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Craig Brown and Katie Hacker
July 7, 2004
Craig Brown and his wife, Katie Hacker, were part of the trend of 20-year-olds looking for their future beyond the borders of Indiana. The University of Evansville graduates moved across country in 1996 to Oregon, where Brown planned advanced studies in teaching.
In Oregon they joined a community-supported agriculture farm (known as CSA), where Brown eventually ended up working.
"That's where we were exposed to a different model of sustainable farming," said Brown. The couple eventually decided in 2001 they could either move to the country in Oregon or go back home and be with family and friends.
So the couple that left looking for their future discovered it was back here in Indiana.
Brown went to work for an Indiana CSA for a year before returning to the site of his Hoosier roots -- the Brown family farm just outside Montpelier. He is the sixth generation to farm the "home 80" acreage, which dates back to 1852. His grandparents and parents still live on the farm, while Brown, 30, and Hacker, 29, rent in town with the hope of eventually building on the farm.
Brown said he mostly produces eggs and meat at his farm. He also has more than 200 laying hens and the beginnings of a beef herd and pigs. He added lamb this year. Cattle have been raised on the land in the past, but his dad, Darrell Brown -- who is semi-retired but continues to work with Craig -- had gotten rid of the herd never expecting his son to come back to the farm.
"Ten years ago, I would never have predicted here I would be," said Brown, who is spending his winters substitute teaching, mostly elementary grades.
Farmers markets have provided him a clearer direction for the farm.
"I think meats is an under-served niche," he said.
In the short time Brown has been coming to the Traders Point Green Market near Zionsville, he has built a following for his Black Australorp and Barred Rock chickens' brown eggs.
"I can't sell white eggs," Brown joked. He recently had a customer ask for the "brownest" dozen he had to sell.
Wearing a bucket hat and cargo-style shorts, Brown strikes up conversations with consumers stopping at his stand.
A regular egg customer stopped by the table as usual to get eggs, as well as beets, lettuce and onions. Soon, Jan Bobbitt of Zionsville and Brown were deep in discussion about the texture of the homemade mayonnaise recipe he'd shared and how to cook the beet greens she intended to buy.
"Isn't it wonderful to have a gourmet cook along with this," said Bobbitt, referring to the fresh products.
Once they know what they are bringing to market, Brown or Hacker frequently prints up a copy of a recipe for a favorite corresponding dish.
The vegetables, which help with cash flow, are raised on about an acre-and-a-half. With a newly built hoop greenhouse, Brown hopes to have lettuce all season, along with the tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.
Both like to cook and share the task as they did Friday nights when they first met. Brown said he gained a lot of expertise when he spent some time in Amsterdam, where there are lots of fresh vegetables.
"We really do eat seasonally," he said. "It's an important goal for us." At the moment, that means lots of salads and beets, which is fine for Hacker, who is mostly a vegetarian.
Hacker, originally from Lawrenceburg, has her own business as a freelance designer of craft books. She has been on deadline for her 21st instructional book, which features one of her specialties -- beading and jewelry -- due out this time next year.
"She subsidizes my farming," said Brown.
That doesn't mean she doesn't help out on the farm. She helps with the markets and takes care of the honeybees.
Hacker also put together the brochure with their philosophy of raising pastured meat and eggs and chemical-free vegetables with a goal of preserving the family farm.
"I think communicating it with people is pretty important," said Hacker.
Call Star reporter Patti Denton at (317) 444-6132.
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