Helping Farms Thrive

“We Make Every Decision with Our Families in Mind”

It’s a fact of life: We’ve all gotta eat. But chances are, you’ve never met the people whose job it is to put food on your plate. We’re setting out to change that — one farmer at a time.

So, meet Jay Hill. Born and raised in Southern New Mexico, he’s a farmer, husband to Katie Hill, and dad to 11-month-old Harvest Lynn. From humble beginnings growing onions on a patch of his dad’s land, he has now moo-ved on, raising cattle (bad joke intended, #sorrynotsorry) and cultivating crops over two farms — one in New Mexico, and one in Texas.

Read on to learn how Jay manages to feed thousands of families — including his own — and why he feels that the land is his calling.

Where Did It All Begin?

“I grew up on a farm — but it was only 10 acres, so it was not a large farm,” Jay says. “More of a hobby farm! But being in that environment and learning to operate equipment really whet my appetite for farming.”

And by the tender age of 16, Jay had begun his first agricultural adventure — using those 10 acres to cultivate onions. How did he manage to achieve that at such a young age?

“I had a lot of help! We had a family friend who owned a produce company, and they were the ones that said, ‘If you’re going to dive into farming, we can guide you’. They really helped from start to finish, with everything from seed depth to irrigation cycles and knowing when to fertilize… I learned a lot from them.”

This first taste was enough for Jay to catch the farming bug — already, he knew that a life on the land was for him.

What Do You Grow?
Jay Hill is co-owner of Hill Farms and Wholesome Valley Farms, which produce more than 65 varieties of crops. A sampling of what they’re growing and raising:
  • Lettuce
  • Green chili peppers
  • Onions
  • Pecans
  • Watermelon
  • Corn
  • Cotton
  • Alfalfa
  • Grapes
  • Beardless wheat
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Cattle

So, What’s the Best Thing About the Job?

“That answer is a hard one… There are so many things! I love the purity in our occupation — the fact that what I do impacts so many households. I also enjoy the people. I enjoy my employees, I enjoy my customers and the dialogue that creates.”

A quick glance at Jay’s social media presence shows how much he likes dialogue. Jay uses these platforms to get in touch with consumers and to be as transparent as possible about how he produces food that ends up on our plates.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about farming — some people look at what we do and paint a picture which is extreme. So, I try to put out as much positive media as I can. I try to utilize my social media to show the reality. We work so hard to put food on the table, and we would like people to understand the ins and outs of what we do every day.”

What Are the Most Common Misconceptions About Farming?

“What does Jay like to clear up about farming? The realities of pesticide use, for one.

“Some people automatically assume that if it comes with a warning label, it’s going to kill everybody,” Jay says. “In reality, there are extremely crucial steps that we take to make sure that it’s safe.”

“We take the natural route wherever we can,” Jay adds. “But if we have to apply some kind of herbicide or pesticide, we read and understand the label before we apply the product. And even if it says it’s safe to re-enter the field within a certain amount of time, usually we’ll quadruple that time, just to make sure everything has run its course.”

And what about further down the line when the crop is harvested?

“We send crop samples to the lab,” Jay says. “We’ve never had any bad results so far. But I wish people knew that they are exposed to more chemicals in the household than on their food. When we’re spraying a pesticide, an 8oz [240 ml] application is applied over a whole acre, mixed with 25 to 35 gallons [94 to 132 liters] of water. The amount used is so extremely diluted.”

Safe and Sustainable

Similarly, Jay is big on sustainable farming — he knows how important it is to protect our environment and preserve natural resources where he can.

“We’re very mindful of our carbon footprint,” he says. “We use machines that allow us to do two or three things in one pass, so we don’t use more diesel, oil or rubber. That helps us reduce our emissions.”

And watching out for water waste is one of his top priorities.

“We’re in an unbelievable drought — this is almost the 20th year. So, we have sensors and monitoring technologies which allow our irrigation systems to respond to a problem within minutes, whereas it would sometimes take hours, or half a day, or a day. With these sensors, we’re able to save over a million gallons [3.8 million liters] of water a day.”

Genetically modified (GM) corn and cotton also help Jay reduce his water usage, which is one reason he’s a big believer in advancing genetically modified crops. “GMOs have existed since the dawn of man.” he says. “We’ve always looked for what is bigger, better, and more sustainable.”

Family First

Showing that modern farming techniques are safe and sustainable when properly used is one of the most important things for Jay.

“With our lettuce alone, we feed around 200,000 families,” he says. “It’s a lot of pressure! But people should remember that farming is based on the fact that us farmers need to feed our families as well. We make every decision with our own families in mind,” he says.

And this is something which is even more top-of-mind since his daughter Harvest was born.

“Being a farming dad is just the best thing I could ask for. Harvest is getting to the point now where she wants to hang out with me all the time. It’s a lot of fun, I really enjoy having a little one.”

So, does he see farming in Harvest’s future?

“I want to leave a legacy for my children — and I hope she wants to be a farmer when she’s older! But if she doesn’t want to, I just hope that she enjoyed being a farmer’s daughter.”

And What About His Own Future?

“I’m young, I’m hungry to learn, and I’m willing to take chances,” Jay says. “I’d like people to say that I was a pioneer in the agricultural industry… I’m quite radical in my business decisions.”

But, for Jay, his profession will always be more than just a business.

“My retirement dream isn’t to have a beach home, and we don’t do this for a paycheck at the end of the week. Farming is something we’re all called to do.”

Photos courtesy of Jay Hill