Frey Farms, founded by the unsurpassable Sarah Frey, has become deeply rooted in the agricultural industry of America by sticking boldly to their family values. Commonly known as the “Pumpkin Queen”, Frey has earned global recognition for her fresh produce, which includes, of course, a variety of pumpkins, watermelons, fresh-pressed juices, and more, all grown with integrity.
After recently publishing her book, Growing Season: How I Built a New Life– And Saved an American Farm, we had the chance to sit down with Frey and learn more about her journey in growing her business from scratch as a young teenager in the rural Midwest. Keep reading to get the inside scoop about Frey Farms, farming in the US, and the importance of growing your own garden.
Don’t miss out on the chance to have your copy of Sarah’s book signed this Saturday, November 7th, at Stanley Korshak from 1:30-3:00pm – you’ll also see some familiar Gardenuity faces!
The History of Frey Farms
The story behind Frey Farms is one that is both inspiring and somewhat unbelievable. One of 21 children, Sarah Frey planted the seed of Frey Farms when she began a produce delivery service in Illinois out of an old pick-up truck at age fifteen.
“I grew up on a very small farm on a rural community, somewhat isolated,” Sarah shares, “there were a lot of really tough things, and a lot of really good things. I had the joy of growing up with food that was clean, simple and delicious; we hunted, harvested and gathered the things that we ate as kids.”
Frey tells us that despite the immense challenges that came along with her early years on the farm, the hard work that she put in alongside her family is what gave her the skills to start her business so young. “My journey was an interesting one,” she states, “I learned so much growing up on the farm how and where I did. That ultimately set me up with many of the fundamental building blocks that I would then start launching my business off of.”
“By the time I started my business, I was 15 years old – I had so many life experiences up until that point.”
As a kid starting a growing business in an industry that is characterized by its traditions and overwhelming sense of what is normal, Frey faced large adversity at the beginning of Frey Farms. “Doing things in the traditional sense of agriculture would’ve failed; I had to think outside of traditional constraints of agriculture,” Sarah says.
“When you start any business, you have to figure out how you can do more with less,” Frey states, acknowledging that being innovative in her approach to farming was the only way to create a sustainable business model. “At the time no one was really growing fruits and vegetables, so it was really interesting for the neighbors to see all of these orange pumpkins popping up.”
“I had to be willing not to listen to the naysayers that didn’t understand the world I was living in,” Sarah says, “My dreams were really big. I never really let anyone else influence that, I believed in myself.”
Understanding the Consumer
Sarah Frey is unique as a business owner because there is an empathy involved in how she sells her products. “You know, I have really great relationships with traditional retail partners because actually at the end of the day, I am their customer,” she shares.
“When I have new ideas for new products or services,” says Frey, “I approach it really as the customer myself, instead of the salesperson trying to sell something.”
Transparency in the Agricultural Industry
Sarah tells us that the rise of Covid19 has been paramount to changing the narrative behind a lack of transparency in America’s agricultural industry. “In 2020 early on our food supply was threatened in this country; grocery shelves were virtually empty, and there was this sort of food anxiety we experienced,” Frey states, “By going through that, it really inspired consumers to think about the who, where and why: who grows my food, and why isn’t more of it grown in the US?”
“If I was to point to anything good that came of this last year, it’s that consumers are more aware, and they’re more inclined to support American grown products; they want to connect more with their food.”
“Ultimately, moving forward, there’s going to be more of an eye on the supply chain,” Frey explains, “because consumers want to be educated, and I think that’s a really good thing.”
It is so easy to be mindless when purchasing fresh produce at your local grocery store, but this mindlessness could be exactly what lands you with products that have been grown and imported in unethical ways. The next time you need fresh produce, take that extra time to find the resources that will provide you with the cleanest food.
“We need to consider awareness around food because it all ties back to agriculture. It doesn’t matter if you’re from a suburb of Chicago, or living in the city of Dallas, we all have agrarian roots; we all have this desire to connect with the roots of how we nourish our bodies.”
How Can We Support American Farmers?
“US farmers are held to a certain standard that other countries or not,” Frey tells us, “When you have a labor cost that is nearly thirty percent of the cost of goods, it’s hard to compete; 100s of small and large growers have gone out of business in this country.”
Frey informed us that over 50% of the fresh produce consumed in America is imported from other countries. On top of that, we learned that there are actually no laws that require food manufacturers to directly state where the food is coming from. “People are buying frozen organic vegetables, and they don’t even realize that a lot of those products are imported from China,” Frey explains, “They don’t have to tell you on the package, so there’s no way for the consumer to know.”
One of the best ways that we can better support the American farmers who work so hard to feed our families is by maintaining our consumer awareness and education. Take that extra time to research where your food is coming from, buy your produce from a local source, or even learn how to grow your own. That appreciation of growing will change how you consume produce.
Family Comes First
“Everything that we do at Frey Farms is rooted in family. My older brothers that came and joined me, the extended family, our team members; we are a family-centric company, and that has ultimately contributed to our success,” Sarah shares.
“I don’t feel like we have employees, I feel like we have family members.”
Frey also shares with us how building a garden with her family has provided a special bonding experience with her children. “Gardening is such an incredible family experience to be able to share with your kids,” she says, “To teach them the value and satisfaction of growing your own food. Kids love gardening; it grounds them.”
The Importance of Home Gardening
The love of growing runs deep in the Frey household. Despite the fact that Sarah has access to acres upon acres of fresh farmland harvests, she still prefers to tend to multiple gardens at home. “The pride in planting a seed and watching it grow; tending to a garden. Reaping the harvest, no matter how big or small the harvest is. Then there’s that satisfaction at the end when you get the bounty of the growth.”
“In my own backyard, I have a lot of container gardens,” Frey laughs, “I have some herbs I like to grow, some tomatoes I like to grow. There’s a sense of satisfaction involved in that; I like it to be at my home, I love to be able to go onto my back porch and pick fresh spearmint.”
Sarah shares that there’s nothing like the satisfaction of being able to grow the food that you eat and feed to your family. “There’s no replacement of that feeling when you grow it, cook it, and swerve it to your family,” she explains, “There’s that sort of sweat equity, that satisfaction of sharing what you’ve grown. Everyone can have that experience with planting a garden.”
If you’re intrigued by Sarah’s journey in growing Frey Farms, and you’d like to learn more about her story, this is the perfect time for you to purchase her book Growing Season: How I Built a New Life– And Saved an American Farm. Join us this Saturday, November 7th, at Stanley Korshak from 1:30-3:00pm to grab a copy, get the chance to meet Sarah, and have your book signed!