Food is one of the many things that ties humanity together. We all need it — and some of us make it our life’s mission to find ways to nourish others, whether through developing crops that can better withstand extreme weather challenges or tending the fields every day.
While we all benefit from farming in one way or another, it’s not always the case that we get to meet the people who grow our food. But more and more, farmers like Jay Hill are making it their mission to educate and invite the public to learn more about what it means for him to be a farmer.
Like all farmers, Jay has his work cut out for him. In addition to being a father and a husband, he also co-owns Hill Farms and Wholesome Valley Farms, which produce more than 65 varieties of crops. The responsibilities of feeding thousands of families, including his own, creates an inviting backdrop for him to create conversations with others about the realities of agriculture, especially through social media.
Where Did You Come to be a Farmer?
“I grew up on a farm, but it was only 10 acres (4 hectares), so it was not a large farm,” Jay says. “More of a hobby farm. But being in that environment and learning to operate equipment really whet my appetite for farming.”
And by age of 16, Jay had begun his first agricultural adventure using that land to cultivate onions.
“I had a lot of help. We had a family friend who owned a produce company, and they were the ones that said, ‘If you’re going to dive into farming, we can guide you’. They really helped from start to finish, with everything from seed depth to irrigation cycles and knowing when to fertilize … I learned a lot from them.”
This formative first experience was enough to encourage Jay to pursue a future in agriculture.
What Do You Grow Now?
Hill Farms and Wholesome Valley Farms grow more than 65 varieties of crops, with these key crops as staples:
|Green chili peppers||Cotton||Cucumbers|
What’s the Best Thing About Your Job?
“That answer is a hard one … There are so many things! I love the purity in our occupation — the fact that what I do impacts so many households. I also enjoy the people. I enjoy my employees, I enjoy my customers and the dialogue that creates.”
Because these interactions with the general public are so important to Jay, social media has become a prominent and foundational aspect of his intentions as a farmer. He uses these platforms to get in touch with consumers and to be as transparent as possible about how he produces food that ends up on our plates.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about farming — some people look at what we do and paint a picture which is extreme. So, I try to put out as much positive media as I can. I try to utilize my social media to show the reality. We work so hard to put food on the table, and we would like people to understand the ins and outs of what we do every day.”
Safe and Sustainable
Jay is a major proponent of sustainable farming. Like countless other farmers, he understands how important it is to protect our environment and preserve natural resources.
“We’re very mindful of our carbon footprint,” he says. “We use machines that allow us to do two or three things in one pass, so we don’t use more diesel, oil, or rubber. That helps us reduce our emissions.”
And watching out for water waste is also one of his top priorities.
“We were experiencing an unbelievable drought —and were in almost the 20th year. So, we installed sensors and monitoring technologies that allow our irrigation systems to respond to a problem within minutes, whereas it would sometimes take hours, or half a day, or a day. With these sensors, we’re able to save over a million gallons [3.8 million liters] of water a day.”
Genetically modified (GM) corn and cotton also help Jay reduce his water usage, which is one reason he’s a big believer in advancing genetically modified crops. “GMOs have existed since the dawn of man,” he says. “We’ve always looked for what is better and more sustainable.”
“With our lettuce alone, we feed around 200,000 families,” he says. “It’s a lot of pressure! But people should remember that farmers need to feed our families as well. We make every decision with our own families in mind,” he says.
“Being a farming dad is just the best thing I could ask for. Our daughter, Harvest, is getting to the point now where she wants to hang out with me all the time. It’s a lot of fun, I really enjoy having a little one.”
“I want to leave a legacy for my children — and I hope she wants to be a farmer when she’s older! But if she doesn’t want to, I just hope that she enjoyed being a farmer’s daughter.”
And What About Your Own Future?
“I’m young, I’m hungry to learn, and I’m willing to take chances,” Jay says. “I’d like people to say that I was a pioneer in the agricultural industry … I’m quite radical in my business decisions.”
But, for Jay, his profession will always be more than just a business.
“My retirement dream isn’t to have a beach home, and we don’t do this for a paycheck at the end of the week. Farming is something we’re all called to do.”
Photos courtesy of Jay Hill