Michigan Road's parking lots, strip malls and heavy traffic can make any drive less than, say, pastoral. Which is one reason it's surprising to notice, just north of 64th Street on the west side, a large field covered with bird netting bearing banners reading "Fresh Blueberries." City dwellers are used to a long drive past the 'burbs to get to the nearest U-pick farms, after all.
It was about five years ago that Joshua Welch, a preacher who grew up in Indianapolis but now lives in Russiaville, looked at a horse pasture owned by his father, John, and thought it'd be a great place to start a blueberry farm. "Let's do something good with it, that's unique to Indianapolis - because there's no other blueberry farms in Indianapolis and Marion County, really," he said to himself. "If you build it, they will come" - a variation on the whispered line from the movie Field of Dreams - ran through his head.
And come they have. The Driving Wind Blueberry Farm - the name refers to the herd of driving horses that once called the field home - started with an ambitious 600 blueberry plants, with 800 more soon to follow. The grand total four years later is two acres of berries, with demand continuing to grow.
The family had experience working outdoors - Joshua's mother, Gloria, started a landscaping company called The Green Gang about 30 years ago when she began mowing the lawns of fellow churchgoers. The company is still going strong, and occupies space next to the farm, providing conveniences like access to an irrigation pond and a sawmill to make frames for netting to keep away one of their toughest pest challenges - hungry city birds.
As it turns out, growing blueberries in Indiana isn't as simple as putting plants in the ground. "Everybody says, 'I try to grow blueberry plants, I can't grow them' - and usually it's because you try to plant them in Indiana soil and that's not gonna work," Joshua says. He went on to explain that blueberry plants require a specific acidity, so they bring in soil amendments by the semi truck. The right mixture of pine bark mulch and sphagnum peat moss gives the picky plants what they need. An organic fertilizer is then used each season to keep the pH of the soil where it needs to be.
One appealing feature of Driving Wind blueberries is that the plants aren't sprayed at present with pesticides or other chemicals, though surrounding weeds are sprayed at the ground level once each spring. But Joshua admits that while they don't rely on chemicals for pest-management, that might not always be the case - the Japanese beetle is always a challenge, but this year there's been a new variety of fruit fly that can wreak havoc on the crops. "I know another couple of blueberry farms that usually don't spray their berries have been forced to have to do it this year," so he's taking a wait-and-see approach.
Plans are afoot to introduce U-pick kiwi and goji berries (both crops are a year or two away from maturity), and you can now purchase local honey, frozen persimmon pulp, and blueberry Honey Graham ice cream at the farm shop.
Because the farm grows six different varieties of berries, the season can run from four to six weeks during a good year. And since the weather this year has been near-ideal (a snowy winter, a bit cooler and wetter summer), there are still a few days of picking left if you can clear a morning of an hour or so. Or mark your calendar for next summer - you can follow news of the farm on Facebook, getting updates on picking days (they are limited) and specials.