Delvin Farms: The Family
August 25, 2010
Hank Delvin Sr. paid his way through college growing and selling vegetables. He grew up on a farm, learned the tricks of the trade, was good at what he did and enjoyed it. When you talk to him, he’s very nonchalant about it all. Even when it comes to the fact that now, the farm he has owned for almost 40 years and runs with his wife Cindy, two of his grown children Hank Jr. and Amy and his daughter-in-law Liz, has grown into a household name when it comes to organic farming in Tennessee.
At the moment, Delvin Farms, a nearly 140 acre certified organic farm out in College Grove, has an 800 member CSA with 13 drop off points around the Nashville area. Compared to other CSAs, that is huge. They also supply a number of local private and public schools with vegetables for their school lunches, you can find their produce at Whole Foods, The Turnip Truck and Produce Place, and if you eat out at local restaurants such as Eastland Cafe or Silly Goose, chances are you’ve indulged in some of their fine vegetables there as well. And on top of that, they have a booth at six weekly farmers markets in the area. Oh, and in their spare time, later this year they’ll be building a farm stand where you’ll be able to buy vegetables and take a walking tour of the grounds.
For a non-farmer such as myself, it is difficult to wrap my brain around not only the shear volume that they have to produce to keep this whole thing going, but also the day-to-day logistics that are required for such an enterprise. When talking to Hank Sr. and Cindy, it’s easy to forget that before Hank Jr. and Amy moved back and started helping out on the farm, the two of them did much of this work on their own. They are both very down-to-earth and have a go-with-the-flow mentality about life, you get the feeling that they can handle pretty much anything that comes their way. Yet just below the surface, quietly masked by their easygoing style, lies a cunning intellect and savvy business sense. They are extremely good at what they do.
Their son Eric, who lives with his wife out in Olympia, Washington, “is the reason we’re doing what we’re doing now,” Cindy tells me. About 10 years ago Eric had the foresight to see that organic farming was the wave of the future and convinced his parents to take the plunge and become officially certified. After a bit of skepticism on their part, wondering if customers would really care about the certification, they decided to go for it. And today, they couldn’t be happier with their decision.
Fast forward to 2007 when Hank Jr. and his wife Liz moved back from Boston so they could raise their children on the farm, something Hank Sr. and Cindy never dreamed would happen. Now father and son work together on the day-to-day logistics of running a 140 acre farm with eight full time employees, something Hank Sr. had previously done on his own. And Liz has taken over all the paperwork, which up until that point was “something I did from midnight until 2am each night,” Cindy says. That same year, feeling a little homesick and tired of the city life, Amy moved back from Washington D.C. where she had been living and teaching for the past seven years. Upon her return, she taught literature at a local school in the Nashville area but has since taken over the marketing side of the business, working with her mom on coordinating the six farmers markets, the CSA, orders for restaurants and grocery stores, etc. “It’s been such a blessing having the kids back,” Cindy tells me. “I honestly don’t know how we did it before.”
Last summer, on his way to the Franklin Farmers Market early in the morning, Hank Sr. was involved in a near fatal accident when another driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into Hank’s truck. After suffering a broken neck, a shattered hip, a broken leg and knee, four months in the hospital and many painful surgeries (with a few more still to go), Hank Sr. is back working on the farm. He is the rock of the family. I read on the farm blog that Amy maintains, that when she and Hank Jr. were trying to get everything back on track after the accident, they realized that their dad “did the work of four men.” Friends and family pitched in as much as possible since a farm does not stop producing even when, just once, you wish it would. Eric and his wife flew out from Olympia to help, CSA members sent get well cards and food, their staff worked overtime and made sure everything was taken care of. “We didn’t miss a single day on the farm even in the midst of all that,” Cindy tells me. “We have the best workers in the world.”
Delvin Farms is a family business in every sense of the word. When the floods hit in May and wiped out nearly 70% of their crops, together, they waded through waist deep water in the pouring rain to save plants from the greenhouses, three families livelihoods dependent on the outcome. But despite these setbacks that can be part of farming, the Delvins seem to have created a well-oiled, flexible machine that incorporates all their strengths. Hank Sr. and Cindy never imagined that this would be their future, working side-by-side their grown children, allowing their business to grow and evolve into something that seemed impossible back when it was just the two of them. And soon, the grandkids will be the ones teaching their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and vice versa. So really, who knows what the future holds.