Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Ogden Brothers Visit the Traders Point Creamery, Find a Tourist Attraction Instead of a Real Working Farm

While waiting for a hearing to start today, I scoured through my car looking for anything to read.  I ran across a Nuvo published a month ago and in particular a column written by David Hoppe, in which he purports to write an open letter to newly-elected Mayor Greg Ballard.  This paragraph caught my eye:

"It's high time Indianapolis borrowed a page from some of our farming neighbors. These folks have been creating a renaissance in Indiana food through the creation of artisanal products, ranging from grass-fed beef and pork to goat cheeses, maple syrup and brandy capable of winning national awards and sought by chefs in world-renowned restaurants.  Within our metropolitan area, Traders Point Creamery is producing state-of-the -art diary products with grass-fed cows that are raised in an environmentally sustainable way."

Uh, a big "no" to that last comment.

I had always wanted to visit the Traders Point Creamery and accompanying farm, which is a big tourist destination in Pike Township.   (See discrepancy with Zionsville address discussed at bottom of page.) This summer I finally had a chance to visit the farm with my brother, Gary, who has always been interested in organic farming.   We spent hours walking the farm.  Before we get into that though, let's see how TPC describes itself on its website:
Traders Point Creamery is a family owned artisan dairy farm located in Zionsville, Indiana. We started making dairy products, selling direct to customers, and delivering in the central Indiana region in the summer of 2003. Our herd of Brown Swiss spend all of their time on pastures and we milk 60 to 90 cows each day throughout the year. Our farm is Certified Organic by the USDA. Additionally, we purchase milk from similar sized local farms who share in our organic, 100% Grassfed beliefs. As certified organic milk producers you can be assured that we never use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides on our land and our cows never receive antibiotics or synthetic hormones. We produce pure, fresh, creamline whole milk, chocolate milk, plain, and fruit yogurts. Our cheese offerings include 3 flavors of Fromage Blanc, cottage cheese, and our raw milk natural rind aged cheese “Fleur de la Terre.” We believe in “nourishing the land that nourishes us all.” This means preserving the family farm and continuing our grandparents’ legacy of sensible, sustainable, low-input agriculture.
Our Creamery is putting out products unlike any other in the country. The explanation for this is the talented people on our team that carry out our mission.
The knowledge and dedication required to produce 100% grass-fed whole milk comes from our farm team. The farm team nurtures the land through careful implementation of the rotation farming system that is a common practice in other parts of the world. The result is exceptionally fertile, well-nourished soil wherein grows a precisely selected blend of grasses, herbs and flowers. This keeps the herd outdoors, happy, healthy, and producing organic, grass-fed milk high in the proteins and naturally occurring healthy fats like Omega 3, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), and nutrients necessary to make top quality, delicious and healthful products. The farm team here ensure year-round, outstanding nutrition for the herd, which makes us the only Creamery in the country to provide 100% grass-fed whole milk in a bottle – along with all the outstanding health benefits that are unique to grass-fed milk."
The "About Us" description continues on and can be found here.

Gary and I visited Trader's Point Creamery & Farm on a scorching hot August day.  Several cars were in the parking lot. We first stopped by the store to see the organic, grass fed milk products for sale.  Then, since it was near lunch, we decided to eat at the Loft Restaurant which was quickly filling up.  The dining at the restaurant is described as follows on TPC's website:

Our lunch & dinner menus

Monday–Saturday 11am–2:30
View Our Lunch Menu
Our Dinner Menu offers new items that will delight your taste buds and give you that warm, cozy feeling on the inside. From our ever-popular 100% grassfed beef creations, to elk t-bone steak, Australian rack of lamb, wild boar, and duck a l’orange to name a few, you are sure to find a memorable meal at The Loft. Our new menu also offers an exciting selection of seafood creations and vegetarian and vegan entrees.
Barn located at Traders Point Creamery Farm
The food was very good although extremely expensive.  (Lunch for two people can easily approach $25.)  We expected that though since the food was organic and the animals we were eating had all been grass fed...right there on the farm!!!  We couldn't wait to get out and see how this organic farm operated.

Some further information is pertinent at this point.  My brother and I are not city slickers.  We grew on a small farm in southeast Indiana. The closest hamlet was China, Indiana which had a population of about 13.  Our childhood was filled with hard labor on our and neighbors' farms cutting tobacco, taking in hay, detassling corn and performing other farm tasks. The farms I worked on often had cattle, pigs, chickens and other farm animals.  We also visited and worked with neighbors who had dairy farms. If you ever have a chance to see a dairy operation, you will not forget it. Even small dairy farms are highly mechanized, impressive operations.   They have to be because the industry is so very regulated and visits from government inspectors occurs regularly.

In short, my brother and I know exactly what a working farm looks like.  We set out to walk the Traders Point Farm that was producing such quality food in an organic way.  We spent about two hours going to every barn located on the property and walking the fields.

In one building, we saw a pig nursing maybe seven or eight piglets.  Nearby we saw a couple chicken pecking at the dirt.  Later probably a half mile from the main buildings, we saw a herd of about 25 cattle grazing.  That was the extent of the animals on the farm.   Where was all that meat coming from that TPC suggested was grain fed right there on the farm?  Where was the elk, lamb, wild boar and duck described on the Loft menu?

We saw a few empty barns and a tiny milking operation that seemed barely used.  Given the number of dairy products that the Traders Point Creamery suggests that it makes, the milking operation should be huge, a beehive of activity.

We checked out TPC's organic garden.  It was significantly smaller than the garden my family of seven had growing up.  Our garden provided us with corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes and other items during the warmer months.  I'm not sure how TPC's garden could possibly produce enough vegetables and other produce to feed the number of people who eat at the Loft on one day much less the rest of the year.  The TPC garden did not appear to have any of the traditional vegetables one would have in an Indiana garden.  For example, I can't recall seeing any type of beans, corn, or tomatoes in the TPC garden.

I expected to see a number of farmhands as we traversed the property.   Two people were spotted walking up a road who might have been working on the farm and were returning to the main buildings. Near the end of the visit I finally spotted someone actually working on the farm.  He was loading food from a truck into what appeared to be one of what appeared to be several refrigerated container units located on the edge of the farm.  In fact, his was only one of several food delivery trucks we had saw coming to the farm that day.

My brother and I left Traders Point Creamery convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that TPC is not a working farm in any meaningful way.  Rather it is a tourist attraction designed to convince city slickers into thinking they are seeing a working, organic farm.  Indeed if you look at the products TPC puts its label on, almost all mention that TPC products might actually have come from other organic farms.  Yeah, I'm pretty sure virtually every product sold by TPC was produced someplace else...on a real working farm.

Finally, if you look up TPC's address on its website it says it is 9101 Moore Road, Zionsville, Indiana.  However, 9101 Moore Road is an Indianapolis address that is located well within Pike Township, Marion County.   Perhaps the folks at TPC thought they might get more city slickers to visit their fake farm if they gave it an address outside of Indianapolis.

6 comments:

Nicolas Martin said...

Interesting.

Paul, when you do this sort of piece, it would be nice if you call the subject (TP, in this case) for comment.

Marycatherine Barton said...

Yes, very interesting. I think I will inquire more about TP. Thank you, Paul.

Greg Bowes said...

Paul,
The Zionsville address might be a result of US Postal Service classifications. I know of other Indianapolis addresses near the county line that have Zionsville postal addresses. A few years back I had a client call to complain about his house, that was in the Carmel limits, having a Westfield address, and thereby decreasing his property value.

Ross Reller said...

tpc just happens to have amazing products like chocolate milk to die for, fleur de la terre cheese which is amazing with the best wine and the best pourable yogurt this side of the atlantic ocean. And yes, the postmaster picked the address long before the creamery arrived. thanks for knocking one of our community's rare jewels.

Allen Deck said...

Finally, someone else who noticed the emperor farmer forgot his overalls. I wholly concur with your observations and conclusions. I, too, was raised on a small working farm in rural Indiana and was surprised to discover TPC was something of a pricey sham, not unlike much that's been heaped on the greenback organically-grown all-natural free-range bogus-ity band wagon. I visited with a city bred friend who marveled at it all in Sesame Street awe. Thanks, but give me Ma & Pa Kettle. This place should be over at Conner Prairie where at least you know they're just play acting. An over sold over priced sham featuring real-dairy scent.

Traders Point Creamery said...

I believe the restaurant never claims that any of the more exotic meats are produced on the farm. As a working dairy farm, they only state that they produce the milk, cheese, and beef that is supplied to the restaurant. The garden acts as a seasonal supplement and educational piece to visitors to the farm, while the rest of the produce is bought from other local vegetable growers.

As to the farm, as you might imagine, to produce 100% grassfed milk, you need a lot of grass. Therefore, the cows are rotationally grazed and are often not within sight of the barns. With over 400 acres, you might see how that is possible. If you take the guided tour, you usually will see at least one herd up close, but many of the cows will be out of sight on a regular basis.

Traders Point also buys milk from other 100% grassfed farms in the region, similar to a co-op. As you stated, it would be hard to produce enough product to keep up with demand with the small footprint that the farm has - TPC does not hide the fact that they source from other farms, and in fact is proud that they can support local agriculture in a sustainable way to produce healthful products.

As Nicholas stated in the first comment, TPC would have embraced the opportunity to comment on your thoughts and assumptions before you posted such a derogatory and incorrect statement about the business.

Regardless, we hope you will reconsider your conclusions about the operation and realize that you can't capture the full scope of a company like Traders Point just by spending a bit of time in a couple of barns.

Take Care!