Mayfield property
January 5 , 1994
place. The man proved to be a natu-
ral farmer: everything he planted
flourished.
Seeking to please Mary with
Even after leaving the farm in
strawberries for her table, Ernie
Washington County for life as an
began planting more and more until
insurance executive, James R. “Jim”
the strawberry patch grew into a
Mayfield continued his interest in
field and Jim was hiring 30 to 40
agriculture.
pickers to satisfy customers who
By 1936, he and Mary had once
came from as far away as
again settled on enough land to
Indianapolis for the fruit, at 50
permit some experimenting with
cents a quart.
cattle and crops, this time just out-
Although Jim doesn’t remember
side the town of Zionsville. At
the names of all the local youth he
about the same time, he decided to
employed at one time or another, he
leave Indianapolis Life and open
does recall that Dora Wood
his own agency - in a log cabin
(Kramer), Ralph Stacy, and Nick
he had moved near his home.
University
of Denmark at
Frenzel were in their number. Jim
Mary retired from teaching to
Copenhagen, who came to visit
gave Ernie a half-interest in the
become his hostess, entertaining the
several times. The friendship that
strawberry business, and Jim him-
wives of agents and at agency par- evolved with the Danish educator
ties, and he was close enough to the
was to be renewed in a shipboard
self took a two-week vacation dur-
fields to permit their daily over-
encounter, and further strengthened
ing the season to oversee the opera-
sight.
with a reciprocal tour of Denmark.
tion.
Jim soon had about 50 head of
As Jim and Mary were sailing to
Recognizing the Mayfield name
cattle, and with counsel from
England, aboard the Queen Mary,
from years before in Stark County,
experts at Purdue, was seeking a
they heard McKenzie’s name called
Governor Henry Schricker once
crop that produced healthy feed for
and learned that he was travelling
stopped by for berries. Jim was able
his herd. Soon his gently rolling
in tourist class. One evening they
to remind the gentleman that they
field was yellow with the blossoms
invited him to dine with them in
had met many years before, w
hen
of bird’s-foot trefoil.
first class, and he asked Jim to call
Jim was 12 and the Governor was
A crop favored by Thomas
him when they got to Copenhagen.
running
for Stark County
Jefferson, who raised the trefoil at
“He took us all over Denmark,”
Prosecutor.
Monticello, it was purported to
Jim says, recalling that Danish
Brothers, who operated a stand
prevent cattle bloat, a malady that
houses and barns are built close
at the City Market in Indianapolis,
often plagued beef producers. One
together, with a breezeway-like
also came by to buy the berries,
of the attributes of the plant is that
structure connecting the two.
becoming the first wholesale cus-
it remains green, even in dry
Bird’s-foot trefoil was not the
tomer.
weather, for one of its two root sys-
only crop that drew crowds to the
Defense pIants were the cause of
tems grows laterally, permitting
Mayficld’s. Thanks to Jim’s com-
the eventual demise of the business.
immediate absorption of surface
passion for someone in need, straw-
As women joined their husbands in
water.
berries once grew in profusion in a
Unlike alfalfa, that has only a field west of the Mayfield barn,
defense plants, where they both
tap root that pulls out of the
developing a 12-year enterprise that
made big money, fewer and fewer
ground when a freeze hits, the tre- saw 1,000 to 1,500 quarts a day
youth were seeking work. Also
foil, with its lateral root, stays
picked during the season.
prosperity enabled families to have
firmly in place.
At the bottom of the Depression
cars and mother would drive up
The plant gained the name bird’s Jim came across Ernie Johnson who
about 3 p.m. to take the children to
foot because the seeds form in pods
had moved north from Alabama
the swimming pool or to Little
that are shaped like the foot of a with his wife and son, and was

League.
bird, with each plant bearing several
seeking employment of any kind.
hundred seeds. When the pod
The family virtually had nothing in
Jim puts it simply: “We could-
matures, it twists and throws the
the way of possessions.
n’t get pickers, so we plowed it
seeds out as far as eight to ten feet.
The farmhouse on the Mayfield
under.” And Ernie, who had made
The Mayfield field was a source property, then a two-story structure,
enough money to buy a two-ton
of interest to area farmers, to Purdue was not in use, so Jim told the
truck, moved his family back to
researchers, and even to Colin Johnsons they could live there in
Alabama.
McKenzie, a professor at the exchange for Ernie’s work on the