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It Started With the Chickens AND the Eggs

If businesses were eligible for the Notable Nineties list, the Gatewood Vegetable Farm and Greenhouse would be a Sensational Centenarian.

The four-generation family business is celebrating its 100th year in 2022, a distinction few local operations can claim.

And to think, it all started in 1915 with 50 baby chicks that came shipped in an orange box with cheesecloth tacked over the top!

Up to that point, James “Jim” Gatewood had been a blacksmith, but rearing those chicks made him decide to shift his attention from shoeing horses to raising chickens.

He traded his property in Noblesville for a farm on what is now 206th Street and within a few years he was operating one of the largest chicken farms in central Indiana. Chicks he raised were shipped to customers all over the Midwest.

With so many chickens around, it was only natural to start selling some eggs and chickens locally, and in 1922 — voila! — the business that would eventually grow into Gatewood’s Vegetable Farm was born.

Over time, apples, potatoes, onions and peaches were added to Jim’s offerings, as was cider he pressed himself. (The cider was sold BYOC — Bring Your Own Container.)

In the mid-1950s he also tried his hand at raising turkeys which he sold, on foot or dressed, for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

After Jim’s death in 1956, his son, Bill, took over the business.

Bill operated a regular route, delivering broiler chickens and eggs to various places in the Indianapolis area until the late 1960s when he decided to close the chicken farm and concentrate on the produce stand instead.

He was fairly young when he died in 1970, leaving his oldest son, also named Bill (“Billy Joe” in his younger days,) to carry the torch.

Under the younger BiIl and his wife, Nancy, things really took off.

In the beginning, Bill was still employed at Firestone. He’d get up in the wee hours of the morning to drive to Indianapolis to pick up produce for Nancy to sell during the day while he toiled at the factory. Then, after work, he’d pick up more produce and head home to do the books.

By 1975, the business was so successful he was able to move it out of his garage and into a building of its own next door. The greenhouse was added a little later.

When Bill passed away in 2013, his son, Bruce, became the manager.

Under Nancy’s watchful eye, Bruce has carried on the family legacy, ably assisted by his sister, Kelli Balke, and his wife, Chelse. Bruce and Chelse’s children, Kendall and Bryce, pitch in sometimes as well.

For the most part, the store remains as it was on Bill’s watch — plants and garden items take center stage in the spring; fresh Indiana produce in the summer; pumpkins, mums, cider and persimmon pulp in the fall; and Christmas trees and other Yuletide decorations in December.

That’s in addition to the usual array of produce and other merchandise, such as Sechler’s pickles and Dillman Farm preserves.

Bruce has left his own mark, though, like adding the LuxCraft outdoor furniture.

When Covid started to hit this area in early 2020, he also began stocking more frozen meat, baked goods and other grocery items, to give people the option of shopping for some of the basics in a smaller, less crowded setting.

Bruce told me they’re planning to celebrate their 100th anniversary all year long with special weekends and some giveaways, the first of which is a drawing for the shiny red smoker grill that’s sitting at the front of the store.

The winner will be announced in May, so there’s plenty of time to stick your name in the drawing!

– Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com