At first glance, one might think Craig Tucker is the kind of guy who likes to play in the dirt. But most of his Tucker Farms operation involves very little dirt.
Tucked away in the northeast corner of Floyd County, overlooking the Oostanaula River, the family-owned and operated agri-business at 289 Thomas Bluff Road offers fresh produce to individuals and corporate clients across North Georgia.
Owner Craig Tucker was raised in the Calhoun area. He found the property along the Oostanaula River back in 2009 and, with the aid of his family and a few friends, decided to develop a farm that produced vegetables and hydroponic greens.
The hydroponic designation fundamentally involves the capacity to grow plants without soil.
“We had been trying to grow dirt vegetables for about three or four years and we could never really get a good crop of lettuce,” Tucker said. “We saw some people that had hydroponic greenhouses and it was a pretty successful business, so we said we’ll try it out.”
Tucker said the greenhouse allows him to have a steady revenue stream 12 months a year instead of trying to make all his money in a couple of months and fight the battle of the budget for the rest of the year.
He is careful not to bill his produce as organically grown, he said, though he does follow most of the practices that are essential to having the organic label.
“We don’t use any pesticides, fungicides or herbicides or anything that is not certified as organic, especially in the greenhouse,” Tucker said. “We don’t have to use herbicides because there are no weeds in there.”
The company’s mission statement is to grow responsibly, treating the Earth kindly and providing customers with, “safe, healthy and delicious food.”
The 10,000-square-foot greenhouse is primarily devoted to the production of leafy greens — lettuce, arugula and varieties of kale and mustard greens. The greenhouse typically has eight to ten different crops growing at any given time but has enough space to grow upward of 15 to 20 varieties.
The greenhouse is the heart of Tucker’s operation but he does have a one-acre dirt garden where he grows vegetables that are common to the dining room table of many Southerners: okra, squash, peppers, zucchini and several varieties of tomatoes. At the Harbin STRONG Farm Stand sale Wednesday, Tucker was moving his heirloom and hybrid tomatoes just about as fast as he could get them from the basket to the table.
Tucker said he’s tried several other crops, mentioning bell peppers and green beans, specifically, but the deer in the acreage off the river virtually them wiped out.
Evidently the deer aren’t as fond of jalapeno peppers. He brought a large basket to the Harbin STRONG Farm Stand sales this past week and said that some of the reddest peppers are actually very mild.
“The real lime green ones, they’ll wipe you out,” Tucker said.
Like many modern-day young businessmen, Tucker said he takes full advantage of technology.
He buys most of his seed stock from online sellers and — although he sells his produce directly at a number of farmers markets in the Rome and Calhoun area — he also takes orders online.
The online orders are a favorite for Tucker, who has drop-off delivery locations at the Calhoun Drug Company and Honeymoon Bakery in Rome.
“You order what you want, when you want it and we’ll deliver it. It’s already paid for, so you can pick it up at your convenience,” Tucker said.
Tucker Farms also deals directly with restaurants.
“It’s like any kind of sales position. You have to call people up, go talk to them and see if they like your product or not,” Tucker said.
Jamwich and LaScala restaurants on Broad Street in Rome are among his customers.
Dakota Barton, a kitchen supervisor at Jamwich, said the restaurant likes the hydroponic Bibb lettuce from Tucker Farms.
“It’s convenient,” she said. “We don’t have to do as much prep work with it because it’s so clean. It’s also got a fresher taste to it without all the iron and minerals that come out of soil-based lettuce.”
Barton also said Jamwich is looking at using the arugula in some of the items that will be on a new menu at the restaurant soon.
Anthony Barba, co-owner of LaScala, said he purchases a variety of fresh herbs and greens from Tucker Farms.
“As long as they are available annually, that’s the only place that I will get them,” Barba said. “The quality is like nothing else I can get delivered. The basil is amazing.”
Barba said he uses Tucker Farms products in the LaScala Caprese Salad and Arugula Salad among other items,
Canoe, on Paces Ferry Road in Vinings, was Tucker’s first restaurant customer and remains one of his biggest buyers. Canoe has been named one of the nation’s top 100 restaurants by Open Table.
Tucker also does business with the culinary staff at the Gordon Hospital in Calhoun.
In addition to himself, Tucker said he has another full-time employee. His brother Ray Tucker Jr. helps along with a couple of Model High School students.
“We keep asking if we want to expand or if we have enough on our plate,” Tucker said. “I think we could double the size of where we are right now.”