If you’re happy and you know it, chalk it up to the phytochemicals in red peppers. Or when your hair has a healthy sheen it might have something to do with the vitamins in the eggplant you’re eating. It’s Farm Bureau member Kirk Holthouse’s job to grow these wholesome vegetables and harvest them at their peak of ripeness and nutritional density but it falls to the cook to know how to “sell” the taste and benefits to the finicky eaters in their families, both children and adults.
“These are great selling points,” said Kirk, the third generation farmer at Holthouse Farms, a Huron County family farm, where he grew up eating green beans, corn and potatoes. “That was the extent of it,” he said. “Thanks to food television, talk and cooking shows and Internet recipe sites, we learn not just about the health benefits of vegetables but we know how to prepare them properly and make them interesting so that they taste really good.” Kirk also recognizes that social media has played an equally important role. “People put pictures of what they eat on places like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram,” he said. “They promote eating vegetables by sharing what they like and hope you’ll like it, too.”
Holthouse Farms is a multigenerational operation around almost as long as mothers have chided their children to “eat your veggies.” Slightly less than a century ago, Kirk’s grandfather Rudy began with a few acres and a small workforce including three sons, Stanton, Jordan and Mark, school teachers by trade, who in the late 1960s returned fulltime to the farm. Soon after, they expanded the business and built a packinghouse. Along with his cousins, Kirk continued the family tradition of working on the farm through high school and college where their various degrees in marketing, agriculture and business management served them well in the business.
The farm is organized by fields they grow in; ground that’s rented; ground farmed in a partnership with another producer; and a couple of acres “under glass” or greenhouses. “It’s more relevant to talk about the number of acres producing that go through the packing house,” which totals about 1,000, putting them among the top five vegetable growers in Ohio.
Holthouse Farms specializes in growing bell peppers, cucumbers, summer and winter squash, ornamentals like pumpkins, eggplant and chili peppers. “These are our signature items,” Kirk said. “Our business model allows us to focus on these items but we partner with other farmers who grow beets, parsnips, kale and more so we can offer them to our customers, too.” He explained that in the produce business, there’s a lot of “horse trading.”
“Maybe today I have an abundance of peppers but my farmer neighbor is short or not picking so he’ll buy from me, and vice versa,” he explained. “It happens a lot in Ohio because agriculture is driven by weather.” It’s a service that’s important to Holthouse Farms customers, like Meijer, IGA stores and Heinen’s. “Our customers want us to fill complete orders, knowing they can get everything they need from one source.”
Once picked, Holthouse produce heads to all points on the compass, shipping as far west as Nebraska; south to Miami; north to Detroit; and east to Boston. “In the past 10 years, the buying local mentality has been strong and we have customers in the 200 mile radius who have supported us,” Kirk said. “Shipping closer to home and getting the vegetables in the hands of the customers within 36 hours from picking makes them happy.”
Grocers all around the country as well as Ohio have been better at announcing to their customers that the produce in their bins is grown close to home. “For consumers, it’s really a big deal to know the source of their food,” Kirk said, “and they appreciate and support businesses that grow produce closer to home.”
That’s not all it takes to get people to eat their veggies these days, but it’s certainly a great start.
People who really like their veggies and a bargain can find both at Holthouse Farms in case lots – pre-packed boxes of produce that range from 10 pounds of radishes to 25 pounds of beets or peppers and plenty more choices in between. “It’s really great for the customer who likes to can, preserve or freeze the harvest,” said Kirk Holthouse. “Folks are welcome to call or come to the farm for vegetables. They are guaranteed that it’s going to be really fresh and economical,” he said, sometimes costing less than half of what they would pay for the same amount in a grocery store.
Marilou Suszko is a food writer from Vermilion. She is the author of “Farms and Foods of Ohio: From Garden Gate to Dinner Plate” and “The Locavore’s Kitchen.”
Stay connected with and support great food and farm stories like this by becoming an Our Ohio Supporter. For just $25 you can stay connected with Ohio food and farm stories while supporting local foods and community outreach.