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Victory Acres prepares for 2019

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LAYING IN WAIT: Eric Himelick, director of Victory Acres farm in Upland, examines the remains of a rhubarb plant in the farm’s greenhouse. Rhubarb is a perennial that begins growing under the ground and will return in early spring.
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THE MAN IN CHARGE: Eric Himelick is director of Victory Acres farm, a ministry using farmland to minister to people and provide hospitality and healing, in Upland.
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VARIETY OF POSSIBILITIES: Along with fresh produce, eggs and locally-sourced honey and maple syrup, Victory Acres provides services such as turning logs into lumber through the use of a portable wood mill and a digital wood carver.

BY Emily Rachelle Russell - erussell@chronicle-tribune.com

UPLAND — Victory Acres may be quiet during the wintertime off season, but there’s plenty going on behind the scenes at this nonprofit ministry farm.

Farm manager Martin Hunt shared that the farm’s wintertime operations usually include planning and meetings for the growing season and maintenance on facilities, vehicles and equipment.

“At this point we’re really focusing on getting our infrastructure in place, doing a lot of electrical, building repairs, things like that,” Hunt said. “(There are) a lot of things we have to do before we can do the big (farming) stuff.”

Maintenance on vehicles and equipment is especially important in the winter. Some of the work required can be heavy-duty, and the machines will all be in use during the summer.

Many plants are started in the farm’s greenhouse in late winter, such as lettuce, kale and other varieties of greens.

The crops planned for the 2019 growing season are still uncertain at the moment, but whatever does get started in the greenhouse in February and March can be moved to the outdoor beds as the weather warms up.

The farm also sells eggs from its chickens in the winter, along with locally sourced honey from Clover Blossom and maple syrup from another ministry farm.

A more unique part of Victory Acres’ winter work is wood cutting. The farm has a wood mill used to cut timber and logs for use as lumber. This weekend, Hunt used the wood mill to cut a cherry tree log into lumber for a local man to build a table.

“We’ve got so many different avenues of things we can do on the farm,” Hunt said.

Founded in 2006 by director Eric Himelick, the farm’s 114 acres once belonged to Himelick’s grandfather. Himelick’s inner cities ministry in Indianapolis purchased the farm on contract to expand the ministry with a place of hospitality and healing outside the city.

For a time, Victory Acres was a CSA, or community-supported agriculture operation, providing produce to up to 250 families in need. However, the demands of that system outgrew the farm’s ability to keep up and overtook the farm’s original goal as a ministry to people, so Victory Acres transitioned away from CSA status a few years ago.

“What we exist for is to be a place of hospitality and healing for people that are in need,” Hunt said.

Currently, Himelick’s and Hunt’s families are the only ones living on the farm. Long-term plans include expanding the potential for families to live in farm facilities and camp in RVs on the farm and help with farm operations, Hunt shared.

With the people-focused mission of the ministry, the farm has been home to about 27 long-term guests in the past, Himelick said, many of whom were homeless, recovering from drug use or recently released from prison. However, with the current facilities, guests cannot comfortably stay through the winter.

The farm also benefits each year from volunteers and, when it was a CSA, apprentices. Hunt hopes to see more volunteers from Taylor University this spring semester.

While the 2019 crop plans are in limbo, Himelick shared that the farm definitely wants to offer more of the speciality crops it has become known for. The farm won’t offer the full 45 varieties it did while functioning as a CSA, but Himelick promised a good selection of vegetables and fruit, including blackberries and perennials.

Himelick and Hunt have big plans for Victory Acres in the future.

Along with pursuing the possibility for long-term residents and campers, the farm has a small farmhouse Himelick wants to expand and turn into a country store. The wood mill and a digital wood carver the farm has would be able to create wood home goods such as decorative signs to sell. The store would both increase farm revenue and create employment opportunities.

The farm also once raised and sold beef, an opportunity to which Hunt and Himelick hope to eventually return.

As far as crops are concerned, Himelick wants to increase the number of thornless blackberry plants and add more raised beds, which the farm recently began experimenting with.

For more information on Victory Acres, visit the website at victoryacres.org.