Sunday, July 03, 2005 Northwest Indiana Times

Naturally Green


VALPARAISO | Leann Landgrebe-Stephens squatted down in the open field under the late morning sun and touched the ground beneath the low lying plants.

The ground is noticeably cooler there in the shade, she said, which is the reason the weeds are being allowed to grow up and around the peas, potatoes and other vegetable plants at her 21-acre farm just west of Valparaiso.

The more shade, the slower the loss of moisture from the ground.

The ability to see the value of weeds during the current drought-like conditions is part of what Landgrebe-Stephens would call working in harmony with nature.

It is that striving toward harmony that sets the 29-year-old apart from other farmers around the county.

Landgrebe-Stephens ditched a career in interior design to break ground two years ago on a chemical-free vegetable and fruit farm known as Creme de la Crop at the northwest corner of U.S. 30 and County Road 250 West. The land has been farmed by her family for four generations, but not this way.

She is taking an approach known as Biodynamics, which is a natural farming method aimed at improving the health of the soil and structure of the plant. This is done, she said, without chemical pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

The emphasis on a hands-on approach was evident Saturday as a pair of workers slowly moved through an open field picking just the right sugar snap peas, which were then hand washed.

"It's all about picking things at their prime," she said.

The approach is not only better for the land, air and water, Landgrebe-Stephens said, but also for people. Foods grown with this organic approach taste better and are more nutritious.

There is also the benefit of supporting local family farms, as opposed to corporate farms, which transport their foods an average of 1,500 miles to market, she said. She said her employees are mostly local residents, who are paid fair wages.

Landgrebe-Stephens is having little problem convincing customers of these benefits. Demand pushed her from three acres her first year to 21 acres this year, and there are plans to expand production in 2006.

"People came in droves," she said.

A large number of her customers are so committed to the approach they pay a lump sum up front and walk away each week with an assortment of fresh produce.

"They invest in me," she said.

The produce is also sold at the European Market in Chesterton and farmers markets in Valparaiso and at the Schoolhouse Shop in Furnessville. Arrangements are also being made to begin providing the food to a few area restaurants.

While organic produce generally costs between 20 and 30 percent more, Landgrebe-Stephens said the cost is recouped by the benefits of improved health.

Landgrebe-Stephens gave much of the credit for the success to fellow farmer Donna Feigel, sales manager Leslie Swibes and her parents, Beth and George Landgrebe.


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