Mark Boyer will tell you that his family’s decision to raise several different crops and produce cold pressed oils from the harvest of some had as much to do with creating diversity for the farm’s business as anything.
The move to raise sunflowers and hemp on the Converse farm and purchase the equipment to press the oil was a risk, but he’s found a good deal of success through partnerships he’s built as a member of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture’s Indiana Grown.
It’s that membership that has allowed him to extend his reach and find customers he might not otherwise have been able to find on his own, like Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis.
The hospital and health care provider uses Boyer’s sunflower and hemp oil exclusively as ingredients for things like salad dressings in the meals it serves in its food service programs.
“Eskenazi is currently one of my largest single customers,” Boyer said recently.
Seth Grant, Director of Food Strategy at Eskenazi, said in a phone interview in mid August that he discovered Boyer, and his products, as he was looking to better spread the provider’s purchasing dollars to Hoosier producers.
Because Eskenazi is a “political subdivision” of the state, supporting the state economy was a priority, but it also has led in many cases to healthier and better quality ingredients.
These days, Grant said, over 60 percent of Eskenazi’s food purchasing dollars goes to over 70 different Indiana producers and businesses.
Grant, too, credited the Indiana Grown program where he serves as a commissioner.
The program says on its website that it aims to help Indiana farmers and producers have a greater market for their product, support processors in their effort to process more Indiana grown products and educate consumers on the importance of buying Indiana grown products.
Boyer says his farm has certainly benefited.
For an operation the size of Eskenazi, Grant said the transition away from using national distributors to buying from Hoosier producers meant they still needed someone to handle the delivery of the product.
They found that in Indianapolis-based Piazza Produce and Specialty Foods who now handles a good deal of those local sales and deliveries.
And building that relationship -- both for Eskenazi and Indiana Grown -- has meant that small producers like Boyer, and nearby hog farmer Nathan Hunt who sells his pork to Eskenazi (see a story in this section about Hunt’s farm), are able to further extend their reach, because other Piazza customers throughout the state can also buy their products.
“Piazza’s role can’t be understated, it’s critical,” Boyer said.
But it’s not something he relies on solely.
Boyer told the Tribune in an interview earlier this year that he knew when his family switched away from producing only “commodity crops” like corn and soybeans that they were signing themselves for a good deal of work.
“There is essentially no market for what we are doing,” he said. “Other than the market we create.”
Which means that Boyer and his wife Rachel have since opened Rachel’s Taste of Indiana in Converse, a store which showcases their oil, and the products of many other local farmers and manufactures that they work with in varying ways.
And much of that is supported with the networking, relationship building and marketing of the Indiana Grown program.
“You get out of that program what you put into it,” Boyer said. “It’s my favorite kind of government program.”