Cultivating Community

In spring 2017, Farm Marketing & Communications intern, Hannah Hartzell, joined the CUES with a mission to create a marketing campaign called Cultivating Community. This campaign centers around collecting and sharing stories from people at Butler University and in the Indianapolis community that have been impacted by the CUE Farm [now known at The Farm at Butler] in some way.


You’d be hard pressed to find a more avid student supporter of the CUE Farm than Miren Mohrenweiser.  The Butler University senior worked and volunteered at the farm for three years, and knows just about every crop variety that’s been grown.  While she really likes the beauty of the purple vegetables, Miren is quick to point out that the benefits of the farm go far beyond aesthetics.  In fact, her experience at the CUE Farm has changed and grown her passions in ways she never expected.

Miren was hired as a farm intern during the spring semester of her freshman year, after applying on a whim.  However, she soon realized that urban farming is something she is “weirdly passionate” about.  While urban farming isn’t as well-known as its rural counterpart, it is just what it sounds like: cultivating food in or around an urban environment.  And if you want to see what urban farming looks like, look no further than the CUE Farm.

According to Miren, urban farming has the potential to solvea lot of social justice problems.  This is because “respect for environmental rights can really influence one’s respect for human rights.”  Through working at the farm, Miren has been able to build connections between these real-world implications and her studies of history, English literature and French.

Some lessons, however, have been more abstract.  For instance, Miren is pretty certain that if she had a spirit vegetable, it would be the purple kohlrabi.  According to Miren, kohlrabi is a tubular vegetable that tastes like a cross between a raw potato and a water chestnut.  “You can eat it raw or with hummus,” she said.  “It doesn’t have a lot of flavor but it’s very crisp and refreshing.”

Kolhrabi is just one of the vegetables that can be found at the weekly CUE Farm stand that runs through the last week of October.  Miren said the farm stands have given her a great opportunity to educate others, as well as see the sense of community that comes with urban farming.  “I’ve built relationships with people that come to the farm stand,” she said, adding that the stand really “demonstrates the power of urban farms to bring people together.”

For Miren, the CUE Farm at Butler has provided both education and enlightenment, but she wants others to get to know the farm as well.  “For students who know it’s there, it is a great resource and a cool place to go,” Miren said.  “The farm is a magical place.”

Tim Dorsey didn’t come from a farming background.  In fact, he wasn’t really exposed to agriculture until his friend began growing a garden in college.  Intrigued, Tim took up the pursuit as well, and soon learned that he had a real passion for agriculture. Over time, he expanded both his knowledge and his plot of land. So when the CUE Farm was in need of a manager in 2011, Tim became the man of the hour and took on the project.

Now, there’s some important context to this story. The CUE Farm had only recently started when Tim was hired, and it was in flux, as the students who started it were graduating.  That meant Tim had the great opportunity to put his mark on the farm, and that’s exactly what he has done.  From the extreme diversity to a focus on the environment, the farm stands out as a multi-dimensional asset to the university.  “Each year, we learn what works to grow and what needs to be modified to grow it,” Tim said. “We also try to offer what people are interested in, while getting them to try new things.”

Education about new varieties of produce occurs at the weekly farm stand and the Community Supported Agriculture program, which has a loyal following among locals.  But the focus of the farm is not limited to the local area.  “From the beginning, we have wanted this project to play a role in the broader Indianapolis conversation about local food, sustainable growing, and what can be grown in similarly-sized spaces around the city,” Tim said.

What does that mean? It means that the community is reaping the benefits of the CUE Farm.  From student research to class field trips, the farm is a learning resource. Last year, it participated in an urban farm bike tour and this year it is utilizing a new greenhouse.  The farm is always changing. Always growing.

For Tim, the farm provides locals with the unique opportunity to see where their food is coming from and how its grown.  It also gives them the freshest food possible.  That, Tim said, is one of the most satisfying aspects of the farm.  Plus, “there is an interest in varieties with us versus what you might get at a Kroger or something,” Tim said.

When it comes to varieties, the CUE Farm is constantly innovating.  This year will bring the first berry harvest as well as apples.  Still, Tim said there’s something special about that first muskmelon of the year—though he’s hard pressed to choose an actual “favorite.”  Choosing a favorite is like choosing a favorite kid, you just can’t do it.  Each crop on the farm is grown with incredible care and has it’s own unique taste.  Don’t trust me? Check it out for yourself!

Courtney Rousseau is in the business of connections.  Well, specifically: she advises Butler students on career and internship choices. But beyond the office, she is just as relationally oriented.  In fact, she takes her passion for people and applies it to many facets of her life, including her involvement with the CUE Farm on campus.

Quote from Courtney RousseauWhen Courtney first visited the farm in 2014, “it was one of those things where you think you’ll get one item and then walk away with too much stuff to even carry,” she said. Since then, the CUE farm stand is a set appointment in Courtney’s weekly calendar during the summer and fall.

“I pencil it into my calendar,” she said. “[The time I go] varies, depending on what I have going on, but it’s rare that I miss a farm stand.”

And she’s not about to let others miss out on the opportunity either. Courtney said she sometimes schedules walk and talk meetings on Thursday afternoons so she can show the farm to office interns.  When she does make the trek alone though, she takes the opportunity to appreciate the nature around her.  “[It] clears my mind,” she said. “I’m always upset if I can’t walk down there; it’s built in to the experience.”

Whether she’s buying celery root and purple cabbage—her favorites—or connecting with students, Courtney said she loves every part of the CUE Farm experience.  “It’s not like going to a farmer’s market,” she pointed out. “You can visit [the CUE Farm] even when it’s not a farm stand day… and

that’s what connects you to what you’re putting into your body.” Courtney also said that when people spend money at the farm, they should know that the money goes right back into the farm, and is helping the Butler community.

Furthering that idea of community, Courtney often brings back farm produce for the office, or she’ll bake something from what she bought at the farm and share with others.  “I’ve tried so many new things that I didn’t even know existed because of the farm,” she said. “And I love sharing the produce.”

“If I could set up a mobile office at the farm, I’d totally do it,” she joked. “Maybe in the greenhouse.”

Quote from Tyler at PatachouIt’s hard to hang around Indy for long and not hear about Patachou, Inc. Under its umbrella are Napolese, Public Greens and its namesake, Café Patachou.  Behind the reign of these successful restaurants is Martha Hoover, and in the kitchen is executive chef Tyler Herald.

Tyler, who grew up with a passion for cooking, said cooking with local foods is both important to him and beneficial. So much so that he creates the restaurant menus with a focus on local produce—including that of the Butler University CUE Farm.  “It differs with each restaurant,” Tyler said. “But at Napolese and Public Greens, for instance, I’d say 90-95% of it’s local. I write the menu to support that.”

Tyler has worked with the CUE Farm since it’s humble beginning in 2011, purchasing everything from produce to wildflowers.  According to Tyler, the CUE Farm has an edge over large commercial farms because it has the ability to be very precise. As a result, “[the CUE Farm] has really good basil and really good strawberries,” Tyler said. He was also quick to mention the black raspberries, arugula, wildflowers, herbs and zucchini. “In general,” he said with a laugh, “pretty much everything that comes from the [CUE Farm] is good quality.”

This small-farm advantage is something that Tyler believes is a surprise to many people. “They take it for granted that we live in Indiana and we have seasons… people think it’s an amazing thing that [we’re buying local], but we’re really just taking what mother nature meant for us to have at that time. It’s not really that hard,” he said.  “And it tastes way better.”

Tyler points out though, that buying local isn’t only beneficial for farmers and restaurants. From an environmental standpoint, it reduces shipping needs. There aren’t as many trucks carting produce around the country when an individual chooses to buy local. It also benefits the economy, he said, by keeping money in the community.  That way, money is going “to the community members and their families, not to another state or even country.”

While Tyler recognizes there is a time and place to make non-local purchases, his partnerships with the CUE Farm and other area farmers, show his priorities are to buy local.

“It’s a relationship,” he said of working with farm managers like the CUE’s Tim Dorsey. “I sit down with Tim and we talk about what I want for next year. We look at the numbers and see what did well and what didn’t. That’s part of what makes it work.”

“Local buying supports small farmers,” Tyler said. “I know their families and I know their names.” In the end, that familiarity is something Tyler appreciates. It’s something that has allowed him to make not only business connections, but also friends. So here’s to friends like Tyler and fresh CUE Farm produce. Both are making a difference and cultivating community.

quote from wes sextonWhat does the trumpet have to do with farming? Nothing, except for Wes Sexton, that is.  The 2016 Butler grad spent two years working on the Butler CUE Farm while balancing a busy schedule as a trumpet and music  performance major.

He also had an interest in biology though, something he said was a neat aspect of working at the farm.  Wes said the work was also very important and rewarding. “To connect with the earth that way… feeds you and someone else, and that is vital.” Growing crops required Wes to learn a lot about farming that he didn’t know, like planting and learning how a farm grows. “I grew familiar with produce,” Wes said. “I can walk ino the grocery and know how things look when they grow. And I definitely eat more variety than I used to.”

Wes loves the meditative nature of farm work, but that’s not to say the farm interns didn’t have a lot of fun on the job.  Whether it was racing to plant a row of peppers or watching in shock as Tim Dorsey ate a raw head of garlic, Wes found the farm a fun place to be.  So much so that the musician now works fulltime at a local organic garden store.

Now a graduate of both Butler and the CUE Farm, Wes helps Indianapolis residents try their hand at growing.  And if you aren’t ready to start growing your own crops, stop by the CUE Farm stand during the summer and fall. You’ll get plenty of fresh strawberries— which are Wes’ favorite, and just one of the many fruits of the farm’s labor.  “The farm stand is open to anybody in the community,” Wes added.  “More people should take advantage of that.”