A Cut Above the Rest: Baker Farms Is a Leader in Production of Leafy Greens
Just outside Norman Park, you will find the farm that Terry and Dale Baker started nearly 50 years ago. As the Bakers were raising their two sons, Joe and Richard, and daughter, Jennifer, farming was, and still is a family tradition.
When Terry started farming, he had a few acres, and it was primarily a one-man operation. As in most farm families, the Baker children grew up working on the farm between school and other activities. In 1989, Joe became a partner with his dad and assists in the overall management of Baker Farms. After working in the healthcare field, Richard joined Baker Farms to oversee food safety.
Growing mostly row crops and traditional southern vegetables within Colquitt County—the largest vegetable and row crop producing county in Georgia—Baker Farms built a reputation on providing consumers exceptional produce.
In 2000, Baker Farms changed from growing row crops to leafy greens including collards, kale, mustards, and turnips, which were not commonly grown in the area on a large commercial scale.
After securing its position as a leader in bulk (boxed) greens, the next step involved keeping the entire process, from seed to store, in-house. In 2014, a new processing facility came online, and Baker Farms introduced bagged greens for retail distribution. The value-added bagged greens are chopped, pre-washed, and ready to eat.
Baker Farms operates year-round and ships a variety of bulk and bagged leafy greens to retailers, wholesalers, and food service companies throughout the East Coast and Canada.
“When an order comes in, then we go out and cut greens,” said Heath Wetherington, who is married to Jennifer and oversees general operations at Baker Farms. “We plant the leafy greens every two weeks, so we always have a fresh crop.”
Wetherington said the backbone of the company is bulk greens, but the individual family size bags of kale, turnips, mustards, and collards are gaining popularity with consumers.
The Culinary Craze
With more people looking for healthier eating options, the convenient bagged greens have become big business.
Collards, kale, mustards, and turnips dominate the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of “powerhouse” foods. Kale, for example, is packed with vitamins and minerals. At just 33 calories per cup, kale is an excellent source of fiber and provides a healthy surplus of vitamins A, C, and K.
Along with the increased health awareness, people are also discovering creative ways to use kale and other greens in their cooking.
Chefs are creating recipes that provide a twist to southern favorites like bacon chipotle mustards, spicy collards, and kale with bacon and Vidalia Onions. Today, eating your greens has become a culinary experience.
Gaining notoriety among chefs across the country, for the past two years greens from Baker Farms have been featured as part of the Georgia Grown annual dinner at the James Beard House in New York City. Considered a pinnacle in the culinary world, the Georgia Grown event invites chefs to prepare meals showcasing products grown and raised in Georgia.
Also with the booming meal kit phenomenon sweeping the country, especially among Millennials and Gen-X’ers, Wetherington said they have seen a higher demand for bagged chopped kale and other leafy greens.
“We have started supplying kale to Blue Apron,” Wetherington said. “There is a lot that has changed in the last 10 years. Consumers want healthy and convenient, and the bagged greens provide that and more.”
Providing the Baker Advantage
Located in South Georgia, with more than 5,000 acres, Baker Farms remains a family-owned and operated agri-business. In addition to family members that work on a full-time and part-time basis, Baker Farms has several long-time employees, and 200 H-2A temporary agricultural workers.
With a commitment to excellence, the company’s “Baker Advantage” represents a responsibility toward food safety. Governed by the strictest safety protocols, as independently verified by third-party audits, Baker Farms processing facility utilizes separate, sequential washing tanks, each equipped with its own computerized sanitation injector system and water agitation processes.
“What also causes us to stand out is that we grow fresh produce all year, and have a dependable workforce,” said Wetherington. “We have highly skilled workers that take pride in what they are picking, they are inspecting what they pick to make sure it meets our standards for color and size.”
Continuing the Baker Tradition
Since Terry started farming full time in 1970, Baker Farms has extended beyond the first generation, to the second. With 11 grandchildren representing the third generation, there are plenty of Bakers to carry on the family’s legacy.
Wetherington, a fourth-generation farmer from Colquitt County, said farming is not the typical 8-to-5 job, and as the father of five girls he has learned the importance of planning at home and work.
“My girls are into softball,” said Wetherington, who also coaches his daughter’s team. “Four out of our five girls are on a softball team…different teams. It keeps us moving.”
The Baker grandchildren have hectic schedules and a long list of activities that include dirt track racing (on a regional circuit), baseball, softball, cheerleading, and of course, hunting and fishing.
When most families are enjoying holidays together, the Baker family is more likely scattered between farming duties and their other business, Baker Funeral Home in Moultrie.
“Thanksgiving and Christmas are busy times on the farm,” said Wetherington. “Baker greens are also part of a lot of holiday family dinners, so we make sure we do it right.”
On the Web: www.bakerfamilyproduce.com