It’s no secret that farmers are used to a certain level of stress: crops are affected by too much heat, too much rain, insects, markets, and more. But Shore Breeze Farms in Northampton County, VA, which supplies hydroponic lettuce and other produce to local restaurants and schools, encountered a different kind of stress when COVID-19 closed area businesses.
Ferrum College alumnus Kyle Sturgis ’11 serves as the manager of Shore Breeze Farms, which was opened in 2019 by his father Steve, who has been professionally farming since 1979. At the time of the farm’s start-up, Sturgis was a location agronomist for a company that sold crop inputs (like fertilizer, seed, and chemicals) to local farmers.
“I was blessed to have that job since graduating from Ferrum in 2011. After eight years with that company, I decided I wanted to do something else with my life,” explained Sturgis. “I always had an interest in hydroponics and my father shared that same interest, so I came back to the family farm.”
Though mostly family-owned and operated, Shore Breeze does maintain a few employees and is offering a new intern program this season. Sturgis, who has a degree in horticulture and environmental science, oversees the hydroponic greenhouse facility, field crop operation, and the farm market.
“One of the challenges of my job is selling and marketing our products through social media, online, and through conventional sales techniques,” said Sturgis.
But when COVID-19 hit in spring 2020, the farm had to adopt some unconventional sales methods.
‘When COVID first started spreading in early spring, it was like someone put a brick wall up,” said Sturgis. “There were more questions than there were answers.”
When COVID-19 prevented local restaurants, schools, and farm markets from opening, Shore Breeze’s sales dramatically dropped off. So the farm got creative.
“We had to come up with another avenue to sell our lettuce, so we started online sales and curbside pickup. That sparked the idea of offering salad kits,” said Sturgis. “Now we offer a kit that has everything to make a delicious and fresh salad, including the croutons!”
This summer, Shore Breeze Farms received a $15,000 grant to continue expanding its hydroponic facility which will increase the farm’s production of leafy greens by thirty percent. This grant was Governor Ralph Northam’s first Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund grant awarded to Northampton County.
“It is exciting to see homegrown companies like Shore Breeze Farms harnessing new agriculture technologies to bring fresh, local vegetables to their communities,” Northam said. “Shore Breeze Farms has long been known for innovative product offerings, and I am especially proud to see how they are branching into new markets during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis to offer pre-packaged salad kits to Virginians on the Eastern Shore.”
“I believe that it is so important to advocate for agriculture, as the average person is four generations removed from the family farm,” explained Sturgis. He stays active on several local and state boards and committees, serving as the chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau’s State Young Farmers Committee which allows him to sit on the State Board of Directors for Virginia Farm Bureau; and as a director for the Virginia Soybean Association. He also won a seat as a director of the Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District in 2019.
“The year 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone in the agricultural industry but farmers are resilient and will get through this,” he said. “But we’re looking forward to 2021!”
Sturgis and his wife Emily reside in Cape Charles, VA.
Read more about Shore Breeze Farms at their website here.
Learn more about the grant received by Shore Breeze Farms in this July 2020 Shore Daily News article.