Innovative Planting Plan Brings Fruits and Vegetables to Market Sooner
Mohler family extends produce season, farm helps teach life skills
Lengthening the season for fresh produce is the strategy Chuck and Tami Mohler have used to successfully compete in the fresh fruit and vegetable market for more than three decades.
The couple operate Sweet Corn Charlie Produce LLC in Millersburg, Indiana, producing a multitude of fruits and vegetables including sweet corn, tomatoes, cantaloupe and peppers in Northern Indiana. They sell directly to consumers, marketing through 6 of their own farm stands.
Farming today is challenged, Chuck says, by the competition and distractions available off-farm for young people entering the workforce. “The long hours and the lower pay make it difficult to keep young people on the farm. There’s a lot of uncertainty with farming,” he says.
“We began farming because we loved farm life,” he says. “I grew up on a dairy farm, left that in my late teens and worked away from home for nine years, but I came back to the farm.”
Chuck’s life took a drastic turn in 1982 when he decided to live and work in Israel, despite having no prior travel experience. “I wanted to get back to the roots of my Christian faith. I had a God-given desire to live with the Israeli people.”
While in Israel, he worked on two farming settlements before returning home to his family’s Indiana farm. It wouldn’t be long before he was back in Israel. A few years later, he and Tami, now married, backpacked through Europe and Scandinavia for nine months before living and working on Israeli farms.
“Through our travels to Israel, we found out that they are the most technologically advanced people in the world,” Chuck says.
When they returned to the United States, the couple transitioned from dairy farming to fruit and vegetable production, selling their crops wholesale.
“We started experimenting with Israeli technology here to find a niche and to move from dairy to fruit and vegetables,” he recalls. “Farming was moving into a tough economic period. We were young marrieds and we decided to try farming vegetables in the manner we learned in Israel.”
That technology – planting transplants into high tunnels and low tunnels – extends the growing season on both ends. Tami says that Chuck was the first person in the United States to transplant sweet corn seedlings into high tunnels when he adopted the practice in the 1980s.
Their season-extending, early production system allows the Mohlers to bring their sweet corn crop to the market about three weeks before other area farms. Their tomato crop also hits the market two months early using the same approach.
“We began by wholesaling our produce, moved to direct marketing and found our niche. Then, our two boys came along and we wanted a farm to raise them on. It’s a great place to grow up,” he says. “Our son Dan graduated from Purdue in May with a degree in industrial engineering and he is still working with us.”
”We give a lot of local people a job at the farm each summer. My goal when I started farming was to teach young people how to work,” Chuck says. “That’s my main community service – teach young people life skills and management skills.
“On a farm you can be a manager even if you are 15 years old. If you’ve got the drive, it will give you the opportunity.”
Tami also serves as an officer with the Indiana Farm Market Association to promote education for other farm marketers. The couple supports their local fair each summer by sponsoring a local food contest and supporting the ag program. They mentor numerous younger farmers, teaching them Israeli technology for raising vegetables.