HANCOCK COUNTY — Just over a year after it shucked, cut and froze its first ear of Indiana sweet corn in Mt. Comfort, farm-to-freezer food processor Husk now sells corn, green beans and peas throughout the year and across the Midwest.
‘This is an entrepreneurial venture from the word go,” said Husk co-founder Nick Carter, who, through a mutual interest in locally sourced food, started the company with Adam Moody, a Montgomery County fifth-generation farmer, and Chris Baggott, software entrepreneur turned sustainable farmer in 2010 with Tyner Pond Farm.
After a bit of brainstorming and noodling the idea, the trio had Husk’s first prototype plant up and running in just over two weeks, figuring the process out as they went, Carter said.
What the enterprise settled on was a 5,000-square-foot facility that extends the Hoosier farm growing season by cleaning, blanching, shucking, shelling, blast freezing and shipping its products within 24 to 48 hours after arriving from any of the six local farms that source the food.
“For me, a third-generation farmer, it’s a rarity that a family business lasts that long,” said Scott Wilson, who grows about 100 acres of vegetables in Hancock County. “I support anything that makes local food more viable, and Husk is a way to do that,” he said.
The 38-year-old farmer first started sellng produce to farmers markets when he was a junior in high school. His family’s farm has sold to Meijer Supermarkets and O’Malia’s Market, a Marsh Supermarket trade name.
Wilson said his relationship with Husk started with one email on Facebook, and now he’s watching his second season of providing shell peas, green beans and sweet corn sprout in his fields.
Once his vegetables arrive and are processed, a unique bar code is stamped on the bags of produce from Wilson’s and other farms, allowing the company to tell customers precisely where their store-bought bag of corn came from.
“This is local food,” Carter said. “If you have questions about it, we’ll give you the name of the farmer, and you can contact them.
The plant can process 6,000 12-ounce bags of Non-GMO sweet corn in an eight-hour shift, and as production needs increase, a second shift could be added, Carter said.
The concept, however, is rooted in geographic expansion. In order to process and deliver local foods, the business model will require satellite processing facilities throughout the Midwest as farther-flung farmers sign on.
By establishing additional plants in other regions, the company can bolster local economies, support local farmers and reduce fuel and other input costs producers would incur by trucking their crops across the state, company officials say.
Husk’s business model gives smaller farmers raising non-GMO crops the ability to compete in the marketplace with larger operations by allowing them to put their crop under contract and secure a commercial outlet early on.
From an economic standpoint, “mini-micro” operations such as Husk have a much larger impact on a local economy than might be expected.
“That kind of entrepreneurial enterprise has a huge impact on the local economy, but you don’t always see it in the news because it doesn’t have 1,000 jobs,” said Hancock Economic Development Council Executive Director Skip Kuker.
“From a day-to-day economic development standpoint, I’d rather have 10 plants with 100 jobs rather than one plant with a 1,000 jobs because you don’t have all your eggs in one basket,” he said.
Additionally, those smaller but locally owned and operated businesses create a ripple effect with employees there fueling economic activity up and down the supply chain and even ancillary businesses, Kuker said.
As the company enters its second year, the concept is gaining traction not only from consumers but from suppliers.
Jake Dodson, a 22-year-old farmer who splits his time between Layfayette and 20 acres of sweet corn in Hancock County, asked Carter at the company’s recent open house how he could sign on as one of Husk’s local farmers for next year’s growing season.
“I’ve sold vegetables to markets in Carmel for a few years,” he said. “Now I’m ready to go to the next step.”