by Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director
I first met David Bachhuber in August of 2015 at the Edible Startup Summit—an annual event for Wisconsin startup food producers. I was there as a speaker, coaching these new entrepreneurs on how to develop good relationships with retailers.
Even at that first meeting, I was struck by David’s savvy. At that time he was a project manager for the Center for Healthy Minds, a neuroscience and psychology lab at UW-Madison; an impressive enough position, but he had other plans: namely, Lovefood—an herb business that he and his wife Abby were in the midst of planning. This would be a business founded on flavor, he told me, offering a year-round selection of fresh culinary herbs. It was obvious to me from that first meeting that though the business wasn’t yet a reality, David possessed the perfect combination of business sense, organization, work ethic, and good humor to pull it off and make it a success.
Just as I anticipated, two years later, after countless hours of planning all aspects of the business: from farming techniques to marketing and branding to financing, Lovefood was off the ground. We received our first delivery of Lovefood herbs in September of 2017, and between the consistently excellent quality of the herbs and David’s easy-going yet attentive model of customer service, we haven’t looked back.
Lovefood’s own farm
Launching the Lovefood herb business was just the beginning. For the first 2 1/2 years of his farming career, David grew herbs and other crops on a small parcel of land that he rented at the Farley Center (a farm incubator in Verona), along with organic herbs that he purchased from the West Coast to fill in the seasonal gaps. In the spring of 2018, he took the next step and bought his own farm—30 acres of beautiful organic farmland near Stoughton, Wisconsin.
As of the 2019 growing season, Lovefood has expanded to supply a 100 family CSA, four grocery stores, and 14 restaurants and food businesses including Madison favorites Forequarter, Morris Ramen, and Sardine. David, Abby, and their 10-year-old daughter Soleia are planning to sell their house on the eastside of Madison and build a new home on their farm in the next year.
Searching for tomatoes
When we found out in February 2019 that our longtime farmer partners and heirloom tomato masters at Regenerative Roots LLC were discontinuing production for the 2019 season, our thoughts quickly turned to David and Lovefood.
Losing Regenerative Roots meant losing a team of highly skilled growers who provided our customers with roughly 5,000 pounds of heirloom tomatoes and 7,000 pints of cherry tomatoes in 2018. That’s not a small amount of tomatoes.
Tomatoes are not an easy crop for any local farmer, especially the notoriously finicky heirlooms. It’s incredibly difficult (and important) to know when to pick them for maximum flavor, but also not so ripe that they can’t stand up to the grocery store shelves. Who better to take on such a challenge than the former project manager, highly organized, and just as ambitious David Bachhuber?
He said yes!
We pitched the idea to David in the middle of February, which may seem early enough, but is incredibly late in farmer terms. By this time in the winter, many farmers have already placed their seed orders and mapped out their fields for the coming season. David took a week to decide. In his own words: “I went on a happy hunt down the financial rabbit hole and dug through my numbers on yield and labor and I have emerged like a groundhog in spring.... the answer was yes!”
David was even able to hire Julia Fiser, one of the highly skilled farmer owners of Regenerative Roots, to work at Lovefood for the summer, meaning that the knowledge built up at Regenerative Roots over the past years could be transferred to our new tomato grower.
A group of us from Willy Street Co-op went to visit David at his farm in late June. Though there were no ripe tomatoes yet, there were lots and lots of green ones! We saw tomatoes staged for early sungold and rainbow cherry production in David’s greenhouse, with basil plants tucked in between each tomato to maximize the production from the small space; and we saw the quarter-acre field of heirloom tomatoes loaded with green fruit and blossoms.
When will they be ready?
So, of course you’re wondering: when will the tomatoes be ready? When I asked David this question, he smiled and wisely replied: “They will be ready when they are ready.” Though so far it’s shaped up to be a great year for farming, the cool wet spring set everything back a bit. Planting was delayed due to wet muddy fields, as well as the fact that David is still building infrastructure (such as greenhouses and heaters) on his new farm. In David’s ideal world, cherry tomato production should start by July 4, this year it will be later than that.
That said, I’m writing in mid-July, and who knows what kind of weather we may experience between now and when you read this article in August. It could get hot and things could catch up, or it could get rainy again and put things even further behind. Farming in an age of climate change is a difficult and unpredictable proposition, and I am eternally thankful that we have highly skilled, ambitious, and adaptable farmers like David to continue supplying our Owners with delicious homegrown produce!