~story and photo by Bob Gustin
Some couples have a special song, a favorite movie, or a poem which reminds them of their love for each other. Mike and Mitzie Salem have a vegetable.
It’s appropriate that the owners of Good Nature Farm in southern Brown County see broccoli as a symbol of their lives together.
After high school, Mike did summer work at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, took a year off to be a ski bum at Sugar Loaf Mountain Resort in Maine, and got a job at a flower shop and greenhouse in West Brookfield, Massachusetts. He studied at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture and eventually bought the greenhouse where he was working.
He was tending the store when a ballet teacher named Mitzie came in to order flowers for her mother’s retirement. It was love at first sight. After taking care of the flower order, Mike lifted the top of a cold frame, snapped off a broccoli stalk and gave it to her. They were married a few months later, on November 27, 1981.
Mike is a native of central Massachusetts, but Mitzie is a Hoosier, born in Columbus and educated in dance at Indiana University. Mitzie always wanted to be a dance teacher, and she left home to attend The School of The Hartford Ballet, in Connecticut, which had a two-year teacher training program. After graduation, she stayed at the school to teach for about two years, then joined the Betty Gunderson Studio of Dance in Massachusetts and helped expand that business from about 75 students to 250.
Through most of the 1980s and ’90s, the couple followed their dance and greenhouse careers in New England.
In 1999, the Salems uprooted and moved to Brown County. Mitzie was an only child, and she knew her family would one day need her close. So the Salems moved to an 1865 farmhouse with 140 acres just northeast of the intersection of Indiana 135 and Bob Allen Road. Mitzie’s parents, who lived nearby, had owned the land, raised cattle there and rented out the farmhouse.
With help from neighbors and friends, they remodeled the house, built greenhouses, and began raising vegetables and flowers and cultivating community. The Salems also became a regular part of the farmer’s market in Bloomington.
The shift from ballet teacher to “greenhouse goddess” was a gradual one for Mitzie, as she taught ballet for a few years at Dancers Studio in Columbus while Mike did soil analysis.
“I traded in my tutu for a trowel,” Mitzie says.
For a while, Mike also worked with Al Donaldson, doing soil analysis work. When Donaldson retired, Mike went to IU for a degree, and then became a registered Indiana soil scientist. Among other things, he studies soil samples to help the local health department determine absorption rates.
Good Nature Farm now has four heated greenhouses and officially opens in mid-April and is busy through June 30.
“It is quiet work,” Mitzie said, “sowing seeds and seeing them grow. And it’s cool growing something which is going to go home with somebody.”
“We love being part of the community.”
She takes pride in knowing that the plants will become food, or be a part of nature’s beauty.
Those loyal customers become friends, and the Salems look forward to seeing the same people each spring.
“You create friendships and become more than just the guy you buy plants from,” Mike said. To be successful, he said, requires building relationships, hard work, and a love for people.
Good Nature Farm sells flowering annuals, a wide assortment of vegetables and herbs, hanging baskets, and an assortment of mixed patio planters. About 20 varieties of tomatoes are available.
“We try to have good quality plants at very good prices,” Mitzie said, “and keep a very clean and tidy operation.” The Salems grow as many of the plants as they can from seeds. Others are patented and can only be grown from small “plugs.” Produce is grown using the smallest amounts of pesticides possible.
Customers can also get recommendations from the Salems, with years of experience in what grows well here. Zinnias are deer-proof. Lantana does well in hot and dry weather. Tomatoes usually aren’t ready to be sold before May 15. Products are sold geared to the notion that they will be hardy in Brown County.
The Salems are concerned that bridge construction in the area may make it harder to get to the greenhouses this spring. But there are many alternate routes to the Good Nature Farm, located a quarter-mile north of 135 at Spurgeon’s Corner. Enter “Columbus” as the city when using a GPS.
“We are hard to find, but it’s well worth the effort,” Mitzie said.
Good Nature Farm is located at 8419 Bob Allen Road, Freetown, Indiana. For more information, call
(812) 988-7053, visit <goodnaturefarm.org>, or e-mail at <email@example.com>.