Feb 1, 2022Michigan growers honor Horkeys, DeKryger
Michigan vegetable growers gathered Dec. 8 to honor individuals who have given back to the industry over many years.
Horkey Brothers received the Master Farmer Award from the Michigan Vegetable Council. Brothers Doug and Travis Horkey, with their father, uncle and other family members, farm more than 1,000 acres of vegetables near Dundee, Michigan.
Todd DeKryger received the Master Farmer Associate Award. He is the regional supplier development manager – agriculture at Nestlé Nutrition North America (Gerber) in Fremont, Michigan.
The 21st Annual EXPO Banquet was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO.
Horkey family matters
Third-generation farmers, Travis and Doug Horkey (far left in top photo) are partners in the family farm.
“I was born a farmer and I just never quit,” Travis Horkey said in a video played at the meeting.
Sweet corn and potatoes are the farm’s biggest crops, with 300-400 acres devoted to each. The farm also grows 30-40 acres of bell peppers, 120 acres of cabbage and 40-50 acres of hard-shell squash. Horkey Brothers harvest, wash, pack and cool all their produce. They also have a family wholesale terminal market at Detroit’s Eastern Market and spend many nights a week distributing their produce there.
The farm switched to the H-2A labor visa system about five years ago. They have been active in local government and church activities in addition to positions in the industry – Doug was on the Michigan Vegetable Council for nine years, including as president. He is close friends with Dave Smith, the former executive director of the council – both are residents of Monroe County.
“I extend my congratulations to Travis and Doug and to their dad George, and Uncle Carl in being selected for the Master Farmer award,” Smith said at the awards ceremony. “The main goal that Travis and Doug have in serving the industry and running the farm is to make it possible for the next generation to continue farming.”
Doug said very little at the awards banquet but was thankful.
“I would like to thank our employees,” he said. “Travis and I might steer the ship, but our employees are the ones that propel it. And I would like to thank my dad and my uncle – they are the ones that built the ship.”
An innovator and collaborator
DeKryger was an independent crop advisor with experience with integrated pest management decades ago when he was tapped to work for Gerber.
DeKryger has worked with the Oomen family and other Michigan growers on variety trials, sprayers and other technologies and practices that allow the growers to remain competitive for work growing for Nestlé and Gerber.
“He’ll think things through right,” Tom Oomen of Oomen Farms said in a video played at the awards ceremony. “It’s very practical. It’s not a pie-in-the-sky sort of thing.”
A news release from the Michigan Vegetable Council highlighted his work in improving control of Aster leafhoppers, which spread Aster Yellows disease that can cause carrots to taste woody. He also has led the way fighting against food contamination issues.
RELATED: See photos from the 2021 GLEXPO Banquet Awards››
He worked with Mary Hausbeck of Michigan State University Extension on sustainability standards put forward by Gerber.
“That was something brand-new to me, and I have always appreciated how he taught me about those standards, and what measures can and should be taken,” Hausbeck said in the video. “We formed a unique, and, I think, fruitful partnership to ensure Michigan’s processing crops continue to be sourced out of Michigan for Gerber.”
DeKryger was grateful for his work.
“I always wanted to be a vegetable grower. Without boring you with the details, that didn’t work out,” he said. “But, I’ve been blessed to make a career out of working with some really great growers, some really great researchers, doing some really cool stuff, and you get paid for it. Thank you very much.”
— Stephen Kloosterman, associate editor; Photo at the top: Three generations of the Horkey family. From the left are Doug Horkey, Finn Horkey (Doug’s son), George Jr. Horkey (Doug and Travis’s father), Jonathon Helmstadter (Doug and Travis’s nephew) and Travis Horkey. Photos: Stephen Kloosterman.