TKM Bengard’s Toby Basore would probably agree that lettuce isn’t one of the more glamorous vegetables. But the leafy green is not only the base of a successful enterprise, it’s part of his family’s DNA.
Basore’s grandfather started growing lettuce as a rotation crop for his Michigan onion farm in the 1960s.
“My grandfather first started farming onions up in Michigan in the ‘30s. In the late ‘60s, Michigan State University came out and introduced my grandfather to growing lettuce as a rotation crop because you couldn’t put onions in the ground every year or disease would build up in the soil,” Basore says.
Growing lettuce seemed to suit the Basores, so with Toby’s dad at the helm, the business branched out and started growing lettuce in Florida. Then in 1996, three of the six Basore brothers, Toby, Kevin and Michael, started TKM Farms in Belle Glade.
Fields of Greens
Today, TKM Bengard Farms – the company partnered with California’s Bengard Ranch to grow distribution – encompasses 8,000 acres of lettuce and leafy greens, about 400 acres of sweet corn, and 1,500 acres of field corn as a rotation crop in the summertime.
The company sells to major processors, such as Dole, Fresh Express, Taylor Farms, Ready- Pack, Freshway and McEntire, as well as fresh market distributors to stores like Publix, Winn-Dixie and Walmart. And, today, all six of the Basore brothers are involved in the business.
Band of Brothers
“I’m pretty fortunate. Our farm is a large farm and as we’ve grown, we’ve been able to accommodate all my brothers over time,” Basore says. “I handle the general farming, and my brother, Kevin handles all the planning, ground fit and irrigation. Michael handles the harvesting and is in charge of sales. Stephen came in out of college, and he handles our food safety program, and my brother, Tom, heads up our worker safety program. We’ve got my nephew, Nick, in accounting and his brother, Ethan, helps Michael with the harvest.”
Basore says while technological advances, such as GPS and safety monitoring software, have contributed to the company’s growth, much of its success can be credited to the family’s move to Florida.
On The Sunny Side
“We have a really good, long growing season down here. Florida has rich soil and relatively mild winters, and that’s just really conducive for growing lettuce and leaf,” Basore says. “The other thing that we have – our biggest advantage or niche – is we grow on the East Coast, and most of the population of the United States is on the East Coast. Our product is fresher than if it comes from say Yuma, Ariz. during the winter months. We’re just closer, so our product gets to the consumer faster and it’s fresher.”
But becoming one of the largest lettuce producers in the country hasn’t been without challenges.
“There are a lot of challenges with growing lettuce. It is a tough commodity to handle, but a big key to our success is that our father just happened to have six sons,” says Stephen Basore. “We’ve been able to grow this farm to the size that it is and everyone pulled together to make that happen.”