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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 11 months ago

Plant the Seed

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To build their daughter's legacy, attorney Lewis Hall and his wife, Kay, started an organic farm on their family's ranch in Arcadia.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

EXECUTIVE: Lewis Hall is an attorney and commercial litigator with Sarasota law firm Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen.

DIVERSION: Hall and his wife, Kay, started Aloe Organics in honor of their daughter Allison “Aloe” Hall Nelson, who died of breast cancer in 2012 at age 30. Before she died, her doctors advised her to eat organic produce to improve her health. Nelson decided a farm would be a good way for her to make a mark on the world. One of the goals of Aloe Organics is to help people eat better and understand how food can make a difference in personal health.

LAY OF THE LAND: Aloe Organics is on 20 acres of a cattle ranch in Arcadia that's been in Lewis Hall's family since the 1930s. Kay Hall says Nelson went to her grandfather and asked if part of ranch could be used for the farm.

AN EDUCATION: Lewis and Kay Hall weren't farming experts when they started Aloe Organics. “We had gardens from time to time, but we didn't know about farming and organics,” Lewis Hall says. They've since learned a lot through experience. Kay Hall is at the farm most days, and Lewis Hall comes out on weekends, examining crops and talking to the farm manager. “Every year, every month, every week, we learn more,” says Kay Hall. “We both discovered we have a great passion for it.”

CREAM OF THE CROP: The Halls harvest 60 different crops at Aloe Organics. Crops grown at the certified organic farm include strawberries, lettuce, collard greens, broccoli, eggplant, beets, green beans, carrots and zinnias.

NOURISHMENT: Lewis Hall says the farm's hydroponic houses allow them to be “not so reliant on Mother Nature.” Hydroponics use nutrients instead of soil to grow plants, and the houses help keep frost away from plants and control the amount of water they receive. At Aloe Organics, they grow tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, eggplant, onions, herbs and edible flowers such as nasturtiums and Johnny-jump-ups in the houses. The hydroponic systems require frequent troubleshooting, Lewis Hall says, and he often works on maintenance during the weekends. “Hydroponics are his baby,” Kay Hall says.

WINDSWEPT: In September 2017, the eye of Hurricane Irma passed over the farm. It left a foot of water on the ground, and in late November the fields were just starting to bounce back. The plants grown in the hydroponic houses allowed Aloe Organics to have crops to harvest in the fall.

IN THE MARKET: Aloe Organics sells produce weekly from October to April at the Phillippi Farmhouse Market in Sarasota. Lewis Hall comes to the market every week, setting up the stand and coming during lunch in his suit to help while customers select fresh-picked produce. In December, Aloe Organics started selling produce at a Boca Grande farmers market, too. The couple also sells produce to stores and companies that put together boxes of produce.

GROWING AND GIVING: A quarter to a third of Aloe Organics' produce is donated to the Children's Cancer Center in Tampa. The Halls formed a nonprofit called Aloe Gives, dedicated to donating produce and setting up gardens at schools. “That was the next step of Allison's wishes,” Kay Hall says. The Hall's son, Miles, will serve as the president of the nonprofit. Their daughter Emily does marketing and social media for Aloe Organics. “Everybody in the family is involved in her legacy,” Kay Hall says. “And we're committed to that legacy.”

BREAK NEW GROUND: Lewis Hall says Aloe Organics gives him a needed break from his high-pressure job as an attorney. “It's refreshing and relaxing for me to go out to the farm every week,” he says. “It's enjoyable and fulfilling.”

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