8 Questions with Steve Huntley of Enlightened Crops
Steve wasn’t always a farmer. After some years in the corporate world, he started a small service business with his wife Cathy. The business focused on plumbing, heating, and cooling, and the couple ran it successfully for 18 years. In 2017, Steve and Cathy decided that they were interested in moving on to something that would be more flexible as they looked towards retirement.
They set out looking for a new venture that would benefit the community–especially in the downtown area. One thing they found was a lack of fresh produce availability in Downtown; They decided to explore that route and ran into the concept of hydroponic farming.
Freight Farms: What’s the story behind your Freight Farms project?
Steve Huntley: After selling our service business, my wife and I were searching for a new venture that could provide a benefit to the downtown Grand Rapids community. Supplying fresh produce to lower income neighborhoods in our urban area is a big need. We’ve enjoyed gardening for years and the Freight Farm fit our objectives perfectly.
FF: How did you first hear about Freight Farms?
SH: I was researching hydroponic growing systems when I saw a segment on the local television news that was about a new Freight Farm in downtown Grand Rapids that was started by an old friend, Brian Harris. After touring his farm and doing more research, we were ready to purchase our own farm.
FF: What are you growing in your farm?
SH: We currently grow basil, arugula, romaine and butterhead lettuce. The basil grows great in the rear of our farm because it’s a little more humid and warmer. We’ve tried several others in the past year, but these are the crops our customers currently order. Additionally, we’re always experimenting with different variables involving the crops to increase yield and quality.
FF: Who are your customers?
SH: Finding new customers can be difficult and time-consuming. Many are getting approached weekly from other farmers and wholesalers, but we’ve learned that if we can get potential customers to the farm, they usually buy from us. We currently work with two high end restaurants and have just started with a large grocer in our area. All of our customers are near the farm which saves time and money. There is a lot to learn selling on the retail side, but it’s rewarding.
FF: What does local food mean to you?
SH: Local food means different things to different people. To me, it means food that has been grown in the same area or city. ‘Local’ also means there are no preservatives, and the produce is super fresh. We’re really promoting the local aspect of our product because consumers today are more concerned with quality and want to support local farmers.
FF: What’s the best thing about being a Freight Farmer?
SH: The best part of being a Freight Farmer is the satisfaction of planting a seed and watching it grow into a delicious plant. I also like to give tours and see how amazed people are with the Freight Farm’s growing process. I also love working in the farm–It’s very relaxing without the phone ringing or getting interrupted constantly. Beyond that, it’s incredible how much I’ve learned since purchasing the farm. From troubleshooting, to determining grow issues, there is always something new to learn.
FF: What is the most challenging part of becoming a Freight Farmer and how did you overcome it?
SH: There is a tremendous amount of information to learn when setting up and growing crops in a Freight Farm, and we were fortunate to have Brian Harris of Green Collar Farms available to help us. Another challenging part of being a Freight Farmer is getting new business. Although our products are superior to most produce, there are many competitor farms in this area who also grow year round. When it comes to existing customers, scheduling can also be challenging: Customers change order quantities and sometimes crops don’t always grow as planned.
FF: What’s the best piece of advice you can give future farmers?
SH: Be passionate about farming and be patient. The crops don’t grow over night and finding new customers takes time. Also, don’t be afraid to contact other Freight Farmers for advice. Beyond that, Freight Farms has an excellent customer service group and their help has been invaluable to us. I would also recommend having a partner or significant other available to help with the farm and provide additional feedback on marketing, etc. My wife has gradually gotten more involved with the farm and she has been a big help.
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