For the Tribune-Courier
Nestled down a gravel road not far removed from Brewers, you’ll find David Phelps busy gathering vegetables for his patented veggie baskets that are his bread and butter on Honey Hill Farms.
Phelps doesn’t plant just a few vegetables, melons or berries, he plants just about everything under the sun – pumpkins, strawberries, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, sugar snap peas, carrots, eggplant, beets, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, squash, green beans, okra, watermelons, black-eyed peas, seven varieties of peppers and some 500 tomato plants.
And don’t forget their namesake product that still manages to hang around in a plethora of produce, as Phelps keeps a couple of bee hives around the farm for honey.
For Phelps, who turned his love of gardening into a full-time operation in 2011 when he was laid off from Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., he wouldn’t have it another other way.
“I wish that I had started doing this 20 years ago,” said Phelps after perusing his crops just before sundown. “This is my one opportunity to do what I want to do.”
One could say that Phelps turned lemons into lemonade when he lost his job of over 20 years at the tire plant in Union City, Tenn.
While Phelps operated a cleaning business and tended to his bees while at Goodyear, he worked as much overtime as possible his last few years at the plant in order to get his finances in order so he could “do what I wanted to do” when the factory closed its doors.
“At Goodyear, they always tried to improve things to get the most out of their employees,” Phelps said. “That mindset has helped me to determine how to make things around here more efficient.”
To improve productivity, Phelps has installed drip irrigation in various beds. He has also converted a cold frame where seeds are started into a hot frame by installing heating elements with solar powered features.
Honey Hill Farms focuses on its vegetable baskets, pumpkins that are often used for fall decorations and juicy, red strawberries that sold just about as fast as they could pick them in the spring. Whatever is ripe and ready is what fills the vegetable baskets; this week’s baskets consisted of mustard greens, three varieties of lettuce, cabbage, squash, broccoli and onions.
Phelps, 47, also goes above and beyond with exceptional customer service, offering delivery of his products in the area. The minimum order “to drive a little distance” is five baskets as Phelps noted that he had delivered 20 baskets in Paducah earlier in the day after dropping off five baskets in Murray.
“We try to fill the boxes with enough produce for a family of four to really be able to enjoy it,” Phelps said. “Delivery really helps my location, because I don’t really have a visible retail location here on the farm.”
While Phelps isn’t scheduled to be at the Marshall County Co-Op every Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, those are the days that he’s the most likely to be set up in their parking lot selling his harvest.
Perhaps the most important phase of the marketing plan can be found on Facebook. Phelps will be the first one to tell you that Facebook has been a gift from above.
“Back when we were starting in 2011, I made a delivery and my customer called and said, ‘Maybe I not ought to have done this, but I took a picture of what you brought me and put it on Facebook!’” Phelps joked. “But by the time I got home, I had three orders from it.”
Many customers place orders on Facebook via comments on pictures that Phelps posts. They send the Honey Hill Farms page a private message.
Honey Hill Farms has a presence on WCBL Radio and in newspapers as well.
Phelps admits that his wife, Rebecca, who teaches business at Marshall County High School, is the “techy” one in the family of four. Daughter Jordan and son Jared also lend a hand.
“If it wasn’t for my family, I couldn’t do any of this,” Phelps said.
Local students from Marshall County also work in various roles.
“There’s been a day or two where our pickers have made more money than we have,” Phelps joked.
For more information about Honey Hill Farms, contact Phelps at 270-703-2421 or like their Facebook page.
“If folks would like to see where their food is grown, we encourage our customers to come on out.”