Innovation and grit to carry on the legacy of small family farms
By Ian Buchanan
Every day of Kyle Becker’s childhood was fueled with hot, homemade meals at 6:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Twice a year—once after planting fields in the spring and once after harvesting in the fall—the farm boy got to pick his own dinner as a treat.
“We’d break from the tradition of sitting down for meals at the same time every day, religiously, and go to McDonald’s,” said the co-owner of Becker Farms in Mooreland, Indiana. “I’d order a 20 piece McNugget, large fry, medium Coke, and apple pie. It was the best.”
Now a husband and father of four with his wife Emily, he understands why his parents—who operated a dairy from 1975 until 2003—made him sit down for three square meals every day. It was because he needed those hearty, nutritious meals to fuel his countless hours of work on the family farm.
The Beckers are one of more than a dozen small family farms operating in East Central Indiana. It’s not always cute piglets and sunshine at their 98-acre operation in Mooreland, Indiana, but it’s the only way of life Becker knows.
“Three of my great-grandfathers, both of my grandfathers and my dad all milked cows for a living, and I grew up milking cows, so I think I was just destined to work on a farm,” said Becker, who wakes up at 4:30 a.m. on Saturdays to prepare for market. “I enjoy the variety of farm work and the constant challenge of problem-solving and trying to make our farm more efficient.”
Kyle and Emily started Becker Farms in November of 2007, three years after they were married. The following spring, they purchased their first herd of beef cattle. In spring 2009, they attended their first markets in Muncie and Indianapolis and quickly realized they didn’t have enough variety. Since that time, they added pork, chicken, turkey and hens to their farming operation, with sausage, chicken thighs, and boneless/skinless chicken breasts being among their top selling items.
“We pride ourselves on raising all of our animals in free-range pastures and providing them organic and GMO-free feed,” he added. “Providing healthy, quality food for our customers and community is our passion.”
“A day off? What’s that?”
According to Becker, there are four seasons at their farm: “mud season, dry season, mud season, and frozen season.” No matter the “season,” there are always chores to be done. Feeding, watering and bedding livestock, cleaning equipment, collecting eggs, bailing hay and picking up finished meat from the processor.
On Wednesdays, the family reorganizes and restocks portable coolers to take goods to area farmers’ markets. When market season is in full swing, through the summer and fall, the Beckers attend four markets each weekend. Additionally, restaurant and wholesale orders are prepared on Wednesdays to be delivered every Thursday.
Keeping up with the farm and meat processing is a full-time job, Becker said, so promoting the farm is often last on their list. But expanding the operation’s reach and reputation is a priority. Last year, the couple upgraded the farm’s website to encourage online orders, which they deliver directly to customers’ homes or take to the farmers’ markets for pick-up.
“Until we added features to our website, we had to juggle phone calls, texts and emails from individuals and restaurants,” said Becker, who also manages his veterinary practice. “We are working to move nearly all ordering online so that we can focus on farming and streamline our operation.”
Downtime on the farm is about as common as high heels, but Kyle and Emily celebrate the transition from summer to winter with a weekend away. Luckily, Emily said, her husband’s tastes have evolved from McNuggets to the more adventuresome flavors of farm-to-table restaurants.
Chicken (or turkey) Pot pie
- 2-3 c of cooked and cubed chicken (or turkey)
- 1/2 c chopped onion
- 1/2 c chopped carrot
- 1/2 c chopped celery
- 3/4 diced, (peeled, if you prefer) potato
- 1/4 c butter
- 1/3 c flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp dried parsley
- 1/4 tsp dried rosemary
- 1/4 tsp rubbed sage
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1 c milk (2% or whole work well)
- 1 c chicken stock (which you will have on-hand if you reserved it from making a whole chicken) Note: if you are using homemade stock, you will need to add some salt; around 1/8-1/4 tsp, depending on your tastes for 1 c of stock.
- 3/4 c frozen peas
- Either 2 store-bought or homemade pie crusts
Directions: In a large saucepan, melt the butter and then saute the onion, celery, carrot, and potato until tender (approx. 8-10 minutes or so).
In a small bowl, combine the flour and seasonings (salt, pepper, parsley, rosemary, and sage) and then gently combine with the vegetable mixture.
Gradually add in the milk and broth and bring to a boil, stirring and cooking for 2-3 minutes, or until thickened.
Add in the chicken and peas.
Place one of the prepared pie crusts in a 9″ pie pan, fill with the potpie mixture, and then top with the remaining pie crust. Using a fork, seal and crimp the edges, then make four vent slits in the center.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375 F for 35-40 minutes, or until the filling is hot and bubbly and the crust begins to turn golden-brown.
(compliments of my friend, Trista)
Ingredients (for 2 crusts):
- 2 1/2 c flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- ~8-10 TBSP COLD water (I put a the water in the freezer for 15 minutes or so)
- 14 TBSP butter (grated and well-chilled)
Directions: In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add in the grated, cold butter and mix either with your hand or a fork until well blended (this can take a few minutes to achieve).
Slowly add in the water and mix until you are able to form a disc. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Roll out on a lightly floured surface. Place in pie pan and chill again for another 30 minutes.