Hydro Harvest Farms means business to community
If John and Terrie Lawson have learned one thing since they opened Hydro Harvest Farms, it’s that community service and doing business go hand in hand.
It’s a potent combination, they say, and one that’s kept them going – and growing – for 6½ years. “It’s good for the community and good for the farm,” he said. “Many of these farms have opened and closed. We’re still here.”
In many ways Hydro Harvest is like any other hydroponic operation. It grows and all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, and sells hydroponic equipment and organic products for fungus and pest control.
But the Lawsons have gone a step further. They’ve found that bringing the community to the farm and making that experience fun has built a solid, ever-growing customer base. That has become an integral part of their business plan.
Hydro Harvest hosts free annual family events, such as its recent Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt in March and Boo Fest in October. Every December John Lawson dresses up as Santa, visiting with kids and sitting for photos with them. At every occasion the emphasis is on having a good time – and learning something about where food comes from.
“It always amazes me how kids don’t make the connection,” he said.
There are many benefits to hosting activities on-site.
“It gets people out to the farm and builds awareness about who we are and what we do,” Lawson said. “It also helps folks feel they are part of the Hydro Harvest community. And it’s a nice way for families to spend quality time together.”
Valerie Hoskins of Gibsonton brought her two daughters, Halle, 7, and Olivia, 2, to the Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt on March 30. It was the family’s first visit.
“This is a great way to teach kids about vegetables and farming,” she said, adding that her children were having a ball. “I’ll definitely be back to pick some produce.”
Lawson said his wife is responsible for marketing, administration and organizing all the events at the farm. She works with student volunteers earning community service hours; teaches adult classes on hydroponic gardening and slow food canning; maintains a monthly newsletter and mailing list of 8,000 recipients; schedules educational tours around the farm for schoolchildren, garden clubs and other groups; and helps nonprofit groups apply for grants to build hydroponic community gardens.
Lawson actually works the farm with his brother-in-law Frank Hagaman, gives the tours and helps build and service community gardens at schools, churches and community centers.
A recent example is a 33-tower, 1,000-plant hydroponic garden he completed for a sorority at Hillsborough Community College’s SouthShore campus. The food students raise there will go to a local food bank to benefit migrant farmworker families. Lawson will help maintain the garden and tutor the students.
He’s built other community gardens for Newsome High School, Randall Middle School and the Pinellas Job Corps, among many others. And currently he’s planning one for a local senior community.
Once a month, the Lawsons leave the farm and take their mobile food truck to the SouthShore Sunday Market, where they meet the public and sell fresh produce, herbs, jams, jellies and strawberry shortcake. They also participate in community events like the Ruskin Seafood and Apollo Beach Manatee festivals.
They also donate products from the farm for nonprofit fundraisers and participate in the Great American Teach-in.
“The very definition of a small business is that it’s part of the community,” said Terrie Lawson. “When we succeed, the community benefits, and when the community thrives, so do we.”
Hydro Harvest Farms is at 101 Shell Point Road E. in Ruskin. It’s open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For additional information, call (813) 645-6574 or visit www.hydroharvestfarms.com.
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