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LaPorte County Organic Farmer Answers the Call

by Stan Maddux

Published: Friday, January 12, 2018

Damien Appel studied to become a teacher, then after getting his college degree answered what appears to be his calling.

Organic Farming.

"I always had a passion for growing food,'' said Appel, who at 13 got his start growing food on a roughly 1,000-square-foot garden at his father's house in rural Porter County.

The 32-year-old Appel now raises head lettuce, onions, garlic, tomatoes and a variety of other vegetables at Native Roots Farm.

He also offers fresh eggs and soap made from the milk of more than a half dozen goats at his operation located on his father's property.

Appel also grows vegetables in the spring and fall inside an unheated greenhouse to extend his produce offerings to more than 30 weeks out of the year.

Before looking for a teaching job, the Chesterton High School graduate, preferring life in the country, spent several months learning about organic farming and made sure from a business plan he developed that he could make a living before taking the plunge.

Now, he's in the process of more than doubling the size of his operation on a farm near Wanatah he recently acquired with his fiancée, Ali Olsen, after seeing 40 percent growth in sales last year.

He projects 50 percent growth in the next two years combined, with the newly purchased farm having more than twice the ground and the organic foods movement showing no signs of slowing down.

"I gave myself five years to see if could create a financially successful farm and in five years we were able to do it,'' said Appel.

Appel also plans to add one or two more unheated greenhouses at his new location.

"It's a bit of a learning curve how you meet the needs from that big of a space of production,'' said Appel.

He estimated about 17 percent of his produce is sold through Community Supported Agriculture memberships he began offering in 2017.

Up to 18 members each week grab their ready-to -pickup produce at his farm outside Westville and at the three farmer's markets he sets up in Valparaiso and Chesterton, including Coffee Creek Farmers Market that he and Olsen began operating themselves in 2016.

He said CSAs provide him with financial stability from knowing he has a certain amount of customers and early cash flow on payments members get to him in advance for securing their orders during three separate growing seasons.

The money helps with things like buying supplies needed for each upcoming planting.

"It's a nice influx of income when you're not really growing a lot,'' said Appel, whose goal is to more than double his CSA memberships in 2018.

Other goals include starting a breakfast sandwich business featuring his farm fresh eggs at one of the farmer's markets he works, and establish an online store for purchasing soap made from the milk of his goats.

He said the soap is better for people with sensitive skin and has minerals and vitamins along with moisturing qualities good for the skin.

"We had a really great year and me and my fiancée will be getting married this upcoming year. We're going to build our house on our new farm and, hopefully, we'll have another unheated greenhouse up in the fall and we'll be growing in it in the fall.''

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