Paoli Tomato Products Company Rebirths Itself with the Help of Friends

In 2015, my new friends Kara Schmidt and Andrew Gerber returned to Paoli, Indiana, where Kara grew up, in a loving family and Mennonite community. Kara had been a yoga teacher in Chicago, and before that a Natural Food Distributor Sales Rep for grocery co-ops nationwide. She told Andrew she was done with Chicago. That she couldn’t live in a city anymore. Furthermore, her dad was dying. She was needed back home. Andrew was welcome to join her if he wanted to.

So Kara arrived in Paoli first.

Besides being a skilled woodworker, Andrew was working with the mysteries of grief that attend the dying process as a hospice nurse in Chicago, having also studied with Stephen Jenkinson. A few months after Kara left, the hospice he worked with got swallowed up by a corporate conglomerate. He’d had enough too.

Before Kara returned, she had visited Paoli temporarily in 2007 to help set up the Lost River Market and Deli, the new Paoli Co-op. After her return, she went to work part-time at the Co-op and started her own yoga studio. Then fate intervened, when a real estate agent took her on a tour of the old Tomato Products Company, at the north edge of town, which had been unoccupied for, I think she said, 30 years, and was for sale. Besides starting as a tomato factory in 1910, it had also harbored other businesses along the way. See this, for more pictures and asking price.

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260418_10150222905481506_3801447_nWell, wouldn’t you know, they decided to buy the place, this gigantic “white elephant”  with over 16 acres and a beautiful old quarry that feels like a setting for sacred ceremony. What to do with their new purchase? Well, they’re not sure yet, but ideas are germinating, and for sure it will have something to do with both yoga and grief, given the synergy of their combined skills and passions.

After what transpired last Saturday, I’d say it will also function, along with the Lost River Coop, as another, larger, and intensely vibrant community center. More on that, but first, back to the story.

Over last winter they hunkered inside an old Airstream Trailer on the ground floor of the old, cavernous, three-level monstrosity. (This is the first level.)

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and  come spring, moved the Airstream out, to occupy a tiny two-story space that Andrew built inside the factory’s ground floor — with a toilet! shower! sink! bed! and couch! — all thrilling additions for these intrepid souls.

Meanwhile, during the winter Andrew had to dig a six foot trench along the north and east sides, because the factory abuts a hill (with the third floor doors opening on the top of the hill), and water coursed in and through like a river every time it rained. . .

And of course, the roof still leaks in places . . .

Undaunted, they kept going. Took the two week Permaculture Design Certificate course at the Lazy Black Bear this June, and afterwards, on a walk around their property, Andrew asked Kara what she wanted for her birthday. Immediately, she found herself responding:

“A Work Party!”

Done. Not even two weeks later, last Saturday, a revolving group of old and new friends converged from and around the area, as far north as Bloomington and far south as Louisville, just as Kara indicated we would in her final email to the invitees.

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I asked Kara to send me pics that she took of the event. Since I was there between noon and about three o’clock I got to participate in only a small slice of the day. (I know they also planned on dinner and some kind of a party afterwards.) But I did eat lunch with kindred souls and had fun moving lots of bricks with a wheelbarrow.

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The event was so magical that they they even got to borrow a gigantic chipper, to get rid of unwanted brush along both sides of the road leading in to the factory.

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Andrew cuts up brush for the chipper.

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Espri, of nearby Brambleberry Permaculture Farm, heads back to work after lunch with her chain saw.

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I worked with Sherrie, Kara’s Mom, for part of the time. She was very excited to unearth the bricks, has had her eye on this project from the beginning.

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Today, an envelope arrived in the mail. A thank you card. Classy.


And with their new logo. YES!

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7 Responses to Paoli Tomato Products Company Rebirths Itself with the Help of Friends

  1. Christopher Crockett says:

    i missed it!

    please keep us all updated on what transpires Down South with the TPC –major Industry Returns to Paoli!

    they even got their own stamp! (how’d they do that?)


  2. Christopher Crockett says:

    i don’t mean the TPC stamp –i mean the USPS “Tomatoes” stamp.

    who ever heard of a USPS Tomatoes stamp?


  3. Muki Ndabambi says:

    Awesome people Andy and Kara, lucky community…then again, Kara’s a local tomato…

  4. Carolyn Eubank says:

    In 1975 my husband, Jim Eubank and his family (father,Chester – brother Randy) purchased the old tomato factory which was only a shell. No floors or roof. They rebuilt the factory from top to bottom, adding the elevator, bathroom and everything that is there today except maybe the new windows. For 20+ years they operated what was known as Hoosier Cabinet Company and also a dry kiln business. They owned the building for additional years but did not run it as a business. When they purchased the building they did find some bottles that were used at the old tomato factory. Many item discarded buy the previous owner.

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