The idea of “buy local” means different things to different people. But for John Lawson and his wife Terrie it starts with community. He says serve the community, and customers to your farm business will follow.
Lawson’s Ruskin-based farm has done that and has built a loyal following in the 10 years since he and his wife started Hydro Harvest Farms.
“When we bought this little piece of property, we really were not even thinking about agriculture,” he says. “But we came across this type of growing (tower systems) and my wife and I decided we would give it a try.”
Lawson had no background in agriculture and had worked for 24 years with a major beer distributor.
“I jokingly tell people that I went from beer to berries,” he says. “When we started the farm, my wife was still working with the U.S. Postal Service, but she has since retired. She takes care of all the books, our website, and our marketing efforts.”
Diversity Is Key
Like many tower-system farms, strawberries are a natural choice for Lawson’s U-Pick offerings. But, to keep the customers coming back, Lawson says you must have a good selection for customers to pick from.
The U-Pick offerings include strawberries, lettuce, herbs, onions, kale, collards, mustard, chard, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes, and green beans. A new popular addition to the farm’s offering is loofa, which is grown on the fencing surrounding the property.
“You have to be diverse as possible,” Lawson says. “For instance, right now there are no strawberries for customers to pick because of the hot December we had. If I didn’t have anything else growing, I might as well close the door on the farm.
“We try to grow as many things as possible. We don’t grow a lot of anything, but we grow a little bit of everything. I believe this is actually harder than growing a mono-crop because you have to be an expert or — pretend to be — on a lot of crops.”