November 29, 2021

Couple moves from Los Angeles to Logansport to expand farming passion

LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) — Moving from Los Angeles to Logansport, Indiana, may seem unusual to some, but for Jordan Zehner and Danny Serna, coming back to her hometown and the family farm was the logical choice.

They were looking to expand on the large scale gardening they started in LA. They had chickens and would barter eggs and citrus with neighbors doing similar farming.

“We were trying to live off the land in LA,” Serna said.

But they wanted to go into human-scale farming, working intensely on a small plot of land.

Now they’re running Zehner Family Farm near the Cass County Fairgrounds on about 0.2 acres of land they’re renting from her grandparents, who are still farming the family farm with the more common modern methods.

“The community has been very welcoming,” Zehner said.

They sell their produce at the Logansport Farmers Market and to local businesses, including Judy’s Good Life Emporium in Logansport and The Sunspot Natural Market in Kokomo and Lafayette.

Their food will also go to the recently opened Bonus Pints at 422 E. Broadway in Logansport. Owner Katya Swisher said she plans to use produce from Zehner Family Farm for her seasonal menus.

Zehner likes the changes around where she grew up.

“It seems a lot of things are happening, and we’re excited to be part of it,” she said.

The couple moved here last July, and this is their first year farming in Indiana.

The crops for 2021 include zucchini, yellow squash, cauliflower, cantaloupe, heirloom varieties of tomatoes, four varieties of peppers, broccoli, cabbage, sugar snap peas and greens like arugula and kale.

Their Trinidad scorpion peppers already have a buyer in Indianapolis, Metal Honey Foods, which sells pepper-infused honey.

They also have dozens of chickens producing eggs that they use to barter with other farmers.

They’re planning a pumpkin patch, pumpkin sales and activities for the public for autumn, and for winter crops, they’re looking to include radishes and salad greens.

Further in the future, they hope to have an apiary and raise bees for honey, although that will start with honey for family use.

Their operation isn’t a certified organic farm, but they follow organic practices.

“We’re following a lot of Eliot Coleman’s practices,” Serna said.

Coleman is an agricultural researcher and advocate of organic farming. The couple’s practices include rotating crops and using cover crops, and the chicken coop is mobile with a mesh bottom, so they move it around to let the chicken scat to replenish the nitrogen in the ground.

The couple met in Madison, Wisconsin, when she went to earn her master’s degree in Spanish and he was finishing his bachelor’s in Spanish and French language and literature.

He grew up in Madison after his family moved from Mexico when he was 14.

Her sister lived in Los Angeles, and Zehner was working multiple jobs in the college town after graduation.

“I thought LA did sound pretty good,” she said.

After seven years in Los Angeles, he’d been working as a translator in a children’s hospital emergency room, and she was teaching at a private elementary school.

So, the couple began looking around for a place to go. They liked the Pacific Northwest, but it had drawbacks.

“We had a lot of concerns about water, really, because out there everybody is vying for water,” she said.

Serna said they loved Los Angeles because of their proximity to the mountains and woods, but it would not easily allow them to do what they wanted.

“One of the main things that drove us here was the water — water and land,” he said.

Coming here also put them closer to both of their families, hers in Cass County and his in Wisconsin.

Long before they moved here, they had married on the farm under the big sycamore tree in 2016.

“It also felt cool and appealing to do this on the land that I grew up on,” she said.

She was able to make connections quickly, such as with Swisher of Bonus Pints and Vibrant Events Catering.

“We want to eat healthy, and we want the community to eat healthy,” Zehner said. “We’re really focused on the community aspect. In LA, you really don’t feel you’re part of the community.”

Besides working the farm, the two are also out in the community.

She teaches Spanish at Landis Elementary School in the dual language immersion program. He is a part-time certified medical interpreter at Logansport Memorial Hospital.

They plan to continue to grow and experiment on the farm, but whether the couple will eventually take over her grandparents’ farm is still open. She thinks so, but he’s not sure.

“When you do everything by hand, it gets tiring,” she said.

Currently, the best way to contact Zehner Family Farm — and Serna and Zehner — is through the business website, www.zehnerfamilyfarm.com.