Sometimes the neatest discoveries are just outside your back door. After living in this state for some 56 years now, and having beat the roads for more than 28 years finding stories for you to read, I thought there wasn't many places left I hadn't been. Earlier this week I discovered there were at least two - the tiny hamlet of Leiter's Ford, and the Indiana Dunes. I actually visited both in the same day.
Yes, both aren't exactly close to Franklin, Ind., where I live. It was a trip of some 390 miles on a gloomy, misty, rainy day. But the warm people I met and neat things I learned made it worth it. It reminded me what I love about this job - meeting fascinating people and learning about things I never knew existed.
As for taking some 28-plus years on the job to get to these places, I remember what former senior editor Carl Eiche said shortly before he retired in the mid-90's from Indiana Prairie Farmer. He'd been traveling Indiana for more than 30 years, when he got a lead on a farmer, made an appointment and went to see him.
"Well, I wondered when you would get here to see me," he said. "I've been wondering that for more than 30 years, reading your writing in the magazine."
"Well, I'm here now," Carl deadpanned. "Let's talk."
Carl remains the master of brevity yet accuracy. He's a man of few words, but he can pull a wry smile out of almost anyone. By the way, he's still going strong. We just emailed each other this morning, catching up on where people that we both knew are now.
Leiter's Ford is just a few miles north and west of Rochester, just south of the Tippecanoe River. To get there you take a winding road that runs for miles. About the time you think you've been transported across space to southern Indiana, a large elevator appears in the distance. It's in the heart of town, operated by Frick Services.
I climbed out of my car and greeted one of the employees coming out of their office. He had a bid smile on his face. "Well, you found the hub of the universe, huh?"
I wouldn't go that far. It's one of those places you really have to want to find, because it's not on a state road. But friendly people work there. Like Brian Kunce, one of two agronomists that operate ProTech Partenrs, a crop consulting service for Fricks, out of that location.
Unlike quite any other service I've run across, it includes the whole ball of wax, from sampling your fields and scouting your crops, and helping you get a handle on when to irrigate if you have those rigs, which many there do, to analyzing data from yield maps down to the ninth degree.
I actually stopped to see Brian about soil moisture sensors, offered by Spectrum Technologies, Plainfield, Ill. They provide a measure of when the crop is running short of water. Kunce thinks they're slick, but after talking about them for a few minutes he said, "I'm glad you came to talk about these sensors, but I really hoped we could talk about our crop program. It's unique."
Carl-Eiche like, I was ready for him to say, "Where have you been all these years?" He didn't but don't worry, I wasn't going to leave there without picking his brain about the program, and his knowledge of growing crops.
Next I made my way to US 421, and traveled as far north as it will take one, all the way into Michigan City, where I had never been before either. Close to it- yes, in it- no. And in a 30-acre oasis inside the city, called Barker nature preserve, I found Jennifer Nebe, four years out of Purdue, already in charge of water programs for a non-profit, Save the Dunes.
Within a few minutes she guided me to the Indiana Dunes Park, and Mt. Baldy. This happens to be the federal lakeshore overseen by the national folks. We walked out to the lakeshore. I was within 100 feet of as far as I could go without getting my feet wet in Lake Michigan.
The dunes were amazing, rising as high as 50 feet or more, or at least it seemed, above the shoreline. Jennifer loves being there, but her job usually takes her inland a few miles. She works with property owners on watersheds, much like soil conservation districts do. In fact, sometimes she works with the local soil conservation districts.
There's plenty of wildlife in the underbrush off the edge of the dunes, Jennifer says, although we didn't see any. They were probably watching from afar, saying, "What took you so many years to get here."
Well, as my mentor once said, "I'm here now, let's talk!"