– Bloomberg recently featured a story on the scarcity of young people in agriculture, calling them “young needles in a haystack.” Nick Basore is one those (sharp) young people.
As is the case with so many Florida operations, Nick’s family has a farming heritage. His great-grandfather moved from Ohio to start farming onions in Michigan, where he later began growing iceberg lettuce as a rotational crop. Nick’s grandfather, Tom, moved to South Florida’s muck soils in 1969 and continued the family tradition of growing iceberg lettuce. Today, TKM-Bengard Farms in Belle Glade still specializes in iceberg lettuce, although it also produces a variety of other leafy greens including romaine, escarole, endive, boston, green leaf, and red leaf. The company harvests the majority of its greens in bulk and sells it to processors who then use it in bagged salads, which they sell to retailers.
TKM-Bengard is the largest lettuce grower east of the Mississippi River, and multiple family members are involved in various aspects of the business.
Kevin, Nick’s father, takes care of land preparation and planting. Toby Basore oversees spraying and fertilization. Nick’s other uncles — brothers Mike, Brian and Steve — are in charge of harvesting, sales and food safety, respectively. Tom Basore Jr. works in safety and worker relations, handling risk management and workers compensation responsibilities.
Nick, age 26, serves as TKM’s financial analyst. “That was the only part of the business a Basore wasn’t already doing,” he said. “I figured if I did anything else, I wasn’t going to be important around here. I’ve got a giant family. I had to find my niche.”
The position allowed Nick to pursue an interest in numbers. “I’ve always enjoyed math, and I was really impressed with our General Manager Steve Coffman, who has been with us since late 2004,” he explained. “He is very intelligent and always professional and I noticed that my whole family – even my grandfather – wanted to know what he was thinking. I figured, OK, here’s where I can contribute; no other family member is going in that direction. I like math, I want to be like this guy. He was a huge role model for me and he still is.”
“I used to come down from college at Western Michigan University every summer, and I would be torn between the fields and the office. My summer duties included driving a disc, running parts, while working on accounting projects with Mr. Coffman. Through the years, he gave me more and more responsibilities in his daily duties. This is what he envisioned for me, and I couldn’t be happier,” Nick said.
Of course, even the greatest jobs come with challenges. TKM-Bengard is faced with a list of them. Food safety has been a constant concern, he said. “There is an increasing demand at the consumer level for more traceability, more understanding of what they’re getting and where they are getting it from,” Nick said. “Fortunately, I consider my Uncle Steve to be hands-down one of the best food safety managers out there. He keeps us out in front of what the government and industry standards are.”
Among other challenges the operation faces is developing better varieties.
“We’re really looking for what varieties are best for Florida. That was one of the biggest challenges when my uncles started this company — finding varieties that were on par to lettuce grown on the West Coast.”
He’s also concerned about complying with increasingly stringent government regulations and the costs of doing business. “You worry about fuel costs and things like whether wages will go through the roof. And, of course, you could always have a hurricane destroy the whole crop,” he added.
His experiences as a member of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program, class 2, helped him develop his knowledge of political issues as well. “Seeing the political side in Tallahassee was extremely interesting. Going up there and meeting with everyone and seeing how interested they were in hearing our struggles and our ideas was eye opening,” he said. “Growing up, you think the lawmakers are mythical people and out of reach, but they actually do want to hear what’s on your mind, and your opinion does matter,” he said.
Nick said he looks forward to growing with the company, and expansion and diversification are on his mind along with strengthening the partnership with the Bengards of Salinas California. “I don’t want to be exclusively a financial analyst. I want to embrace the whole picture – learn about the latest technology that we may need to use to cut costs and planting methods that aren’t being used yet. I’d like to see this company expand into new products and have operations around the country. If there’s an opportunity, go for it. I like the idea of spreading out without spreading ourselves too thin.”