Health, Food Safety Has Families Going Organic

Indiana Push Highlights Farming Of Generations Past

From food safety fears, to perceived health benefits, or just the peace of knowing where their meals come from, more Hoosiers are turning to food grown and raised in the ways of generations past.

According to the Organic Trade Association, Americans spent $31.5 billion on organic food last year, or just more than 4 percent of all U.S. food sales, RTV6's Chris Proffitt reported.

It's a movement that's taken hold in central Indiana, where small farms, community gardens and farmers markets can be found in communities large and small.

Many growers and producers are rejecting the use of pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones often used in conventional food production.

Maria Smietana, a former biologist for Eli Lilly, took a career detour to cultivate a five-acre mini-farm in Zionsville, where she'll grow nearly 2,000 pounds of chemical-free vegetables this year.

"We feel that you're not putting chemical residues into the food you grow, so we feel that it results in healthier and safer fruits and vegetables," Smietana said.

Growers and producers are also focusing on small, local operations after concerns over salmonella outbreaks, reports of Mad Cow disease and documentation of overcrowded, filthy factory farms.

Chris Baggott, the co-founder of the Indianapolis-based email marketing company ExactTarget, is committed to proving that bigger isn't always better with a 100-acre farm in Greenfield.

He uses only renewable farming practices or, as Baggott describes it, the way his grandparents farmed.

"(I have) a book that I picked up at an auction from 1951 on how to raise hogs, and this is what we're following," he said.

Baggott raises cattle, hogs and chickens on pesticide-free pastures. He insists his green venture isn't some experiment.

"I absolutely want this to be profitable and to be a laboratory for other farms and people interested in the food movement to say, 'This is exactly how to do it,'" he said.

Art Johnson is another advocate of clean, grass-fed meat.

While his former company once built hospitals, Johnson now runs Noblesville's Bison World Farm with his sons, Andrew and Sam.

Johnson, who sells grass-fed buffalo at a retail store and through an Indiana organic food network, said the operation is so successful that demand for the meat often exceeds supply.

"It wasn't until a couple of years ago that we really found that this was the market, that people want organic foods," he said. "They know where it's from and what's in it."

But there are some roadblocks to bringing the organic foods movement more mainstream, namely that some organic food and grass-fed meats can cost 50 percent more than conventional products.

RTV6 compared the price of organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts and found the organic meat is, on average, $2.60 per pound more expensive than conventional chicken.

Organic milk is, on average, $3.43 per gallon more expensive, while customers pay about $1.74 more for a dozen organic eggs.

Meanwhile, local fruits and vegetables can typically be had for much less at the farmers market than at the grocery store.

For many consumers, driving a little farther and paying a little more is worth the peace of mind that comes with organic food.

"(Otherwise), I don't know who's making the food," said Danielle Robinson, whose family of eight eats local, organic fare. "I'm not out to save the environment. I'm here to save my family."

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