Stewards of the Heartlands

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Hoosier farm-to-table in fewer than 24 hours, 8 miles

“Do you know what embouchure means?” she asks, crouched on the earth, picking a green bean with one hand while deftly casting another one into a basket.

“It’s the shape you have to make with your mouth when playing a woodwind,” Elizabeth Wood says matter-of-factly while pinching and adding another bean to her collection basket. Dennis and Kristen Wood’s 13-year-old daughter has just finished three weeks of nine-hour-a-day band camp and music is on her mind even while harvesting from her family’s Wood Farms’ organic produce garden.

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This is the same garden Stewards documented the planting of in June. The one that was plagued by opportunistic mice, beastly heat, and flooding rain. In the months since the seeds and seedlings were planted, unseasonably frequent rains persisted in northern Indiana and temperatures hovered at least 10 degrees below average. Not optimal growing conditions for Wood Farms’ first attempt at adding organic produce to the farm’s production of organic hay and non-GMO, antibiotic-free Angus beef.

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“No one would have blamed us if we had just plowed the whole garden under,” Dennis says, indicating the havoc the miserable conditions wreaked on the acre garden plot. But the Woods and their staff persisted, led mainly by stalwart farmhand Cathy Bartz, making the best of conditions. And now the first of the harvesting finally begins in the second week of August with Early Serve green beans.

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Elizabeth, a soon-to-be eighth grader, has four days of summer vacation left before school starts. This summer, she’s been to two family reunions — “loved seeing cousins,” and hanging out with friends at their houses, in addition to the rigorous, but loved, band camp. She’s in the marching band’s color guard, but she can also play several wind instruments, which is how she knows the word embouchure.

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“I used to be vegetarian, but that’s kinda hard when you live on a cattle farm,” Elizabeth smirks. She waxes on about how nice it is to wake up on a farm and see cattle and hay fields. Smiles, and maturity, come easily to this early teenager. When she learned how her mom and dad — and now two grown brothers who recently came home to farm fulltime — treat the animals outside her windows, her vegetarian ways waned.

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Still, she’s happy to spend the remaining days of her summer vacation harvesting bushels of beans from an admittedly challenged organic garden; she still likes vegetables.

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Minutes after Elizabeth harvests the farm’s beans on the south side of Fort Wayne, her father Dennis is on his cell phone texting the chef at Tolon, a farm-to-table restaurant just eight miles away: “Got fresh green beans. Look good.”

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Farmer Dennis gets an affirmative answer from Chef Matt Nolot a bit after 11:00 pm.

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The next morning, Wood Farms delivers yesterday’s bean harvest to Tolon’s chef and owners, Matt and Nicky Nolot. Matt’s already known for the culinary magic he works on Wood Farms’ Angus New York Strips and Rib Eyes.

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Matt and sous chef Mike Trabel turn the freshly harvested green beans into two dishes offered on the evening’s dinner menu. This slideshow shows Mike creating Seared Scallop on Succotash in Tolon's kitchen.

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So in fewer than 24 hours and less than 8 miles, locally grown organic green beans are pinched from the plant and served to satisfy locavores’ appetites.

What embouchure is required to devour Tolon’s seared scallop and succotash made with Wood Farms’ green beans? Let’s ask Elizabeth.

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