Brothers see organic farming as a way to be better stewards of their land
June 21, 2013
By KAYLEEN REUSSER
“We believe healthy soil is needed for healthy bodies,” said Alan Schwartz of rural Markle. Since 2006, Alan and his brother Hal have farmed their family’s farm complex, which they call Organic Valley, in just the manner the title says. Each of the seven farms totaling 580 acres in northwestern Wells County and the 120 cows they handle are treated within USDA organic regulations. The Schwartzes raise corn, oats, soy, wheat, popcorn and hay by organic methods.
An item labeled ‘organic’ has not been exposed to chemicals, herbicides, or pesticides.
The Schwartz family members have farmed in that area since the Depression, when their grandfather bought the land for $20 an acre.
In later years, the brothers’ parents took over the dairy and farming operation. After graduating from college with a mechanical engineering degree, Alan Schwartz, who had worked on the farm as a college student, returned to help.
“I turned down a job offer to be my own boss,” he said.
The challenges of organic farming are high. Guidelines for carrying a USDA-inspected seal labeling a product as organic are stringent. The cows must be moved daily to a different paddock to allow the land to build up soil naturally. A daily farm journal is maintained for annual inspections, and every field is named to help with documentation. At harvest, the number of bushels is recorded for each acre. Even the specific haymow where grain is stored is recorded.
“I might spend an entire day just doing records,” he said. Still, the demand for organic products is so high, it is worth the effort. “The demand for our organic popcorn is so high we may expand our operation from 50 acres to 120 acres,” said Alan.
Organic milk is no less popular by consumers. The Schwartz brothers and a crew that includes Alan’s wife, Pam, son Matt, and three hired hands, typically milk 60 cows. The other cattle are in various stages of development, including dry or pregnant, steers, heifers, and calves.
“Companies fight for our milk because consumers are desperate for it,” Alan Schwartz said. He added that the state of Indiana now allows the sale of raw milk.
In 2012, Alan Schwartz was recognized for his agricultural efforts when officials with the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts named him the Wells County winner of the River Friendly Farmer Award.
“I have a lot more to learn about organic farming, but that is what makes it exciting,” he said. “For me being a farmer means being a good steward of the soil. As a Christian, I want to make the land better than it was when I took over.” υ