to say, there are at least 12 other ways of looking at Paoli, Indiana.

Patricia:  So, there's Paoli.

Alex Chambers:  That's Paoli, huh? But where's the epicenter?

Heather Nichols:  Maybe we should go with them.

Alex Chambers:  That would be fun. We could do a big one on the whole tablecloth, too.

Heather Nichols:  Yes, we could.

Patricia:  It's a cow.

Alex Chambers:  That looks like our baby squirrel. It could be the baby squirrel that we're taking care of. A little fox squirrel.

Patricia:  So that's the one boundary of our economy.

Heather Nichols:  Is this [INAUDIBLE]?

Patricia:  No, this is an Amish firm where we get our milk.

Heather Nichols:  So, we need Walmart and the bank.

Rosemary Park:  Yes, and I'm growing my economy, which is my house, the road to where I work at the mental health clinic, the court house here, and where I get my hair cut, where I get my gas. Walmart, which is the only place in town to really get groceries. And then over here is the bank.

Patricia:  So, when we usually think about the economy, there's a tendency to think about certain things. There's a tendency to think about our jobs, and the salary that we get, and what we do with that salary. There's also a tendency to think about markets, or stores, and the stock market and banks, things like that, very formal types of things. There's also a tendency to think about stores, or industries, or big companies that supply us with the things we need. But there is kind of a model of a way of thinking about our economy that puts together the idea that there is actually a lot more than what we see and that we usually think about when we talk about this idea of the economy.

Male 1:  Ours is so weird. It's hard to graph geographically, because our economy, we use so much social currency. We're almost mostly social currency.

Alex Chambers:  So that axis mundi is the Tomato Products?

Male 1:  That's a joke.

Alex Chambers:  No, it's not. This is the center of everything.

Alex Chambers:  So, I am at the Tomato Products Company, slightly tangled in my clothes. It's March, 4th, Saturday. Bright, sunny day. I'm walking over to this big old factory building. Not huge for a factory building, I guess, but for a building. There's smoke coming out of a chimney. There's a little bit of a rainbow painted on the wall. There's a pond. There's some little sculptures made out of rebar.

Alex Chambers:  Hello.

Andy Gerber:  Hey.

Alex Chambers:  Hey.

Andy Gerber:  Welcome. Come on in.

Alex Chambers:  OK.

Andy Gerber:  Do you want water or tea or something?

Alex Chambers:  I'm good for now.

Andy Gerber:  OK.

Alex Chambers:  I went ahead and turned the recorder on, just so you know.

Andy Gerber:  Oh, that's fine.

Alex Chambers:  So, if you are about to tell me a big secret, I should turn the recorder off.

Andy Gerber:  Where the bunker is?

Alex Chambers:  Right, exactly.

Andy Gerber:  The secret entrance to the bunker.

Alex Chambers:  Is right here.

Alex Chambers:  Hey, Kara.

Kara Schmidt:  Hi.

Alex Chambers:  Good to meet in person. I'm good. How are you?

Kara Schmidt:  Yeah. Good to meet you. Are you a hugger?

Alex Chambers:  I am a hugger. Yes.

Kara Schmidt:  OK.

Alex Chambers:  It's good. Yeah.

Andy Gerber:  I need to go throw a few logs on. I'lI be right back.

Kara Schmidt:  OK. Hopefully, you're OK with cats.

Alex Chambers:  Oh, yeah, totally.

Alex Chambers:  Boy, I just like the light and the plants and the big space, but, there's all the old bricks, of course, which is really cool.

Kara Schmidt:  Yeah.

Alex Chambers:  And then comfy couches in the kitchen, and all the cookbooks and cooking stuff.

Kara Schmidt:  We were just talking last night. We went to a friend's house, and Andy was like, "It's really weird to be in a regular house." Because this is normal to us. But when I think back to how this space that we're sitting in right now was when we first bought it, and even for the first few years there wasn't heat in here. Where those doors are, and where the doors over there are, those were boarded up, so we didn't have light. It was like dirt all over the floor. Water would just run through when we had a lot of rain. And so to think that that's now our living room is kind of strange.

Kara Schmidt:  It's just very comfortable for us, but it's not what most people think of as comfortable in some ways, like with the concrete and the lack of TVs and carpet, you know what I mean?

Alex Chambers:  Well, it's funny. I find this place incredibly comfortable, personally, but I'm probably unusual.

Kara Schmidt:  I mean, we find it comfortable, too. And I think most people who come feel like you do, which is nice to hear, because we're so used to it that it's hard to know.

Andy Gerber:  And there's lots of people here. There's public coming through on a daily basis. So, I learned this year the concept of third space. I had not understood that concept before. And it's interesting to live in third space as a caretaker, because I don't know how we would've done it without a caretaker here. A lot of this place was graffitied up, and people would come and steal things. And it was the first place the police went when something was stolen, like if a car went missing.

Kara Schmidt:  Where they went looking for somebody who was running.

Alex Chambers:  Wow.

Kara Schmidt:  Yeah.

Alex Chambers:  To this building, before you were here.

Kara Schmidt:  Yeah, or if a car got stolen or if somebody was on the run, this was the place that they would come to see if they could find whatever they were looking for, whoever they were looking for. So, they don't have to do that anymore, and I think we haven't heard anything about that for several years now, but there was a time, kind of at the beginning, where it was like, "Oh, it's nice. The police don't have to worry about this place anymore." You know?

Kara Schmidt:  I'm Kara Schmidt. My family moved to Paoli when I was a baby, and I was here all through high school and then left for college, and that's where I met Andy, at Goshen College, and we were in Goshen and then Chicago, and in 2015, my dad went on hospice. And it was also like Chicago was a pretty challenging place for us to live, on lots of different fronts, and we decided that we wanted to get out of Chicago. And figuring out where we were going to go, in our late 30s, early 40s, was kind of a challenge. What were we going to do with our lives at that point? But when my dad went on hospice, it was like this opportunity to come spend more time here, be with my parents and near family, and help take care of him. And it was just a nice reprieve from the city. And so, over several weeks, a couple of months, we slowly decided to move here. Actually, I decided to move here, and Andy decided, eventually, that he would follow, is really the truth.

Alex Chambers:  Are you going to introduce yourself, Andy?

Andy Gerber:  I'm Andy Gerber. Much of my history correlates with Kara's. I grew up in northern Minnesota, and east Africa, and Illinois. Went to Goshen College, twice. I have degrees in religion and nursing and worked as an ICU and then hospice nurse for a time, hospice in Chicago, all over, and tried to still maintain an art practice in Chicago with a studio space and found that very difficult. And so I was passionate about having a place where I could work on those creative elements I wanted to do, but also passionate about making a space for others to do that. And also really wanting to connect to outdoor space, which was one of the hard parts of Chicago, just feeling like I couldn't go out and find a stone to make a sculpture out of, or couldn't go find things, or relate to the woods, or grow things. And so that's always been a big part of me, growing up in northern Minnesota and being able to wander around in the woods and the creeks.

Andy Gerber:  So, this was a great opportunity. I didn't want to move all my tools down and not have a space for them. That was one of my parameters. And then this building came up for sale, and we tried to come and see it the night before I had to go back to Chicago, but we couldn't get down; we couldn't figure out quite how to see it. And then I went to Chicago, and Kara came and saw it and called me, and I was like, "Just buy it."

Lauren:  I never thought I would like Paoli, Indiana. I grew up in Chicago. I lived in Indianapolis for several years and went to school up there. I went back to school in my 30s. I got my three degrees. So, I kind of fit in you know?

Alex Chambers:  Tell me your name.

Lauren:  Lauren.

Alex Chambers:  Are you visiting or did you move here?

Lauren:  Well, I thought it was going to be temporary, but I moved in with Rose and her husband, and he's in really poor health. I'm retired, and Rose works every day during the week, and she's almost retirement age. She probably won't, forever. But she's a mental health worker, and so she has to work every day, and her husband is alone and he's got heart issues and five autoimmune diseases. So, I'm just going to stay. We've been friends for 43 years. I've been friends with her husband for 48.

Heather Nichols:  I know so much art gets hate. I shouldn't make that statement that they hate it here. I think they all just are in that phase of their lives where this is it. They're like, "Really? This is it?" And there's always that, "There's something so much better some place else." But then I've got quite a few kids now that they don't have plans to go away. This is it and they know it. But in 20 years in teaching it's different. The kids are different than they were when I started, I think.

Alex Chambers:  Like?

Heather Nichols:  They can see everything.

Alex Chambers:  Oh, so they actually have more of a sense of the outside world?

Heather Nichols:  Yes. And they realize there's no magic.

Alex Chambers:  Oh! So they're more likely to stay because of that?

Heather Nichols:  Mm-hmm, I think so.

Alex Chambers:  That's so interesting.

Heather Nichols:  I think so. The kids, when I started teaching, there's magic, there's something outside of Paoli. It's so magic. But now they watch magic everyday. They get it, the people are the same everywhere. There's not that push as hard to, "I have to get out Paoli."

Andy Gerber:  Oh, the curtain got pulled down.

Heather Nichols:  Well, they realized that they've seen the wizard.

Heather Nichols:  My name is Heather Nichols, and I am a teacher at Paoli High School.

Heather Nichols:  The kids who want to leave, want to live in an urban environment, for the most part, or there's a specific Instagram version in their mind of what Colorado is like, or what California is like, and it's like, "I want to go there." But otherwise, I would say, 80-20. When I started teaching, 80% of kids are like, "I've got to get out of here." And now I'd say it's 80-20 the other way.

Heather Nichols:  Most kids don't plan to leave southern Indiana. They're going to be around here, and they don't have this big, "I'm going to move." The ones that are moving are for very specific reasons. They've already workshopped, and looked, and thought through, and scrolled all the things. They know everything about the place they're going to. They're the experts of it. And I'm always like, "Ooh, be careful. Remember, when you're looking on social media you're looking at a very crafted version of the world, and when you get there, it may not be what you think it is."

Heather Nichols:  I think kids now are way more aware of cause and effective of "If I go to college, I have to leave my house, and I have move to the school, and I have to do all these things and make all this money, and then I've got to do this." But here I have people and I have, you know, I think it's a little bit, for the kids that I'm around, and kids that maybe more access to more resources. I just think that they get that it's not just, "I move and everything's better and wonderful."

Kara Schmidt:  My parents are from the Plains area. So, one's from Kansas, one is from Nebraska. Russian-Mennonite background. They met when my mom was in nursing school in Kansas, and my dad lived in Kansas, and so they met there when he was not in school, she was. She ended up coming to Goshen College in Indiana for the rest of her nursing degree, and they had already met and started to fall in love, and so he ended up following her for two reasons. They had Mennonite connections from Goshen College, but also my dad ended up in Indianapolis for schooling to get his physical therapy degree, and during that time they were with some other couples that also went to Goshen to college that had a Mennonite background, who were also getting training in the medical fields. So, doctors, psychiatrists, nurses.

Kara Schmidt:  That group of people decided that they wanted to move to a rural area to serve a community that was underserved in the medical world with health care. And so there were two different communities they were looking at. I'm not sure what the other one was, but Paoli was one of them because Paoli had a small hospital, but I think one of the main doctors that was here was either retiring or something was happening, and they needed more doctors, basically. They needed a physical therapist. And so they all decided to move here pretty much at the same time and buy land together.

Kara Schmidt:  So, I grew up in an intentional community where it was a cooperatively owned piece of land, about 80 acres. There were originally, I think, five families. All of them had young children. We moved here in 1974. And then the house that was on that property was built by 1978, and so from age three or four, I was living on this property with all these other people. We all had our own houses, and many of them still live there, the ones who are living. My mom still lives there.

Kara Schmidt:  And being Mennonite and also growing up in that kind of environment, community and service are some core values that I grew up with. So I feel like that really plays into a lot of the choices Andy and I have made in terms of where we live and what we're doing.

Andy Gerber:  I spent the first decade or so in northern Minnesota, in Duluth, and Two Harbors, and absolutely loved it. My parents had done Peace Corps and wanted to go back to East Africa, and so they took an assignment with the Mennonite Mission Board to go to Somalia to start a nursing school. And nothing goes as planned in Somalia. That's a good theme. And so I learned a lot about World Bank and all that kind of stuff early on. But I went to boarding school when we went there. Uprooted from Minnesota, plopped down in Kismayo on the equator.

Alex Chambers:  And you were about ten?

Andy Gerber:  I was 12, I think. And then went to a Southern Baptist Pentecostal Assembly of God boarding school in the Rift Valley in Kenya.

Andy Gerber:  One of my roommates died between semesters. He was eaten by a crocodile.

Andy Gerber:  The way that it was handled at the boarding school was that it was "handled." There was no space for grief. And so, looking at the train wreck that that was and what happens when there's not a space given for grief and Christianity is turned into grief illiteracy, instead of holding space for grieving, that was early on like a piece of who I was.

Andy Gerber:  I was a hospice volunteer even before I was a nurse. Kara and I both did hospice training, and I studied up in Ontario with Stephen Jenkinson at the Orphan Wisdom School, and I've done a lot of that type of work. But I did ICU first, because my mom said, "Go and learn to ride your bike. Get your skills." So, I went and did that for three plus years.

Andy Gerber:  I initially worked in an inpatient unit in Chicago, there was a lot of high-tech stuff. People would come in on vents and drips, so having a proficiency in that realm was a good idea. The big switch was going from inpatient hospice to hospice admissions, which is driving to a "you name it" part of Chicago, working with a person from anywhere on the planet, and having the most difficult conversation they've ever had with them, and then going and doing that again with a completely different person, from 12 fairly inebriated Irish folks to an immigrant family from Iraq to, you name it, to a low-income black family with no furniture in the house. Just boom, boom, boom. That was the hardest job I've ever done, and I learned a ton about walking in and just learning to relate and communicate with just about anybody.

Alex Chambers:  What did you learn?

Andy Gerber:  Instead of trying to prescribe or explain how something's going to work, it's holding the space for people, specifically finding the connection. So, if you're in someone's house, it's easier because you look around and there's 300 model trains on a shelf, and then you can talk about trains. And that's the way that you get in sync with somebody. I can tell you, the amount of different methods that you use to try to get in sync with someone, like sometimes it was a Tom Paxton song. I literally sang a Tom Paxton song to one person, I don't know how that happened; I don't quite remember, without knowing that Tom Paxton was one of their favorite artists, which was strange. Those little pieces, when you find them, that are connected, then someone is like, "Oh, OK." It's a skill that I don't know how you learn. And there's train wrecks in trying to learn it when you say the absolute wrong thing.

Andy Gerber:  Then my sister died. Kara's dad was dying. Lots of things were shifting. We sold our house in Goshen and bought this place all within two months.

Kara Schmidt:  The Eubanks bought this place in maybe the late '60s. When they bought it, the building didn't have floors, there was no roof, there were probably no windows, because of the fire that happened in the 40s.

Kara Schmidt:  This was the warehouse for the tomato factory, and there were other buildings and structures that were actually the cannery that were so destroyed in the fire that those buildings got demolished eventually, but this one was left standing enough, but it didn't have floors, and it didn't have a roof.

Kara Schmidt:  So, the Eubanks bought it to put in a small furniture factory. They're the ones who saved the building really.

Kara Schmidt:  On this big patio out front, they built a structure that was their offices and maybe bathrooms and things, and then the main part of the building was the factory. They put in a little elevator so they could move things.

Heather Nichols:  At the very end of them owning it, I was a little kid. I remember my dad, because these are my dad's cousins, yes.

Heather Nichols:  My dad tells a story about how they always would come up and walk the railroad tracks, and there would be little cactuses from where the railroad had gone out west and come back. There were cactus growing in the railroads there, when the railroad was still running. Is it crazy to think we have vague memories of the railroad, or is that long gone?

Kara Schmidt:  I kind of do, too.

Heather Nichols:  But I don't know if I'm just thinking I remember that.

Andy Gerber:  It was decommissioned in the '80s.

Heather Nichols:  So yes, but my dad would come up here when he was young, and he remembers there being little cactus from when they'd go out west and come back. And even if it's not true, I like that story. But there was woodworking. I just remember lots of wood smells when they had it. I don't know who had it after that, or nobody had it.

Kara Schmidt:  I don't know either. At some point after the Eubanks, somebody bought it and made it a pallet factory. I think that was the Lows, yes. There has been a haunted house here since around '94, after I had gone. And then, besides that, it was just used as storage.

Kara Schmidt:  We bought it from a guy named Willie Sprinkle. He's not a native to Paoli. He also owned the house that burned seven years ago. It was our first winter here.

Heather Nichols:  I remember watching that fire, not sure where it was, and kept telling Jeremy, "You're going to have to go. You're going to have to get in your car and drive and see if Kara's house is on fire." He was like, "It's not her house." Of course, he was right, again.

Rosemary Park:  I'm Rosemary Park. I moved here about five years ago from Nashville, Tennessee.

Alex Chambers:  What brought you here?

Rosemary Park:  Love, and a husband.

Alex Chambers:  How would you describe the role of this place in the community?

Rosemary Park:  It's like a center for the arts. It's almost like artist's colony and studio and educational center and event center. It's just a gathering of creative peoples to learn and make art and celebrate together.

Heather Nichols:  In my day job of being a cheerleading coach, we get on the buses and go to all these other schools and all these towns, and I worry that I'm so in love with my home that I think all these other places are very boring, and very dusty and very like cardboard cutouts of movie sets, and our town is like a weird little town. The kids don't get it. It's like in all those places, you can push on those buildings and they'll fall right down. I promise. They're not real places.

Andy Gerber:  There's a magic realism component to it, though. It's like Pablo Neruda wrote this book or something, wrote this place, you know?

Heather Nichols:  Only I don't know that he was in love with it. I think he might've written it, but I don't know that he was in love with it like he should be. No.

Andy Gerber:  Not Neruda. Who was I thinking of?

Alex Chambers:  García Márquez.

Kara Schmidt:  I don't know that I has that much darkness.

Andy Gerber:  Well. [LAUGHS]

Heather Nichols:  Well, it depends. When you get the wrong people together, there's a little bit of darkness. We only had one protest. Were you here when we had the people on the square with the "God hates the F word" people? Yes, one time. But since I've been teaching, we had a group of folks that, I don't know that they were "the" protest group, you know, those people, Westboro, I think that's what their name was, yes. Somebody adjacent in their same wheelhouse brought their nasty, awful flags, and their horrible signs, and their pictures of aborted fetuses. And that was such a controversy.

Heather Nichols:  They came in the square and did their little protest, and I thought, "This is the only actual protesty kind of thing I've ever seen happen in Paoli, and these folks aren't from here." They're just coming in here, and I want to tell them, "You all have to understand how much so many people do not agree here, and we just keep our mouths shut." We just all live in the same place, and we don't get in each other's business. Of course, we get in each other's business because, please, we're humans.

Heather Nichols:  I know so many people who are so in both directions, where their kids all go to our school together, and that's an interesting melting pot of children having conversations about real issues, and they all are able to do that pretty well, and no fists about stuff like that. Kids are all hearing all different ideas all the time, and we don't have too much controversy.

Heather Nichols:  There was a conversation this week in my classroom. One of my students was giving a speech about Mifepristone, whatever the abortion pill that the Texas judge is "canceling" was the word she used. I was like, "I think you probably have to say banning." But she was working on her debate for her speech and going through it, and she and another kid were debating and talking about what is the impact for all this? And I'm looking over here at my very Republican-family children are just over here, just listening to them talk in a like-minded way about the banning of this abortion pill. They were both like, "This is silly," having this conversation and working on the debate, and then these other kids, who I know are from families that are like, "Yes, let's get rid of it. No abortion," are just listening.

Heather Nichols:  And I'm like, "This is nice." Let them have those conversations around each other and hear other voices for themselves, in person, not just through the interwebs, no matter what the issue is. And very religious kids from very religious families just quietly listening. It was a kind of a nice metaphor for the town. I think there are a lot of people who just quietly listen to what's happening around them. There's not usually a lot of big hubbub.

Andy Gerber:  You reminded me of a story, Heather. I was down at the beer store, one of the first years we were here.

Heather Nichols:  Was it the one by the jail?

Andy Gerber:  By the jail, yes. There were four young people in there, and I was like, "I wonder where they're from?" They were looking at the beer, and I was like, "Would you like some? Could I help you figure out what kind of beer you would like?" They spoke, and I was like, "Oh, these are Europeans." So, the two young women were from France and had flown into Canada and met these two young French-Canadian men, and the four of them decided to come and tour the United States. I met them in the liquor store in Paoli, and I said, "Would you guys like to come up and see the Tomato factory?" And they were like, "Sure."

Andy Gerber:  So I was on my bike, and I rode my bike back here, and they followed in the car, and I gave them a tour of the whole tomato factory, and I was just talking to them. They were French, so I figured they should know the French poet, I don't know how to pronounce his name, Yves Bonnefoy, he wrote all these little poems called stones. He named all of his poems a stone. So, it was one of my favorite poems and I wanted to have her read it to me in French, so I had her read it to me in French. Then we took them out to Lazy Black Bear, to the horse camp to let them camp out there. We told them they could camp here if they wanted.

Andy Gerber:  They emailed back the next year and said they had gone through the entire United States and they thought that Paoli was the most magical place they had seen.

Andy Gerber:  Yes. Is that crazy?

Heather Nichols:  That is crazy. I mean, it's not, though. There's something weird about this place. It really is.

Andy Gerber:  They were just like, "What is going on there?" They drove all over: Las Vegas and all the places, and then they were just like, "Paoli."

Alex Chambers:  I think people in general are just more like, "Do you want a camper for the truck you're selling?" It's like, "No, I don't, actually, but thanks for asking."

Heather Nichols:  Well, we were talking about yard sales. So many people do so much of their economy through a yard sale or selling clothes on Facebook.

Andy Gerber:  "I've got another deer, do you want this one?"

Heather Nichols:  Right, yeah.

Rosemary Park:  I got a deer from the neighbors last year.

Alex Chambers:  I moved here thinking I was going to get into hunting. That was a big goal. "I'm going to move to Paoli and I'm going to get into hunting and get a lot of our meat." And then it was like, "Oh, everybody I know hunts, they love it, and they get way more deer than they want." Or they like to kill deer, but they don't like to eat it. So they're like, "Oh, yes, you want a doe? I'lI get you a doe. You want two does? I'lI get two does." I can have all the deer I want any given winter.

Kara Schmidt:  We are having our curiosity lecture series, from six to eight.

Heather Nichols:  In a fog, I have seen that in an email.

Kara Schmidt:  What do we have to do to get ready for tonight?

Alex Chambers:  That's what I've been thinking about.

Kara Schmidt:  Because we haven't done anything out there.

Andy Gerber:  That's not true.

Kara Schmidt:  OK, I haven't done anything out there. We'll leave it at that.

Andy Gerber:  That is true. I think I just need to move a few things out. I should go check on the fire and make sure that that's heating up.

Kara Schmidt:  What time is it?

Andy Gerber:  Patricia is from Brazil. She teaches geography at IU, and she's talking about community wealth and other economies other than the money economy in communities.

Patricia:  This is a picture of an iceberg. When we look at the top of the iceberg, you see kind of these usual things that people will talk about or think about when you ask them, what is their economy? They usually go to those things, right? But below the iceberg, there's all these other types of things, some formal and some informal, that also make up the activities and processes that sustain us and sustain our communities. So, things like our families, things like community gardens, things like housing cooperatives, exchange cooperatives, or consumer cooperatives Things like parenting or informal mutual aid, things like caring for your friend's child.

Female 1:  It feels like those can exist, but they have to exist underground here.

Female 2:  Yeah, because of the power structures are never going to represent that.

Female 1:  Although one of our big points is that those things don't even have to exist underground here, because there's so little regulation that we can get raw mill without worrying.

Female 2:  I don't have very much optimism that it's going to be the city council. It's going to be grassroots.

Andy Gerber:  But we can do that more here because it's less.

Female 1:  We don't have to worry about regulations because there's not the...

Andy Gerber:  Whereas in Bloomington or something, they have to work through the official channels a bit more.

Female 1:  ...person power for the health department to come and regulate stuff, for example.

Male 1:  There's also less of a fear of this intractable enmeshment that happens.

Andy Gerber:  Officials?

Male 1:  Yeah. I can never figure out if you owe someone or they owe you, or where you are. You can try to keep track of things.

Male 2:  There is a bit of a grace in the exchange instead of it being a hard transaction.

Female 3:  Because there's more there than just what's being exchanged.

Heather Nichols:  We were doing this video to talk about community and talk about our school, and I'lI be real honest, in that I don't remember what it was for. I was just told to talk about Paoli. They asked me the question, "What is it like living in Paoli." And I said, "Well, living in Paoli is having the very, very far to the right, and the very, very far to the left at the same place, and most people get along most of the time, and very little major public controversy."

Heather Nichols:  But there's lots of far reaches of both political in the same county. Lots of people that are not from Paoli seem to come to Orange County. For the kids here, they're like, "Why would people come here." So, I think that it's an interesting place to be. It's a unique kind of diversity. We don't have a lot of racial diversity that I wish my kids at my school could see and be around, and maybe not as much religious or cultural diversity, but just a diverse way of thinking all seems to come here. We're kind of like the Forest Gump of southern Indiana, I think. It's like the strangest people get connected somehow here. We have the woman with the space program, you have her connected here. Then you've got Larry Bird, and you've got the strangest famous celebrity historical pieces. Then you've got Al Capone. It's like the list of things that have happened in Orange County is like we're the Forest Gump of Indiana.

Heather Nichols:  This morning I put on my Merlin Bird ID and did the sound identification and it identified nine different birds in our backyard area, and one was cedar waxwing. That's the one I don't have on my life list that I collect, I'm kind of a nerd. You're making that face.

Alex Chambers:  That your collecting having heard them or seen them?

Heather Nichols:  Having physically seen them.

Alex Chambers:  OK, so you've got one.

Heather Nichols:  But I can't count it. Really, it's an ethical dilemma because my app tells me I heard one, but I didn't see it.

Alex Chambers:  It was your app, not you.

Heather Nichols:  The app was like, "Now some blue jay and a cardinal. Cedar Waxwing." And I was like, "Oh!" And I was looking around in my robe in my backyard trying to find this bird, and no such luck. So, my heart was broken today. So, there probably was a cedar waxwing, as there are red-tailed hawks. We have everything in our backyard. My mother is so jealous of us. She's like, "I don't know how you're across town and you have all these birds we don't have." We have lots of crazy birds up there, and the red-tailed hawk has been there for a while, and it does try to kill the starlings any time it gets a chance. So, not surprised. Do you think I'm a crazy person?

Alex Chambers:  No, I'm just enjoying hearing that.

Heather Nichols:  You're making a face like, "This woman is crazy."

Kara Schmidt:  When I left, I was like, "There is no way I'm ever moving back to Paoli." But then all of a sudden, 20 years later, it just made the most sense. I don't know.

Alex Chambers:  Was staying here prompted by your dad?

Kara Schmidt:  My dad going into hospice was almost my excuse to just make it happen, because we already knew we needed to get out of Chicago, if we were going to be healthy people, mentally and physically, but we didn't know exactly where we were going to go. My dad was ill for a very long time. This is another connection to hospice, I mean, part of the reason that I was interested in death and dying and grieving is because there were so many times that we thought my dad was on his last days. So, there were many trips down here to be with dad, thinking it might be our last days with him, and then he would miraculously get better.

Kara Schmidt:  So, during those trips, especially the ones after we had moved to Chicago, it was like, "Man, it would be really nice. This feels like a pretty nice place, at this point in our lives, to move to." So then, when we had been in Chicago for enough years and my dad was in hospice, then I was like, "Well, I'm going to Paoli to be with my dad, and I'm just going to leave Chicago."

Heather Nichols:  Kara and Andy are doing something that is not traditional to folks that live around here. Most people live in an apartment, or get a house, or get a trailer. They bought a building and they lived inside of it for a while in another trailer. Am I remembering that right? They've just made a home out of a structure. That isn't really common around here. Probably, in the beginning, whether they know it or not, they probably got a lot more side-eye than they realized. "What are they doing up there in that building in the old factory?"

Heather Nichols:  But they became part of the market crowd. Andy's one of those people that once you meet him, I meet people all the time that are like, "Oh, yeah, I know Andy," and I'm like, "How do you know Andy?" Like, this kind of is everywhere. And so, I think because of their nature and their personality, they have met so many different people from different walks of life that that whole side-eye has become, "Oh, yeah, they live up in the factory. " They're involved in these cultural things in our community and they've been very good for it around here. Whether they realize their impact, I think that they've been very good for the community.

Heather Nichols:  And I come here and do yoga. It's the most mental health care I can afford; I come to yoga once a week when I can get away from my real life. I come here to the magical place and do yoga. It's great.

Alex Chambers:  Kara Schmidt and Andy Gerber run the Tomato Products Company, where they build and share a community partly through events like the Curiosity Lecture Series that you heard and Paolifest, which I'm sad to say happened just last week. But don't worry, you can follow the Tomato Products Company on Facebook, so you don't miss their next event.

Alex Chambers:  I've got one more thing I'm excited to share with you. It's a poem that starts "I ain't a son of a gun, but a daughter of slaughter." Michael Luis Dauro is a poet, tarot-slinger, and beekeeper living in Bloomington, Indiana. He's also totally unironically into spaghetti westerns and pro wrestling. Here's Michael with selections from his poem The Woman with No Name.

Michael Luis Dauro:  I ain’t a son of a gun, but a daughter of slaughter. My Pa, a plow boy turned war orphan turned bully-beggar turned hallelujah peddler, turned saloon broomhand, turned barnhouse fisticuffer, turned bronco-wild roscoe turned hell-bent highwayman, turned train-heister, turned twice-baptized preacher-mayor, turned flesh-rancher, turning a fine profit turning dog-men loose upon stolen girls.

Michael Luis Dauro:  And then one day, I showed up in one of them bellies, and Pa went off to turn himself into a land-taker, then a mine-staker, driving folks down them pits to turn over their silver hauls so he could turn flag-waver, turned pale savior of the meager-wracked dream-chasers turned hand-over-heart fear-hawker, who wrangled his new nation, one town-burner at a time.

Michael Luis Dauro:  And I wanted to be owed-to-none like Pa and so begrudged my fog-eyed Ma and turned myself into a murder-romancer, while Pa’s serpent-spouting turned we-made-these-broken-lands-into-empire, turned Heaven-brought-us-here-to-civilize-the-Sierras and went on to turn the meanest in his charge into lawmen all across the plains. And then the day came when he turned his attentions upon my gun play know-how and so turned me into his cold sharpshooter, his death-dealer, his mutiny-bleeder, his gallows-stalker and right-hand revolver, so long as it wasn't daughter.

Michael Luis Dauro:  Muck-faced and legless with whiskey, I once sat in the shadow of a sagging eave and beheld a funeral procession for a kite. A paper girl who drowned in a tree. My eyes smarted at how them children gathered about finger-fumbling and kicking up dirt, the only means they could figure to pay respects. They took turns gnawing on that kite’s cotton string, their spittle catching the amber winds until it glimmered with desert. And like a ragtag clutter of lazied hummingbirds, them children went on to dip their heads into a rags of ether.

Michael Luis Dauro:  What’s the use to all this remembering? I was mean with drink. I pissed myself. With a mouth soured sick, I hollered foul things at them children. Under the greasy hour of high-noon, I rended my shirt and spat at them. But before all went dark and gone, I witnessed men in pale dusters come and load them children onto a mule-drawn cart. And what’s endlessly heaped within me ain’t that I did nothing, but that doing nothing suited me just fine. Yet in all my dreams, the mule’s hooves, the cart’s wheels, the wake of amber dust, and through that cruel fog, them hummingbirds, them children, them faces doused in a god-awful quietude.

Alex Chambers:  That was Michael Luis Dauro reading selections from his poem Women With No Name. And that was produced by LuAnn Johnson for WFIU's Poets Weave. Thanks, LuAnn. And that's our show. You've been listening to Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. If you have a story for us, or you've got some sound we should hear, let us know at

Alex Chambers:  I've got your quick moment of slow radio coming up, but first the credits. Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Violet Baron, Eoban Binder, Mark Chilla, Avi Forrest, LuAnn Johnson, Sam Schemenauer, Payton Whaley, and Kayte Young. Our Executive Producer is John Bailey. Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music and Ramón Monrás-Sender.

Alex Chambers:  Special thanks this week to Kara Schmidt and Andy Gerber of the Tomato Products Company, as well as their friends and guests, Heather Nichols, Patricia Basile, Darren and Espri Bender-Beauregard, Rosemary Park, and Rosemary's good friend, Lauren. And an extra special thanks to Gabriel Piser of the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement for helping to make this story happen.

Alex Chambers:  It's time for some town sound.

Alex Chambers:  That was the sound of hungry, hungry kittens. Don't worry, they were about to get fed. Until next week, I'm Alex Chambers. Thanks, as always, for listening.

Tomato Products Company

Approaching the Tomato Products Company, Paoli, Indiana (Alex Chambers)


Kara and Andy thought they’d be able to find community in Chicago, the big city, and they went there partly for its diversity: they wanted to be in a place that was less white. But it was so expensive to live there, it meant they had to work a lot, and it seemed like everyone around them was stressed, so they decided to leave, and go to the small town in southern Indiana where Kara grew up: Paoli. Population 3,666. It’s a whole lot cheaper to live there, which means they don’t have to spend all their time working for other people. They bought an old factory building that used to make tomato products and now they live in it. Kara teaches yoga there. Andy makes bagels that he sells on Saturdays. They host lecture series there. They’ve been instrumental in putting on a festival for the town. They’ve been busy, in other words. This is a story about making community in a small town. It’s also a postcard from Paoli, a photo taken from one angle, with a fairly narrow lens. Which means there are at least twelve other ways of looking at Paoli, Indiana.


After the postcard from Paoli, we have a short (but great) poem. It's actually selections from a poem: Michael Luis Dauro, reading from his poem The Woman With No Name, originally featured on WFIU's Poets Weave.


The Inner States team is me, Alex Chambers, with Jillian Blackburn and Avi Forrest. Our executive producer is Eric Bolstridge.

Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music and Ramón Monrás-Sender.

Special thanks this week to Kara Schmidt and Andy Gerber of the Tomato Products Company, as well as their friends and guests, Heather Nichols, Patricia Basile, Darren and Espri Bender-Beauregard, Rosemary Park, and Rosemary’s good friend Lauren. And a special thanks to Gabriel Piser, of the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement, for helping to make this happen.

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