by Michelle Dudley When biodynamic options are not available, Frankferd Farms Foods Inc is the distributor that provides Spiritual Food CSA with organic sources of U.S. grown grains and legumes, mainly from the Midwest.
As a part-time farmer, as well as founder and current president of Frankferd Farms Foods, T. Lyle has a very demanding schedule. Yet in making his acquaintance through this interview, I learned what things top his priority list. Despite a hectic agenda of untimely deliveries, product pick-ups, multiple phone-calls and duties associated with coordinating logistics for a distribution company, T. Lyle demonstrates that he has been successful in business and beyond. In allowing some admirable, down-to-earth values lay the foundation for his life and his work, we can see that his accomplishments take on many forms.
In speaking with T. Lyle, I first learned what he ate for lunch that day. Raised a farm-boy and having developed his food consciousness thanks to his wife‘s healthy and alternative food practices, T. Lyle’s meals consist largely of home-grown and locally-grown foods. On the day of the interview, T. Lyle and his wife, Betty, had just shared a lunch made up of local eggs and local feta cheese along with frozen veggies from his own half-acre garden.
T. Lyle’s family farmland was first settled in 1805 as part of land distribution to revolutionary war soldiers. He tells the legend that years later his father was appreciating an aerial view of farm before the plane he was in actually crashed there. His father eventually bought this land which allowed T. Lyle to inherit the farm in the mid-1980’s. Oats, hay, grain, wheat and corn are produced to this day on these 80 acres in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. Enough vegetables for family consumption are also produced on the property. Over 20 years ago, T. Lyle made sure that his farm was one of the first to become organic certified by OCIA (organic crop improvement association) in Western PA.
Aside from his values surrounding food, T. Lyle’s family values also stand at the forefront. His business story goes hand-in-hand with the story of his family. His transition from full-time farming (with horses, hay, homesteading and milling flour) to running his business, began 24 years ago as a joint venture with his mother and his wife when they each contributed $700 to the idea. Their teamwork and motivation turned around the struggling company which was the original buyer of the Ferderber’s flour. Taking the original supplier list along with their own good reputation as a flour producer, they gave the company a new name (Frankferd) and a new direction. Ever since, they have been promoting the products of organic farmers and suppliers, still giving preference to other growers in their regional OCIA chapter. Some international products have also been included to supplement what is not available locally or within the U.S. For example, Frankferd’s mung beans, canneli and lima beans are purchased from organic producers in China.
T. Lyle’s early business practices of investing all early profits towards expanding his business one product at a time is reinforced by his words, “a tree that grows slowly, grows stronger”. Their original one-paged catalog has grown to a 52-page catalog today, offering products from more than 120 suppliers. T. Lyle attributes such success to the business to having had good, strong ties with two generations of family and family values since the beginning. Originally, the deliveries even had to share their space with the children in the family station wagon. He believes that this life of self-employment has also been a blessing in that it provided him the flexible schedule to actively participate in his children’s upbringing. Today this “family-first” ideal is extended to his 30+ employees so that they too may schedule work around important family obligations. T. Lyle recognizes that his sort of approach promotes a supportive community environment at his business.
Evident through his willingness to offer his time for this interview so that the Spiritual Food CSA members could be better informed, T. Lyle is a “people-person“. Not only does he take time to make personal connections with his employees, suppliers and farmers, he also takes time to know his very diverse customer base. He claims that his customers live in both teepees and gate communities. While 25% of Frankferd’s customers are local, 75% are regional. Connecting with people, whether they are smaller CSA type organizations like ours looking for off-season share extenders, larger natural food store distributors, local townspeople or individual health-nuts, T. Lyle has been responsible for expanding his product list so that there is something for everyone. “There is both breadth and depth in our product line“, he says. “And while some families do all their shopping at Frankferd, others just come to buy healthier options for peanut butter and jelly.” T. Lyle also mentions that he believes in dropping the “holier than thou” attitude and meeting people wherever they are at in their journey towards healthier eating. If people are just searching for a couple of healthier, organic snack foods, he meets them there. If someone is after the best in organic basmati brown rice, he’s got that covered too. Rather than being exclusive, he tries to include people by first offering what products may seem more familiar. Then, little by little he is able to introduce newer, healthier products.
Perhaps you may agree that this welcoming attitude overall, is helpful in aiding more people as they transition towards making more conscious food choices. While his employees are hired because they are local, not because of shared food values, Frankferd Farms Inc. therefore becomes a space where both his customers and employees can find themselves in an educational journey towards healthier foods. Another smart business practice that T. Lyle implements is allowing his drivers to connect to new farmers and suppliers, thus showing his open-mind and commitment towards building a more food-conscious community.
Isn’t this quite the story of a business venture! And at
the end of the interview, it was also revealed that T. Lyle has had no
formal business training. Rather, in college he studied Tibetan Buddhism.
Thanks, T. Lyle for taking the time to shed light on your story and to continue to include us in your community!