For Ryan and Kim Schleman, farming is a family affair. The Schleman family has been farming in Indiana for over 150 years. But when farming began to change in the late 20th century—genetic engineering, industrial automation, assembly-line livestock operations—Ryan faced something you don’t often hear from farmers: boredom. Push-button farming, Ryan says, “it has become something I do not enjoy.” More than that, Ryan points out that “most of this tech has hurt our products, our soil, and even our beneficial insects.” On their farm, Ryan and Kim are trying to reverse these effects.
Ryan had been growing a garden since he was six years old. But as an adult, when he decided to turn a garden into a farm, and that farm into his family’s livelihood, he settled on the name “Freedom Foods.” Freedom Foods is a farm built on values. “I inspect what we ship. If I would not feed it to my children, then it becomes compost for the next year’s crop.” Ryan takes a certain amount of satisfaction knowing that he’s directly feeding families in his community, not providing a commodity input to some industrial supply chain that eventually leads to corn syrup, canola oil, or other synthesized foods.
Faith and family come first for the Schlemans, which plays out in their employment practices, too. First, they specifically designed their operation to be one that their kids can have a role in. Working alongside their growing children, for Ryan and Kim, is one of the best ways to instill their values into their children. But an elite produce operation requires more manpower than one family can provide—especially while the kids are still toddling. So, there’s hard work for everyone involved. Nevertheless, Ryan has an unorthodox approach to managing his crew. “I have a very important rule for my summer help. They are to never skip any good activity during the summer because they have to work.” Family events, youth group trips, and church activities all take precedence over work. It’s one of the many aspects of “freedom” that is central to the Schleman farm.
But as they say, freedom doesn’t come free. There have been many costs and set-backs. Endeavoring to provide year-round produce, Ryan and Kim suffered their share of crop-losses in the early years of green-house growing. But with every failure comes experience, and today they’re expanding faster than ever. Then, there was the marketing challenge. For most of Ryan’s farming life, it’s been as simple as growing the grain and hauling it to the local elevator. There, every kernel of corn or soybean was guaranteed to sell. Marketing fresh produce isn’t quite as easy.
Freedom Foods has grown “organically,” so-to-speak, reaching first to the families in their immediate community with a CSA (community supported agriculture) program. As they grew, the online farmers market at MarketWagon.com has enabled them to deliver their wonderful produce to families throughout Central Indiana. All the while, Ryan and Kim have enjoyed restoring their land from the ravages of commodity grain production, working alongside their children each day, and sharing the fruits of their labor with families just like theirs all around Indiana.
Shop Ryan & Kim's Freedom Foods now.