Healthy Hoosier Oil was started by Mark Boyer and his family in an effort to develop another source of income for the farm. The goal was to raise canola and sunflowers, and by using the cold-press process, produce healthy oils that could be marketed as cooking oils.
The timing seemed right, says Boyer, Converse. There is demand for healthy cooking oils. Consumers grow more health-conscious all the time. Canola and sunflower oil have dietary advantages that appeal to people interested in eating healthier.
“There are lots of challenges in getting a business like this going,” Boyer says. “First, we had to learn how to raise canola. You have to know about its quirks, like its ability to leak out of almost anywhere on a combine or truck, if you’re not careful. The seed is so small.”
The second challenge was figuring out how to process the oil. “We engineered and made a lot of the equipment we use ourselves,” Boyer says. “And since we’re producing a food-grade material, we had to keep health standards in mind. We’ve been working on this for a while, and we’re just now getting to where everything seems to be coming together.”
Farmers can figure out how to grow things, and most are up to the task of engineering equipment to accomplish a task. The biggest challenge, Boyer found, was developing markets for the oils. This involved networking and lots of trial and error.
Healthy Hoosier Oil is finally getting market space on shelves in Kroger and Marsh stores, but it didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen by accident.
“One of our best allies turned out to be the Indiana Grown program,” Boyer says. The Indiana Grown initiative was started by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture to help more farmers producing finished ag products market their products effectively.
Learn more about Indiana Grown at indianagrown.org. However, Boyer insists that it is much more than a website.
“You can join for free, and there are different levels of membership,” he explains. Both he and his neighbor, Nathan Hunt, are members. Hunt raises hogs on pasture and markets pork through different channels, including on the menu at Jefferson Street BBQ in Converse. Hunt feeds the canola meal left after Boyer produces oil to his hogs as a protein substitute for soybean meal.
Meetings and education, which includes sharing ideas, come with being part of Indiana Grown, both Boyer and Hunt say. The initiative also offers chances to get exposure for your products.
Boyer notes that Indiana Grown sets up kiosks featuring member products in stores at various times. He took advantage of that opportunity while trying to establish markets for his oil products.
“One of the biggest things it does is give us credibility in the marketplace,” Boyer says. “When both consumers and store officials see the Indiana Grown seal, they know that the product is legitimate. It’s been a real help for marketing.”