Featuring fresh from the farm

tarting in February, the farmers at Indy Family Produce spend countless hours growing fruit and vegetables

They have to plant tomato, pepper, lettuce and other seeds in the greenhouse. When the weather warms, they move the seedlings outdoors. Harvest, packaging and delivery to customers take up every available moment throughout the spring and summer.

But owners Cathy and Ashley Richards already have Aug. 22 circled as a standout date on this year’s calendar.

Cathy and Ashley Richards and Indy Family Produce will be honored that day at this year’s Indiana State Fair. The White River Township farm was one of 17 to be recognized by the state fair as part of the Year of the Farmer.

While the opportunity is a boon for the 2-year-old business, it also provides Cathy and Ashley Richards the chance to showcase where the food they enjoy comes from.

“It is vitally important that our youth are aware and understand that food comes from the farm, not the grocery,” said Cathy Richards, the farm’s business development manager. “Farmers are striving to feed the world. The population is outgrowing the capacity to provide food, so the ag industry with farmers are working diligently for alternatives to increase production.”

Using organic growing practices and certified organic materials, the farm offers fresh produce throughout the year. On the farm’s seven acres, they grow a wide variety of vegetables, such as cucumbers, jalapenos and squash.

Varieties of kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, spinach and eggplant are also available. A you-pick strawberry patch gave people the opportunity to come and fill their own cartons with ripe Indiana fruit this spring.

“It’s very gratifying when you’re the person who started it from the seed, you watered it, you cared for it,” Cathy Richards said. “Then you watch it go to the customer, and they’re raving about it. There’s nothing more rewarding.”

Indy Family Produce is a division of Indy Family Farm, which grows corn, soybeans and other grain on more than 2,000 acres. The Richards family has been in White River Township since 1943, and both Cathy and Ashley Richards’ husbands are the fifth generation of farmers in their family.

The produce operation came about in 2014 as a way to diversify the farm’s offerings.

“We wanted to provide a product to our community that’s fresh and locally grown,” Cathy Richards said. “We also wanted an opportunity for other family members to play an active role in the family business.”

Neither Cathy Richards nor Ashley Richards, the farm’s food safety and quality control manager, had any hands-on experience farming produce. Cathy Richards had worked in real estate, while Ashley Richards was a mortgage broker.

Learning the produce business required taking advantage of knowledge gleaned over generations of farming, Cathy Richards said.

They’ve also relied on their other full-time employee, Keegan Ramey. As the farm’s production manager, Ramey oversees the greenhouses, field maintenance and harvest crew.

Since starting the produce farm last year, flexibility has been the key to its success. While they sold their produce at farmers markets the first year, hauling their goods to the market every weekend got to be too time consuming and labor intensive.

This year, they have partnered with Piazza Produce, which purchases its crops wholesale and sells them throughout central Indiana. The farm also sells directly to about 20 restaurants in Johnson County and Indianapolis.

“A lot of people picture farms as way out in the country. But we’re 20 minutes south of (Monument Circle),” Cathy Richards said. “We have an advantage (over) a lot of the farms that are out in the country, because we’re so close to many restaurants, and that’s a lot of the customers we sell to.”

Moody’s Butcher Shop carries the produce at all five of its locations, including in the Center Grove area.

Indy Family Produce also sells through its website. People can go online and check out what produce is available, put in an order and the items will be ready to pick up in two hours. Social media has helped them reach more potential customers living in Johnson County’s cities and towns, who otherwise might not be connected to the agricultural world.

“We make regular posts on Facebook and tweet on Twitter. People love to follow us and learn about the activities taking place at the farm,” Cathy Richards said.

The Indiana State Fair showcase will bring together farmers from all over the state to talk about their farms. Each honoree will be given a full day to interact with fairgoers through activities, special events and displays.

The farmers selected represented areas such as dairy, aquaculture, urban farming and hardwood trees.

Being chosen to represent produce farmers at the fair was a shock, particularly since they have been in operation only since last year. Though they don’t know exactly what they’ll be doing, Cathy and Ashley Richards are prepared to do whatever is needed to spotlight the importance of agriculture, even in cities and towns where getting food means going to a restaurant or supermarket.

Cathy Richards referenced a quote she had seen somewhere: At least once in a person’s life, you’ll need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher. But three times a day, every day, you need a farmer.

“There’s a constant need to be educating as a farmer, on top of everything else we’re doing,” Cathy Richards said. “It’s a great educational opportunity for us, to meet with folks and let people know about Indy Family Produce and what we grow, how we grow it.”

If you go

Indiana State Fair

Year of the Farmer, honoring Cathy and Ashley Richards of Indy Family Produce

When: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 22

Where: Indiana State Fairgrounds, 1202 E. 38th St., Indianapolis

Cost: Advance general admission, $8; $12 after Aug. 6.

Information: in.gov/statefair

At a glance

What: Indy Family Produce, a produce farm growing tomatoes, peppers, salad greens, squash and other fruits and vegetables. It sells to wholesale distributors, retail markets and restaurants, in addition to taking orders online.

Where: 110 Bluffdale Drive, Greenwood

Who: Cathy and Ashley Richards

Founded: 2014

How to order: indyfamilyproduce.com

Pull Quote

“It’s very gratifying when you’re the person who started it from the seed, you watered it, you cared for it. Then you watch it go to the customer, and they’re raving about it. There’s nothing more rewarding.”

Cathy Richards, White River Township vegetable farmer

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.