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Welcome to Halterville!

You won’t find Halterville on any state maps. And no, it’s not a fictitious name, like Hickory, out of a movie. But there is a large sign just outside of Vincennes declaring that you’ve entered Halterville, population 20.

The farm and surrounding buildings form an immaculate, almost amusing place. It contains refurbished structures, including a grain bin that has a new life as an outdoor social area, rows of greenhouses and an abundance of beautiful flowers growing everywhere — as long as you visit at the right time of the year.

Key Points

Five families keep ties to ag and live off niche business.

Family divides responsibilities into growing and retail selling.

High-tunnel system helps them get tomatoes off to a fast start.

It’s also home to the Halter family’s produce operation. Five families spanning three generations make up the family business and are living proof you can still carve out a niche in agriculture with hard work and marketing savvy. You won’t find big combines and tractors here. But you will find greenhouse after greenhouse crammed full of plants.

Family affair

Currently, the family operation has 16 greenhouses that together put more than an acre under cover. Years of developing and marketing have helped them discover their concentration on traditional and newly developed flowers and bedding plants.

Lawrence and Shyla Halter started the business and opened a downtown market, the cornerstone of their retail business, in 1972. Their son, Jay; his wife, Brenda; and their son Bryan manage the growing end of the operation. Jay and Brenda’s son Keith and Jay’s sister, Sandy Woodall, work the retail part.

The Halters grow 25 acres of produce. Still, the labor-intensive business is what they love to do. They have about 20 employees, although they don’t all work at the same time during the year.

A high-tunnel system, a recent development in the produce industry, allows the Halters to start tomato plants in early spring. Tomatoes are planted into the ground for the highest quality taste. The Halters do that rather than risk losing quality and taste, which can occur sometimes with a potted tomato.

Down-home atmosphere helps establish market niche

Drive along U.S. 41 South near Vincennes from late spring through fall and you’ll find produce markets dotted all along the highway. From watermelons, to peaches and strawberries, to mouthwatering sweet corn, you’ll find what you’re looking for, depending upon the season of the year, somewhere along that stretch of road.

How do these markets compete with each other when the area is so heavily concentrated with them during the peak growing season? Kevin Donnar, production manager for the Big Peach Market, helps answer that question. Even though there are produce markets up and down the road, Kevin believes that having a variety of markets helps bring more people their way, which means more business.

“If a market doesn’t have what a person is looking for, they know where to send them to find it,” he says.

It’s a competitive area, but it seems each individual market has its niche. For example, the Abner Horrall and Family Market, with facilities along U.S. 41, specializes in asparagus in the spring. Much of it is sold wholesale. But it’s a crop not everyone grows. The Horrall market was part of the Indiana Farm Management Tour, which visited southwest Indiana this summer.

History of a market

The Big Peach is easy to spot with its giant peach suspended in the air out front. This market specializes in peaches and strawberries, along with the usual list of produce.

Thirty-five years ago, Kevin’s parents, Bruce and Margo Donnar, bought the operation from Margo’s father. They’ve worked to expand the produce side, all the while working alongside family. Kevin raises around 45 acres of produce each year on average and wholesales the majority of it. That still leaves the Donnars’ retail side of the business with a constant supply of fresh produce.

Kevin staggers their five to seven plantings so that they can harvest up to October. Margo is usually behind the counter, unless she’s baking pies. It’s another specialty.

Atmosphere counts

The Donnars offer a huge selection of just about anything having to do with fruit and vegetables. But they take equal pride in the relationships they establish with their customers.

“When people come in I feel like we’re serving mind, body and soul,” Margo says. “People get off the busy highway, come in, hear gospel music playing, breathe, sit in the rocking chair, talk and slow down.

“They start to confide in you, and you become their friend.”

Official welcome:
You won’t find Halterville on a state map, but you will find a sign at this multigenerational farm.

Young tomatoes:
This greenhouse helps the Halters get tomatoes of to a fast start early in the season. Photo courtesy of Halter family

Welcome mat is out:
Part of the success for Kevin (left), Margo and Bruce Donnar at the Big Peach Market is making folks feel like they’re at home.

11113405c.tifThree generations: Meet more Halters. Bryan (center) is flanked by parents Jay and Brenda (right) and grandparents Lawrence and Shyla (left). Sandy Woodall and Keith, Bryan’s brother, are on the cover.

This article published in the November, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.