Growing Good Podcast #81: Robert Frew & Juan Carlos Arango, permaculture specialists

Robert Frew And Juan Carlos Arango Practice Permaculture And A Culture Of Sharing At Sobremesa Farm

by Allison Lemons

Robert and Juan Carlos practice permaculture and a culture of sharing at Sobremesa Farm, just outside Bloomington, Indiana. In this episode, Robert talks about taking the time to observe the land before jumping into farming and waiting one more year before putting any pressure on selling anything from the land. Juan Carlos points out that neither of them knew much about farming but came into this work through their interest in nature and wildlife and, eventually, the relationships they built at a Bioneers Conference. That permaculture mimics nature made it a natural fit for their land-management philosophy. 

Hear about the steps they took to bring municipal water to a property that isn’t suited for a well but didn’t have a municipal-water meter. (Listeners: Most of us would have walked away from this property. You have to hear about their journey!) Robert also talks about how they collect and keep rainwater on the land, plus two springs that have come to the surface since they purchased the property. 

Juan Carlos talks about the concept of “volunteers”–particularly plant volunteers as a means to reduce dependence on off-farm seed resources. He also talks about the various animals they keep and the rolls each fills on the farm, plus some of the more untypical tropical crops they grow in greenhouses and the fields. You won’t find soursop, bananas or pittaya growing too many other places in the Midwest! 

Hear, too, about their fellowship with Midwest Grains, the milpas they’re experimenting with, and their interest in finding and learning from other small-scale grain growers in the region. 

From CSA to an on-farm market, Sobremesa Farm attempts to connect their customers with how their food is grown. Robert talks about getting grant money to expand production via mini production contracts for a local food pantry in 2023. He gets real about the growing pains for farms as small as theirs when engaging with grants. 

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Finally, Juan Carlos talks about their approach to educating their customers and school groups, as well as multicultural farming workshops they host on the farm. Hear, too, about the fertility methods they’ve used to supercharge the soil organic matter on their farm.  

If you’re curious about the name Sobremesa Farm, listen to the very end to hear Juan Carlos’s explanation of the Latin American concept of sobremesa. 

Note from the host: 

One thing we did not get to talk about in this episode was Sobremesa Farm’s feature during the 2023 Farm Aid benefit concert. Be sure to watch the video, linked below.  

Links from this episode 

Sobremesa Farm website 

Sobremesa Farm Instagram 

The ABC of Organic Agriculture, Chromatography and Sustainable Livestock Management workshop with Jairo Restrepo, September 3-6, 2024 

Farm Aid video 

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