Small family farmers have to feed themselves too, and when food is destined first for your own table, you make sure it's grown right. It's this commitment to quality that makes the food you find at the farmers' market special. Family farmers work tirelessly to make sure the food they're growing is delicious, nutrient-dense, and harvested with care: it's their dinner too. Family farmers are stewards of the land: they hope to leave it in better shape for the next generation. Family farmers have relationships with the animals on their farms: they're partners in the agricultural process, adding nutrients to the land and giving their lives so that our community might be well-fed. Karen and Hersh Kendall are model family farmers, offering not just beef, fruit, and produce from their fields but also value-added pickles, bone broths and soups, and farm-grown pecan granola to lucky customers every week at SFC Farmers' Markets. They've been farming for a long time, and we're lucky they share the fruits of their labor with us--this week, we were thrilled to hear a little more about how and why they do what they do.
Tell us a little about the journey that led you to Indian Hills Farm.
In 1983 we purchased our land to develop it into a catfish farm. We operated for several years selling catfish and are still known by the old-timers as the "Catfish Farm." We diversified into cattle, pecans and also vegetable and fruit production.
Why raise food?
We raise food first for ourselves and sell the rest. For that reason, we only want to grow nutrient-dense, chemical-free vegetables and humanely-grown grassfed beef.
How did your previous life experience or influences prepare you to raise food for a living?
When we lived in Alaska, we had a large garden and it always seemed to grow extremely well for us. Hersh became interested in organic production there in the 1970's and researched it extensively. He read books and publications on organic farming and we found local sources for organic fertilizers and products there in Alaska. No small feat at that time, but he was determined.
What does “sustainable” mean to you?
Sustainable to us means using organic materials present on the farm to enhance plant growth and build soil structure. For example, we use rain water for irrigating our gardens, spoiled hay for mulch and compost, and pecan shells, hulls and leaves for mulch and compost as well. Our cattle also supply additional nutrients and organic matter for compost.
What does a “day in the life” look like at Indian Hills Farm?
A day in the life at Indian Hills Farm varies depending on what might have happened overnight. We always have plans, but every day on the farm presents a new challenge. Depending on the time of the year, we are working on whatever seasonal crops are being produced. Also, the cattle need to monitored on a daily basis. Currently, it's calving season and there are babies being born sometimes daily.
What is special or different about the food you raise?
One reason why our food is special is because we only take the best that we grow to the market. Our customers tell us our produce has a particularly good flavor which we believe is due to our soil. As for the beef, our steers have been born on the farm, have not been administered antibiotics, steroids, or added hormones and are raised in a pleasant, stress-free environment.
What would we be surprised to learn is part of your “job description”?
Our job descriptions are multi-faceted. Between the two of us we have several job descriptions: foreman, laborer, herdsman, mechanic, cook, gardener, office staff, marketer, etc, etc. Whatever the farm demands, we try to do it mostly ourselves.
What do you find most rewarding about farming?
The most rewarding thing about farming is producing high-quality food that we can be proud of.
What do you find most challenging?
The most challenging thing about farming is being able to supply that same food on a consistent basis while dealing with what Mother Nature throws at us.... drought in particular.
What do you feel is the biggest obstacle faced today by folks who want to raise food sustainably for a living?
The biggest obstacle today in producing food sustainably is dealing with a difficult environment and being able to supply the needed inputs without breaking the bank. The main example for us is water as we have been in a continuous drought off and on ever since we bought the farm.
What is a farmer’s role in our society?
The farmer’s role in society is to produce high-quality food for customers so their health will be enhanced rather than harmed by the food they eat.
Why should we shop at the farmers’ market?
We believe our fellow farmers share our desire to bring the freshest, best, products possible to market. Most produce is usually picked no more than a day or two before bringing it to market. SFC has rules that dictate that no additives, harmful ingredients, etc. can be present in prepared foods--it's important to have the assurance that what you are buying is good for you. Also, farmers' markets make it possible for customers to meet the people who produce their food and have a real knowledge of where and how their food is grown.
What is the best news in food you’ve heard recently?
The best news regarding food we have heard recently is that the FDA has determined that trans fats and hydrogenated oils are not good for you. They have known it for almost forty years, so I guess it's about time to acknowledge it! In the 1977 issue of Rodale's guide to producing organic vegetables, it is noted that medical specialists and nutritional research warned about the dangers of hydrogenated oils in causing several serious disorders (hardening of arteries, etc). I hope it won't take that long for them to tell people that GMOs are bad for you as well.
What do you wish more people knew about growing food?
We wish people could understand the fact that growing food is very labor-intensive, with lots of difficulties, such as dealing with the environment, pests, etc. Also, consumers need to know that organic or sustainable food production is not a beauty contest. Real organic food can have blemishes of some sort or other that do not decrease the nutritional value at all. People may feel the cost is high for organic or sustainably-produced food, but they need to realize the health benefits are substantial. We also want to educate our customers about our grassfed beef. Our steers are born on the farm to mothers who were born on the farm and are raised free-range until they are two plus years old. This produces a heavy beef that is rich in CLA and other nutrients and the deep red color that grassfed beef is known for. People need to understand that it is a long process to produce quality beef and we hope they enjoy the results of our efforts.
What inspires you?
Testimonials from satisfied customers. It keeps us coming back to the market.
What is one thing everyone can do to create a better, stronger food system?
Of course, the first thing is to support local farmers by coming to the farmers' markets. Also, another is to be diligent in reading labels and not buy products that have harmful ingredients. Consumers speak loudest with their dollars and companies will change when their products are not being purchased. A third thing is to educate yourselves and learn the terminology that hides the true identity of ingredients. Manufacturers have become very creative in their labeling. Be smart.
What are you cooking this week?
This week at Indian Hills Farm, we will have sirloin steak with steamed cauliflower leaves, chicken tarragon soup with our kale and Dewberry Hills Farm chicken, lemon meringue pie with Meyer lemons, fajitas with B-5 tomatoes, onions and peppers, and more.
What’s your favorite farm-raised recipe or dish?
One of our favorite farm dishes is Grassfed Beef and Barley Soup with our kale and homemade rolls. It’s a winner on a cold winter night.
What’s your favorite cookbook?
Our favorite cookbook is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. With recipes from that book we have produced some of our best market products, such as our sauerkraut, ginger carrots, and our grassfed beef stock. Besides the recipes included, Fallon teaches about nutrition, healthy eating, food history and more. It's a great book.