- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

UNIONVILLE, Ind. (AP) - What two years ago was just another field of Indiana pastureland with a few cattle grazing has been transformed into a sustainable farm with plentiful produce to share.

Robert Frew and Juan Carlos Arango, two men who have other occupations, decided to purchase the nine acres of land just south of Unionville and began to transform it into Sobremesa Farm.

“It’s a big movement now, permaculture,” Frew said. He and Arango used the model of a Bloomington area farm owned by Keith Johnson and Peter Bane, who practice permaculture and regenerative design and are part of the Bloomington Permaculture Guild.

The other influence came from Lucille Bertuccio, who is co-founder of the Go Organic Educator Series and is involved with the Bloomington Habitat Stewards, which is part of the Center for Sustainable Living.

What Frew and Arango learned was how to begin transforming the field of grass into an organic, sustainable farm. “We are trying to go back to regenerative agriculture,” Frew said. That means there’s little tilling of the soil, a lot of biodiversity of plants and animals and crop rotation. The ultimate goal, Frew said, is to better care for the land - and people.

The idea began with Frew and Arango asking “how we should do something to leave our footprint on the Earth,” Frew said. Both men are in their 50s and are beginning to look at life a little differently. Arango says that although there have been a lot of changes to their land in the past two years, “we need to rush” since they are no longer as young as they once were. “You feel good about what you are doing for yourself, as well as others,” Arango said.

What they are doing started with creating better soil through hugel, or mound, culture, which is a European method. The mounds begin with decaying wood. Other organic matter is placed around and on top of the wood. Frew and Arango excavated below the top soil, buried decaying trees in the cavity and then placed brush, top soil, newspaper and other organic material on top. The final top layer was soil and mulch.

Those first mounds now have blueberries, currants, strawberries, cranberries and other plants growing in the nutrient-rich soil. The men have planted sunflowers on some of the mounds, along with some milkweed and other native plants. White plastic covers new mounds that next spring will have various flowering plants that butterflies and other pollinating insects prefer.

“Two years ago, we had a few monarchs,” Arango said. “We planted Mexican sunflowers and they love it. You wouldn’t believe the population of monarchs around here now.”

Once the mounds were established, the men formed two ponds, each about a third of an acre in size, on the property. Bluegill and bass can be found in one of the ponds. The other has lost much of its water, and the goal now is to find a way to repair it.

They also built a hoop house, where a variety of vegetables and other plants are still growing in early December. Cabbage, cauliflower, endive, spinach, carrots, parsnips, leeks, onions, peas and celery are flourishing inside the house.

There are fruit and nut trees growing along the drive that leads to the barn, which was fashioned using parts from an 1850s barn near Fort Wayne. “We adjusted it to our needs,” Arango said. On one side of the barn is an open lean-to area, where they have the Eastside/New Unionville Farm Stand, open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

When the farm stand is open, Frew and Arango sell their extra produce and also share information about permaculture and regenerative agriculture, something visitors can see all around them.

On the other side of the barn is a greenhouse, with temperatures in the 90s even in the winter months. It’s there that Arango grows plants from his native country, Colombia. “I love tropical plants,” he says, as he touches one of the passion flowers in the greenhouse. There are also avocado plants, as well as lemon, lime, orange and mandarin plants.

“One of the other root goals of the farm is to foster a sense of community,” Frew said. That led to the farm stand and an open house Sunday afternoon, with farm tours at 2 and 4 p.m. Refreshments will be served, and produce will be for sale before and after the tours.

“It’s amazing the amount of food you can grow,” Arango said while looking out across the nine acres.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald Times, http://bit.ly/21BtFPK

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