By Katie Stancombe
Editor’s note: This story is the first in a series tracking how money in the state’s $32.3 billion two-year budget is spent.
INDIANAPOLIS — When his father began to suffer from serious medical problems later in life, Mark Boyer knew that something had to give.
“He had a heart attack, open-heart surgery, and bypasses,” Boyer said. “He had all of that and learned pretty quick that he was going to have change his diet.”
As seventh generation commodity grain farmers, Boyer and his family know how to eat well. But when they started looking for healthier alternatives, they didn’t realize where that journey would lead them.
Boyer discovered something called cold-pressed oil, a process that squeezes all the oil out of a crop at a much cooler temperature, creating a healthier product.
“The idea there is, as long as it’s below 120 degrees all the natural occurring vitamins and antioxidants will remain in the oil,” he said. “After we cold press the oil out of the seeds, it gets to its finished product because it moves to the bottle right from there.”
Boyer, co-founder of Healthy Hoosier Oil, had a new product to bring to the table. It would only be a few trips to the local farmers market before Boyer heard about an opportunity that would change his business forever.
“I believe it was the director of the market at that time that mentioned, ‘Are you familiar with Indiana Grown?’ And I had not been,” Boyer said. “He kind of explained it in a nutshell and I thought, ‘Well shoot, that kind of sounds like what we’re doing.’”
Indiana Grown is a branding and networking program that works to connect Hoosier consumers with locally grown products and producers. Formed in 2014, the program also provides producers with a label that can be included on their products, enabling customers to know exactly where their purchases come from.
Boyer found an opportunity to expand his business through Indiana Grown, a marketing program that works to connect Hoosier consumers with locally grown products. The program also provides producers with an Indiana Grown label so buyers know exactly where their purchase comes from. Photo provided.
“It is really an attempt to capture this growing movement of consumers who want to buy local,” said Ted McKinney, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. “A lot of it is they want to support the farmers or the processors in their state, in their area. And I think with it is a growing desire to know, ‘Where is my food produced?’”
While the program has added almost 800 members statewide since its creation, it wasn’t always so successful.
“It was the middle of the recession, funding was tight, and so it didn’t get very far,” McKinney said. “We scrapped and pulled and tugged and got creative to provide the very modest funding that got us to this point.”
But for the first time ever, the 2017 Indiana legislature included funding for Indiana Grown in its two-year budget, offering the program a quarter of a million dollars.
“I think this is going to breathe new life into it,” McKinney said. “We’re beside ourselves with excitement.”
McKinney thinks the money is a result of the legislature acknowledging a widespread interest among Hoosier producers, consumers and retailers to go local.
“In good Indiana Hoosier fashion, we proved that there’s something there,” he said. “It was a collective groundswell of support that paid off with everybody stepping up and doing their part. And I think everybody has a smile on their face.”
McKinney hopes to put the funds toward two core pillars of the program – adding more members and partnering with more retailers.
Members of Indiana Grown have the freedom to stay local with their products, but are also given an opportunity to sell to a statewide audience through big retail grocery stores.
“We’re in 60 Kroger stores,” Boyer said. “That’s directly a result of our Indiana Grown membership.”
Boyer recalled when he first introduced Healthy Hoosier Oil at his local farmer’s market and said he attributes most of the businesses success to Indiana Grown.
“I would say from the original concept out of our business plan when we first started, prior to ever knowing anything about Indiana Grown, I never foresaw us getting beyond the local farmers market level,” he said.
When Indiana Grown reached out to the new Fresh Thyme grocery store in Broad Ripple, Regan Vorndran said they jumped at the chance to become partners.
“We are really trying to be local focused,” said Vorndran, Fresh Thyme regional marketing coordinator. “It just kind of worked out perfectly.”
The Fresh Thyme location has continued to add locally grown products to its supply, totaling around 50 locally diverse items.
“We have chocolates, we’ve got local honey’s, we have a ton of local coffee — we’ve got so many things,” Vorndran said. “You wouldn’t think about it, and then you walk around and you’re like, oh that’s local. It’s nice. We have much more than I expected for sure.”
Vorndran said the partnership with Indiana Grown has branched out of the stores aisles and into the streets of the surrounding community.
“I think a lot of people like to give back to the community that they live in, which is wonderful,” she said. “The price might be a little be a little higher and it might not be the usual brand that you buy, but since it’s from Indiana, people have been really receptive and have been purchasing those items.”
Located in Converse, Indiana, Healthy Hoosier Oil offers healthier alternatives to cooking oil with their cold-pressed sunflower and canola oil blends. Photo provided.
When Boyer’s Healthy Hoosier Oil business began to grow as a result of his Indiana Grown membership, so did his connections.
“It’s kind of a community of local producers, which I think is really, really cool,” Boyer said. “We have several Indiana Grown members that specifically use our oil for ingredients in their own products, and that has come from networking with the other Indiana Grown members.”
Healthy Hoosier Oil specializes in sunflower and canola oils, and Boyer works alongside several other producers to share resources.
For example, a local honeybee farm brings their hives to Boyer’s sunflower fields to pollinate. In turn, those sunflower seeds are then used to make Boyer’s oil products.
While the two local producers work together, a third Indiana Grown member purchases product from them both to use as ingredients in his vinaigrette dressing.
“It’s the entire circle of life in that bottle,” Boyer said.
Boyer hopes more Hoosiers will learn what Indiana Grown is all about, and why it’s an important program for the state.
“Being an Indiana Grown member opens doors that we would have had a very, very difficult time getting into on our own,” Boyer said. “We’re all in this together. We all benefit from each other’s successes.”
Katie Stancombe is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.