Dec 1, 2022
Organic Grower of the Year Huckaby has deep roots in agriculture
Farming is family for Jeff Huckaby. Huckaby, honored Dec. 1 as the 2022 Organic Grower of the Year at the Organic Grower Summit in Monterey, California, is a fourth-generation farmer.
He grew up working for his grandfather, Lon, “just a carrot-and-potato guy,” Huckaby, president and CEO of Grimmway Farms, said after the award presentation.
Huckaby has risen from those roots to lead the Bakersfield-headquartered global enterprise, which has transformed from a local produce stand started by the Grimm brothers in the 1960s into the world’s largest producer of carrots. Offering more than 135 products worldwide, Grimmway grows 65 organic vegetables on what is now 56,000 acres of land devoted to organic farming.
“We found, with a lot of trial and error, that growing organic was not like growing conventional carrots,” Huckaby said. “You didn’t have the tools. You had to start with rotation and cover crops and all these different things. It built fairly quickly.
“It was just being in the right place at the right time and having the support of a good farming family and a vision.”
Lauded by OGS CEO and cofounder Matt Seeley as a “true leader in our industry” and touted as an industry rock star in a video presentation, Huckaby was also named the 2020 Organic Farmer of the Year by the Organic Trade Association and the 2019 Produce Man of the Year by The Packer magazine.
“It’s pretty interesting to receive an award for something you get up and do every day,” Huckaby said in receiving his latest honor.
After joining Grimmway Farms in 1998, Huckaby was soon charged with expanding the company’s organic portfolio. That effort ramped up considerably after the 2001 acquisition of pioneering organic producer Cal-Organic Farms, established in 1984.
Though he admitted to initially having doubts that carrots could be grown organically, Huckaby forged ahead, learning about crop rotation, cover crops and the vital role soil health played in improving yields.
“We had to learn along the way, with a lot of failures and then some successes,” Huckaby said.
Today, Grimmway Farms grows in seven states, having opened production facilities in Washington in 2013 and Georgia in 2018. That expansion helps Grimmway exhibit the nimbleness Huckaby pinpointed as a key to the company’s success, with some growing operations being relocated during a drought now stretching into its fourth year in California.
Lon Huckaby, who lived to be 80, witnessed some of the scaling up of Grimmway that takes even his grandson aback at times.
“He was able to see some of it in the beginning, the trials and stuff of trying to turn things organically,” Jeff Huckaby said. “But I know he would be right here with me, creating as many organic products as he could.”