Mike and Mitzie’s
Good Nature Farm
by Rachel Perry
photo by George Bredewater
Good Nature Farm is aptly named. Upon arrival, one is likely to be greeted by a friendly Australian Shepherd, closely followed by smiling Mitzie Salem. Colorful gardens of cleome, Russian sage, balsam, and cone flowers are alive with butterflies and darting hummingbirds competing for the feeder on a wide veranda. The porch overlooks a stunning vista of open meadows leading to distantly hazy Brown County hills. Numerous other good-natured dogs and cats wander amiably within and without the family residence, the renovated 1860s Spurgeon House.
Located on Bob Allen Road a short distance from Spurgeon’s Corner on State Road 135 South, Good Nature Farm and Greenhouses are the combined inspiration and dreams of Mike and Mitzie Salem, who moved to the property in 1999. In a flurry of activity, they cultivated gardens, built greenhouses, dug out a pond and added decks and screened porches to the existing house.
“Our business is growing plants,” Mitzie explained. “Seventy-five percent of the plants we grow from seed. The rest are from small seedlings or starts. We pride ourselves in the fact that we grow the plants ourselves.” Their specialties are homegrown quality bedding plants, perennials, annuals, vegetable and herb plants, and hanging baskets. They feature huge blooming mums, asters and flowering kale in the fall.
In addition to welcoming visitors at the farmstead, the Salems sell plants at the Bloomington Farmer’s Market and do some wholesaling to landscape businesses and to various shops in Nashville. “Going to Bloomington Farmer’s Market has really connected us with other people who are trying to create similar lives—based on working where you live and having a better life,” Mitzie said. “People say to me, ‘When do you get time to enjoy this? You seem to always be working!’ Well, I enjoy my work. I love to get out there and watch things grow and see plants go off with people, making them happy. We love to have visitors come out and enjoy the view and the garden.”
Mitzie’s passion for gardening has evolved over the years, following a very different career choice. After graduating from Columbus (Indiana) High School, she attended Indiana University for a year before deciding to become a professional ballet teacher. She attended the Hartford Ballet teacher training certification courses in Hartford, Connecticut, before establishing a residence and becoming a successful dance instructor. Her husband, Mike, is from central Massachusetts.
“I moved to an apartment in a town near where Mike lived and we were introduced by mutual friends. It was love at first sight,” Mitzie smiled. At the time Mike was running a flower shop and greenhouse business, his vocation since 1978. “I had been raised with gardeners in my family,” Mitzie continued. “My grandparents gardened, but I just wanted to go to the city and be a dance teacher. When I met Mike, I did a little transplanting here and there, and eventually re-connected with gardening.” She laughed, “I traded in my tutu for a trowel.”
Mitzie’s parents (the Hendricks) had purchased the farm the Salems now call home from the Spurgeon family in the late 1950s. The property had once been an apple orchard. Mitzie’s mother (maiden name Carmichael) grew up in the neighborhood and her father is from Belleville (near Plainfield, Indiana). “This is actually a childhood dream to come back here and live,” Mitzie admitted. “When I was a child we would come out here on weekends, so all my life I’ve wanted to live here. When I went East, I thought it would never happen. It’s just been wonderful!”
Part of the charm of the homestead is the Spurgeon House, located at the crest of a wide hill overlooking surrounding fields and forest. High ceilings and the historical front veranda take advantage of the natural breezes to mitigate summer heat. An added bonus to the interior décor is an early illustrative mural. Depicting a bird’s eye view of buildings and churches in a village, the painting conveys the familiar essence of a favorite small town.
Mitzie related, ”I remembered this mural in the living room when I was a child. There was a couch in front of it and I would sit looking at it, and imagine being in it. I thought it was wallpaper so when we came back I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to get a tiny little piece of that wallpaper and put it into a frame?’ Well, we couldn’t find it. What happened was that they had installed a new wall on top of the old one.
“When we were tearing things down for the renovation, Michael called for me to come quick. And the whole wall was there. When we got to looking at it, we saw the signature, “Moses,” and realized that the design was by Grandma Moses. So then the mural took on a whole life of its own.
“We called a museum in New York that has a lot of her work, and on each of the four panels there is a number and a date. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Grandma Moses was one of the first artists to have her work mass-produced. They did drapery fabric, plates, prints and wall murals, and this is from a painting she did in 1946.
The thing that’s interesting is that it’s of Williamstown, Massachusetts, which is near where Mike is from. We peeled it off the wall, cleaned it up and re-installed it. It was a great thing to come home to and find!”
To get to the Good Nature Farms and Greenhouses, drive ten miles south of State Road 46 on State Road 135. At Sprugeon’s Corner, take the first left and continue to the first farm on your right. The farm is open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. April 15th through June 30th and September 1st through October 31st. To reach Mike and Mitzie Salem, call 812-988-7035 or e-mail <email@example.com>.