The McCartys walk a path lined with faith, family and mulch
By Glenda Winders // photography by Angela Jackson
When Josh McCarty left Purdue University with a certificate in agriculture, his idea was to work on the farm where five generations of his family had worked before him and maybe start a small business on the side. His wife, Jennifer, believed she’d use the business degree she earned at Indiana University to begin a career in real estate.
As the saying goes, though, life is what happens when you had other plans. Today, they are the co-owners and operators of McCarty Mulch and Stone, with Josh overseeing truck drivers, loaders, operators and mechanics, and Jennifer and her staff taking care of administration and sales.
“I’m an entrepreneur at heart and always have been,” Josh says. “I started my first sweet corn and produce stand when I was 12 years old.”
In 1994, with a pickup truck and his grandfather’s ’60s-era tractor, the couple established a mulch farm on 5 acres at the corner of State Road 37 and Olive Branch Road. A homemade sign on the property said simply “Mulch” and gave a phone number. Jennifer, then a newlywed, remembers it well.
“We didn’t have a computer, we didn’t have electricity or lights, and we didn’t have a bathroom,” she says. “The mulch was dumped into a field. It was very basic.”
But their spare-time project soon took on a life of its own. Johnson County and Indianapolis were growing, and landscaping for new construction required mulch. The couple used their “date nights” to pass out fliers that read “Got mulch?” with their phone number, and the phone began to ring.
At this point Josh was still farming with his grandfather, Mark; father, Rick; and brother, Adam.
“I was trying to answer questions about mulch on my cellphone while trying to plant straight rows of corn at the same time,” he says. “It was overwhelming at times.”
Eventually they agreed that Jennifer would take over the responsibility of answering the phone.
“When Jen took over the calls and sales duties, the business really started to grow into a full-time occupation for both of us,” Josh says. “She is so personable, and she loves to talk to people.”
Since they had also started their family, Jennifer’s callers frequently heard the sounds of small children in the background. Today those children are grown up: Jake graduated from Liberty University in Virginia, Zach will be a junior there and Grace will be a junior in high school. Grace will be at least the fifth generation to attend Center Grove High School, the same school where her parents became sweethearts several years after first meeting one another in preschool.
In 2004 the McCartys moved their business from its original small lot to 55 acres on Bluffdale Drive, where they are currently located. Business mushroomed when they built an actual store and customers who had thought they were wholesalers realized they could get what they needed for their gardens there, too. The McCartys added stone to their mulch offerings and expanded to 75 products that range from decorative rock, boulders and gravel to topsoil, compost and sand. With more space, they now do much of their own manufacturing on-site.
“That’s when the game changed,” Jennifer says. “For the first time work was work and home was home, and what a difference that made in my life. When you’re a business owner working from home you can work all night long, and I did. It was a pivotal point for us to be able to move to a separate location and come home at 5 or 6 and have dinner as a family.”
She says that in the beginning she and her husband had to learn to communicate as business partners as well as husband and wife, but once they found a way to divide their duties according to their strengths and complement one another, work became much easier.
“This journey of running a business together has been great,” she says. “If anyone asked would we do it again, we absolutely would. It was a risk, but I’m so thankful that we took it.”
Today they have 25 employees during their busy season between March and June, when Jennifer says a warm and sunny day can be “bonkers” as people get out of their houses and start working in their yards. The store stays open winters and now offers seasonal products such as bag salt, but mainly what the employees do then is work to be ready for spring. Josh says a hot trend in their business is colored mulch, so one of the things they do during that time is dye mulch in just about any color a customer could want. They are proud that much of what they produce is recycled.
“We get wood bark from the sawmill industry or someone brings their brush, limbs and leaves or horse bedding to us, and we turn it into a useful recycled product,” Josh says. “We love that we can reduce landfill waste and open burning by converting wood waste into a valuable resource.”
Beyond the business
The McCartys serve all of central Indiana and will go anywhere in the state if the customer is willing to pay delivery charges. But working at their business isn’t all these two are about. In the past Josh has been a member of the Johnson County Council and a delegate to the Indiana State Republican Convention. He was also on committees at Center Grove schools. Currently he is on the Horizon Bank advisory board and a member of the Greenwood and Franklin Chambers of Commerce as well as the Indiana Nursery and Landscape Association and the Indianapolis Landscape Association.
Robert Henderson, executive vice president and chief lending officer at Mutual Savings Bank, has known the family for more than 15 years and worked with Josh on community affairs when they were both members of the Johnson County Council.
“In all aspects, be it political or social or business, I find them to be just very upstanding people,” he says. “They are very sound in their faith, and that permeates out to the way they conduct themselves in business, in the community, in life. On the county council Josh was always very much interested to hear all sides. I never knew him to formulate an opinion without first hearing from all parties who had a stake in whatever was happening and from the public at large.”
The couple love taking walks with their 16-year-old black Lab, Sam. Jennifer, an avid reader, has recently taken up painting in acrylics. They are members of Mount Pleasant Christian Church, where Jennifer teaches a women’s Bible study group; when COVID isn’t a factor, she also holds a before-school Bible club for students. She has twice traveled to Damoh, India, to speak at women’s conferences held by the Central India Christian Mission, of which she is a board member.
That group recently built a hospital that will serve 10 million people and a heart center and catheter lab where previously people had to travel for eight hours to receive treatment. With money the McCartys raised selling 2,500 chocolate bars at their business, the Indian town was able to have a well and clean water for the first time, as well as establish a leper colony.
Bill Cragen, co-owner of Cragen Lawn Care, is also involved with the Indian mission.
“My wife, Melody, and I have known the McCartys for many years through activities at Mount Pleasant Christian Church and the Central India Christian Mission, their mulch business and personal friendship,” he says. “We are thankful for our relationship in each area and blessed to call the McCarty family friends.”
Jennifer says their religious perspective changes the way they look at their jobs.
“I know the hard work is worth it if I’m able to change someone’s life in India that I’ve never even met just by being able to give back,” she says. “That’s my motive for all the hard work.”
Josh adds, “Our faith is very important to us. It’s who we are, and we want that light to shine. Instead of being in business just to make money, we are in business to minister to our employees and their families.”
And to their customers.
“Our business is a little bit different because we like to make connections with our customers,” Jennifer says. “I love to hear about their plans, and I want their garden to look so amazing, like I would want it at my house.”
Josh adds that it is important to them to provide a quality product and good service.
“Service is something we’ve lost in our world,” he says. “People want information and suggestions. We want to treat them as we would a family member or a friend.”
Josh says a lot of his philosophy has been shaped by people he has met along the way, ranging from farmers, teachers and people in the armed services to business people and elected officials. But he credits his late grandfather, Mark McCarty, as perhaps the greatest influence on his life.
“He was the smartest and wisest man I have ever known, and he taught me so much about life,” he says. “He came from the Greatest Generation, where they all had an unmatched work ethic, were willing to sacrifice for the common good of the country and their fellow man, and they valued service above self. He didn’t have a college degree, but I still haven’t met a more hardworking individual.”
He says, however, that his grandfather would be surprised to know that today they lease the family farmland to other farmers and use it to harvest some of the rich topsoil they sell. His dad and brother now work for Josh and Jennifer at the mulch and stone company.
One more thing the couple are passionate about is living in Johnson County.
“There is no place we would rather live, raise a family and operate a business than right here,” Josh says. “Driving through the farm areas or strolling through downtown Franklin reminds me of a throwback to simpler times, yet we also have restaurants and shopping and an influx of new people who are making the fabric of our community stronger. And the county has been great to support us for all these years. The definition of community is ‘a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals,’ and to us that is why Johnson County is so special.”