By James Natsis
Colorful fallen leaves and crisp refreshing air usher in the bustling autumn period that abounds with outdoor festivals and other seasonal activities. One such favorite fall tradition for many locals: a trek through the Southern Indiana knobs to the farm country of Starlight and its popular Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyards.
Although my partial and full-time residence in Louisville extends over 20 years, I had never visited the place. After my recent initial visit, however, it is clear why this family-friendly working farm and production center received more than 600,000 guests in 2015. There is something for everyone during each of the four seasons of the year.
Fall is the busiest period at Huber’s. During the month of October, anywhere from 10,000-12,000 guests visit the grounds each day on Saturdays and Sundays. This is according to marketing director and wine club manager Lise Kruer, who spent some time with Insider on a recent busy but beautiful fall afternoon.
Huber’s is teeming with activity during the lively autumn season: Schools organize field trips during the week to learn about the growth cycle of pumpkins and apples before visiting the fields for a U-Pick adventure; families roam the grounds to taste pumpkin donuts, homemade ice cream, play outside at the farm’s park, and select among the hundreds of pumpkins and gourds to bring home; and other guests mull over locally produced cheeses and other market items produced on the 700-plus acre farm. There’s also a winery, distillery and sit-down restaurant on site.
One overarching theme emerges among the many options at Huber’s — food, and many versions of it.
Every season serves a purpose at Huber’s, explains Kruer. During winter months, the farm side winds down, but the distillery, winery, café and market remain open. The holiday season brings in a new wave of guests, and the dry red wines are bottled after the first of the year.
As spring approaches, things begin to grow again. The U-Pick activities begin in March and April, depending on the weather and the crop.
“We grow pretty much everything here,” Kruer says. “We even have some plum trees, even though we don’t sell them.”
The ice cream parlor and Farm Park reopen during this period as well.
With the arrival of summer comes the increase of weekday traffic as the school year ends and families begin to travel. Live music and summer concerts grace the scene along with corporate picnics and activities.
The essential point Kruer and the marketing team at Huber’s strive to convey to the public is that they grow all of the crops they market. It is summed up in a nice phrase: “We are the makers.”
This point did not go unnoticed by a small group of guests from the plains of Kansas who traveled down from Indianapolis, where they were attending the Annual National FFA Convention and Expo. The Kansas agricultural specialists were impressed with Huber’s sustainable model of farming that boasts such a wide variety of crops in relatively small quantities. They also were intrigued by Huber’s capacity to generate significant income through agricultural tourism.
The younger farmers in the group appeared to be witnessing this facet of the agricultural business for the first time. They explained that Huber’s model is considered “novelty” farming in their area because of the long distances and transportational infrastructure that would make such a practice unfeasible.
The only type of profitable farming that can be sustained is large production of row crops, such as corn, soybeans, wheat, etc.
Huber’s Orchard, Winery and Vineyards is still family-owned and operated. It is in its seventh generation and still going strong. The unrelated Joe Huber’s Family Farm & Restaurant, aka Joe’s, is located about a mile down the road. Joe’s “everything made from scratch” menu, kids playground and relaxing atmosphere also is worth the drive in its own right.
About the author: James Natsis, Ph.D, is a professor in the History Department at West Virginia State University in Charleston, W.V. He also lives in Louisville. Natsis is a world traveler and former Peace Corps volunteer.