Beating the Odds
Economy pushed Md. operation to hydroponics
SALISBURY, Md. (Nov. 28, 2017) — Adversity breeds all sorts of good character traits. But, for the Holloway family — and the farm business they’ve been running for six generations — diversity was the biggest takeaway.
Growing turf grass to beautify the lawns of new homes was a good way to make money on the family’s land in Wicomico County — until the Great Recession hit in the mid-2000s.
“We got caught in a situation where we had a lot of eggs in one basket,” said Andy Holloway, who runs the family farm with his brother Matt and father Bob. “We’ve been trying to diversify ever since.”
Today, it’s hard to keep track of all the things the family grows between the two farm businesses they run. After attending a workshop on how to grow food hydroponically, in water without soil, the Holloways launched Baywater Farms in 2011 to do just that. What started with a greenhouse full of lettuce has since grown into an operation selling more than 40 varieties of produce to retailers throughout the region.
The family knew that commodity prices were not strong enough to support their labor and acreage, so they wanted to dip a toe into hydroponics.
But “nobody would talk to us until they saw the product,” Holloway said of potential customers. “The only way to sell it was to grow it first.”
When the farm’s first 15,000 heads of bib lettuce came to fruition, the two brothers and a hired salesman drove plastic clamshells filled with vibrant greens around to retailers for a taste. The contracts quickly followed.
“Six months later, we expanded the greenhouse and doubled the size,” Holloway said.
Baywater Farms now sells its products to retailers like Sysco, Ahold, the parent company for Giant Food, Safeway and Whole Foods Market. In a half-acre of greenhouses, the business grows 24 acres’ worth of lettuces and herbs, from scarlet kale to romaine, Holloway said.
The family’s sister farm, Quantico Creek Sod Farms still grows plenty of grass — 2,000 acres, to be exact — for a range of clients, from Home Depot and Lowe’s to home builders. The need to rotate other crops through those fields after the sod has been harvested led the farm to expand into field crops as well.
This summer, Baywater Farms sold up to 1,000 cases a day of heirloom cherry tomatoes that were grown in those fields, alongside other niche products such as eggplant, shishito peppers and fish peppers, which are a historical crop in Maryland.
This growth has allowed the farm to expand and hire 45 employees. And, as a modern iteration of a historical farm, that means the Holloways get to wear a lot of hats.
“Right now, I’m looking at my Mac computer, looking at Google analytics to see what customers we’re reaching with advertising campaigns,” Holloway said over the phone before looking away from the screen. “And I’m also looking at a farmhouse that my great grandfather built with the lumber he pulled off of this farm.”
In another stroke of diversity, the farm ensures that any trucks that leave the Eastern Shore to deliver goods returns transporting something of value to pay its way home.
A tractor-trailer that delivers produce, for example, might return with lumber to help rebuild hurricane damaged homes. Farm vehicles that aren’t in use in the winter will plow snow in and around Washington, D.C., through contracts with the federal government.
“We’re always looking to insulate ourselves from market changes,” Holloway said.