Growing up, Steve Groff wanted nothing more than to be a farmer like his father and grandfather, so after graduating high school he eagerly joined the family business. Over the next 25 years, he took on more and more responsibility and today he farms 215 acres. What started in 1935 as predominantly a hay, oats, and clover farm has transitioned to a larger, more diversified farming operation that includes vegetables like tomatoes, sweet corn, and pumpkins, as well as a successful cover crop business.
These cover crops are what Steve attributes largely to his farm’s success. In the mid 1990’s, he saw that cover crops can fertilize soil, suppress weeds, and impede pests – all things that might otherwise require chemicals like fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides. Most cover crops are planted in the fall during which they aid in the uptake of nutrients that help bolster the soil’s health for the next season’s crop. Simultaneously, their presence impedes weed growth and reduces the rate at which water flows off the field, thereby keeping the soil in place. Some cover crops have the added benefit of attracting pests away from a crop that they would otherwise damage.
Knowing this, Steve began working with the University of Maryland to experiment with a variety of different cover crops, including radishes. Although he liked the results he saw, there was no commercial seed available for farmers. He explains, “I took it upon myself to start growing the seeds and start harvesting them. I’ve sold out every single year to the point now where I’ve developed a business out of it because it’s helping farmers have better soil and better crop yields.” Steve is now selling cover crop seeds around the world and has a website, tillageradish.com.
Steve is also a proponent of no-till farming, a method which, like cover cropping, preserves the important microbes and organic matter in the soil and protects against erosion. Some of his fields have not been touched by any tillage equipment for over 30 years! Cover crops used in conjunction with no-tillage systems is the ideal scenario for building soil quality; no-till farming preserves nitrogen in the soil while cover crops make the element available to the cash crops.
Both a farmer and an entrepreneur, Steve appreciates Red Tomato’s mission. “Red Tomato is an effective bridge between the farmer and consumer,” he says. “Their vision is to connect consumers and farmers beyond just buying a nameless, faceless tomato. I share that value.”