Steady Growth – Towne Post Network
Horn of Plenty is a true community enterprise
Screenwriter / Amy Lant-Wenger
One of the very first things you notice about rural areas in north central Indiana is the abundance of lush farmland. Almost as far as the eye can see, acres of soil serve as fertile land through which an abundance of crops grow. It is an example of nature at its best, a creation born out of necessity. To see these practices and principles faithfully executed, so to speak, consider a visit to Horn of Plenty in the Middlebury countryside.
Located on a quaint and quiet farm owned by Noah and Rebecca Miller, this is a business venture that encompasses so much more than just a warehouse storefront. It is a true community enterprise.
Horn of Plenty is a name that represents an ever-thriving agricultural cooperative, fueled entirely by the efforts of local farmers. Members of the cooperative consist of more than 50 farming families, all of whom contribute to the retail sale of local meats, eggs and produce. By weaving together this common enterprise, partnerships are most beneficial for everyone involved. It is a means of income for producers and their families, and consumers walk away with the assurance that they are getting the best product available while supporting local small businesses.
The cornucopia idea was conceived over a decade ago when a group of farmers got together to discuss ways to exercise some control over how and where their crops would go. , in a way that would be most beneficial to sellers and buyers. “The main aim was to let the farmers decide,” recalls David Yoder, who currently oversees the commercial side of Horn of Plenty.
Among the families that contribute to the collaborative cycle, there are those that provide food full-time, while others change with the rhythm of the seasons. To join, there are a series of guidelines that must be strictly followed, including a commitment to chemical-free production. There are no enhancements, no GMOs and no shortcuts, and only organic methods for disease suppression and pest control are used. Items must also be meticulously cleaned and packaged according to regulations.
Currently, Horn of Plenty sells fresh beef, chicken, pork, turkey, duck, lamb and brown eggs. Produce varies by schedule, but typically includes tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, berries, melons, and sweet corn, to name a few. Strawberry peak season has passed, the men advise, but just around the corner there will be sweet corn, melons and blueberries – some of the best flavors of summer.
Because of this natural approach to food farming, Horn of Plenty is effectively a year-round operation in which everyone pays attention to the smallest details, such as planting planning, soil conditions and the weather report. As is usually the case with Midwestern weather conditions, things can and do change quickly.
Both Miller and Yoder share their thoughts on what a typical year might look like when preparing for a growing season. The farmers involved in the cooperative design their crops using planting specifications, followed later by the delivery of their items to the main Middlebury site. There is a commission percentage on overhead, and new members experience this after receiving their first payment. Items are marketed for various outlets including wholesale and retail. Loyalty to their customers is also evident in how well they are able to keep people up to date on the types of products available, their peak seasons, and what to expect on the horizon. Sometimes some of the crops are auctioned off nearby. At all times, anyway, “we only sell what we grow,” Yoder says.
After 12 years, Horn of Plenty has solidified itself as a rural institution with a professional pedigree. Still, there is more to accomplish in the future according to Miller. “The growth curve has been so steep and we’ve been so busy trying to keep up with the growth,” he says. Due to the success they have had so far, the investors have been able to finance the construction of a main warehouse in Middlebury in 2019. Miller hopes to have some activity at the new loading docks, with the help of semi -trailers to transport larger quantities. There are also plans to install additional coolers for more storage of eggs and other perishables.
Currently, Horn of Plenty products can be found at local farmers’ markets, including Elkhart, South Bend, and Mishawaka. The Middlebury store is also open and is located at 54682 County Road 43.2 or 3, or visit their website at www.elkhartfood.org.