BY Jennifer Willhite | For The Republic

While a lot has changed in Columbus and Bartholomew County during the past nine decades, much remains the same with Bush’s Market.

Brothers Joe and John Bush and cousin Rick Bush carry on the family tradition started by their grandfather, Henry Bush Sr., in 1929. They, along with Rick’s 87-year-old mother, Betty, own and operate the 1,000-acre family farm operation and market, located east of Columbus on 25th Street.

Like clockwork, Joe, John and Rick are at the farm by 4 a.m. during the winter days butchering hogs and preparing product to stock the retail store’s meat cases. Winter is considered sausage season.

Other times of the year the focus is seasonal produce, such as tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, watermelons and potatoes.

The result of this tradition is the Bush family in the midst of its 90th farm market year.

For Rick, the satisfaction of working the family farm is twofold.

“You are planning and watching the produce grow during the spring and summer months,” 64-year-old Rick said. “And also it’s the customer contact and knowing the customer is getting the freshest and best products they can receive.”

That’s important for the Bushes, whose farm operation has remained family owned and will celebrate its 90th anniversary next year.

Fresh meat

Hogs are purchased from Pavey Stockyards in Greensburg two to three days each week, John said.

“My brother Joe goes over two to three times each week and picks up what we need to butcher,” 61-year-old John said. “We only hold them in the pen for two to three days before slaughter.”

To adhere to health and safety standards, an inspector from the Indiana Department of Health is present to inspect the hogs each morning before they’re butchered to make sure they’re healthy, Rick said.

The three Bush men butcher hogs from November to March to meet the season’s demand. The Bush family offers customers a range of fresh pork products, including sausage, tenderloins and ribs.

During the week before Christmas, the kill floor is active five days per week and slows to three days during January and February. Then, the brothers go back to a five-day schedule until they close around the first of March.

“Some customers stock up,” John said. “When we first open in November they are hungry for it because they’ve used up their supply. And then you have some people during Christmas who offer our product as gifts.”

More people are seeking naturally processed foods to support their healthy lifestyles, and simple ingredients used to season and preserve the meat are valued, the Bushes said.

“There are no preservatives in the meat,” John said. “The only thing we put in is salt, pepper, red pepper and sage. There’s nothing else to it. And there are a lot of people for whom that is really important to now.”

Subtle changes

Columbus’ growing and diverse population also is driving demand for what was once considered specialty products, Rick said. Twenty years ago, there were few orders for the leftover parts of the animal. Today, the Bush family receives orders for ears, feet, kidneys, heart and tongue.

“I would say 10 to 15 percent of the customer base drives demand for the specialty items,” Rick said.

The Bush family has held tight to traditions over the years, including its tried-and true advertising: word of mouth.

John said it is difficult to keep up with a world that is swiftly moving online, but the family business has earned its reputation the old-fashioned way.

“We’ve been here a long time,” he said. “It is interesting as it used to be with older people it was word of mouth and now it is technology and people don’t talk anymore. Sometimes it is hard to get the word out and we are hard-headed and not savvy enough to push the electronic aspect.”

However, Rick’s daughter, Sadie Cox, helps with the social media aspect of marketing when she isn’t working at the retail store or her day job as indirect materials associate with Cummins Inc.

“I think we are starting to reach a lot more young folks,” the 35-year-old Cox said. “A lot of our advertising is word of mouth, but I would say our customer base on Facebook has taken hold with the older generations.”

Cox has helped and worked on the farm since she was a child, and said most of what the market offers hasn’t changed much over the years.

However, since the Bush family started participating in the Columbus Farmers Market downtown during the summer, it has branched out to offer items normally not carried, such as kale, Cox said.

Next generation

Cox said it would be nice if she and Henry Sr.’s other great-grandchildren could take over the family business when the grandsons retire. However, going from a 9-to-5 day job to running the family farm involves elements that would necessitate some planning.

“Once our fathers start stepping back, I would love to take over,” she said. “But it’s very hard because it would be hard to leave our jobs now. We all do as much as we can now, and maybe one day we can.”

About Bush's Market

Location: 7301 E. 25th St., Columbus

Owners: John, Joe, Rick and Betty Bush. (Another family member, Rick’s brother Gary, also was one of the operators until his death in 2015.)

Winter hours (December to March): 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.

Fall hours: 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. (Closed after Halloween).

Spring/summer hours: 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Also open 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays at the Columbus Farmers Market, located in the Cummins parking lot on Brown Street between Fifth and Eighth streets.

Products available:

  • Fresh pork products, including ground pork, breakfast sausage, tenderized and flattened tenderloin, and cracklings.
  • Seasonal produce, such as tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, watermelons, cantaloupes, peppers, potatoes, onions, squash.
  • Marion-Kay Spices

Information: 812-379-9077; bushsmarket.com.