Seeking the Best of Both Worlds
by Kathleen Schwartz
In 1990, Beth Hitzfield received a grave medical diagnosis and prognosis. Her husband, Lee, and their seven sons knew their lives would never be the same. Little did they know this life-changing situation would lead to where they are today.
Lee, who also farmed part-time, sought advice from a co-worker who was versed in the effects of food on overall wellness. Lee and Beth began focusing on rebuilding Beth’s nutrient levels.
The Hitzfields’ trips to the grocery store included testing produce for indicators of nutrient value. As they selected more nutrient-dense foods, they saw immediate improvement in Beth’s condition.
As he witnessed the changes in his wife’s health, Lee began to think about the products he produced on his own farm, which included conventional row crops and a confined hog operation. “A light bulb goes off,” Lee shares. “I realized, I’m not raising very quality products for my animals to consume—or for other humans that consume my animals.
“That changed my thinking completely.” Thus, began the family’s journey to the present-day Seven Sons Family Farms in rural Huntington County, Indiana.
Lee’s realization brought a transformation in his farming philosophy. He saw the need to stop conventional practices and turn to traditional usage of the land.
“The soil is supposed to be alive,” he explains. “It’s a living organism.”
Lee’s son, Blaine, adds, “We’ve come full circle, and we’ve realized some of the harmful effects of industrial agriculture and the true implications. We had a complete belief change.”
There has been a marriage of vintage farming practices and technology at Seven Sons. In the past, technology has led to the diminishing of the soil, but technology, from the side of reaching the consumer, has completely changed the business.
Lee sees the challenge. “How do we harness the biological systems that God created, and how do we marry that with good advances in modern technology?”
Seven Son Family Farms produces pasture-raised beef, pork and eggs. Its products are GMO-free and gluten-free, and no hormones or antibiotics are used on the livestock.
The family farm is dedicated to sustaining a multi-species pasture and promoting the farm-to-consumer connection through direct marketing. Seven Sons’ customers are found throughout the country. Though the family does have a cabin property in Roanoke that serves as a distribution point, their direct online marketing is a key to their success. More than 300 products are offered for sale on the website.
Blaine believes many of his customers have concerns about their health and implications of how food is produced. “A good portion are concerned about animal welfare, really concerned about environmental stewardship,” he says. “At the end of the day, people have lost trust in the current food system.
“When we began, we didn’t have any intention of marketing to consumers. It’s the authenticity that’s driving people to come to that log cabin out there to get our products. It’s verifying that trust.”
To say Seven Sons Family Farms, established in 2000, is a family-run business, is an understatement. Lee and all seven of his sons are involved in the day-to-day operations.
Blake, the oldest son, deals with livestock. His wife, Kim, specializes in marketing. Blaine, the second son, oversees marketing and distribution. The poultry division is directed by Brice, whose wife, Katie, assists customers in the small retail store. The fourth son, Brock, can be found in the warehouse handling fulfillment operations. Brooks, number five, manages daily accounting and heads up phone and email support. Bruce helps Brice in the poultry division and leads the egg processing team. Brandt, though still in high school, is affectionately referred to as the “ranch hand,” and he contributes to the daily chores and duties wherever needed.
“In the 1990s, there wasn’t room for one son,” Lee reflects. “The small farm would not sustain us. I was working a part-time job to make ends meet.
“Today, we have less acreage (550), and 10 families are living off it. That is unheard of. The average farm today takes 1,500 acres to sustain one full-time employee.”
Setting aside the challenges of sustaining so many with a small farm, some might wonder how seven brothers manage to live so close and still work together. “I tell people there used to be eight sons,” Blaine says, with a sly smile.
He adds, “We live just beyond rifle range.”
Lee is quick to interject. “That’s all a joke,” he assures.
“Early in the business, I realized that I didn’t want to be the one running it and making all the decisions. I said, Grab an enterprise and go with it.”
Today, there are six unique businesses under the Seven Sons umbrella, each with a different owner. Lee has encouraged his sons to pursue and develop new ideas while assisting other family members in their goals.
Another integral part of the Seven Sons operation is its service to the agriculture community. Lee and his sons offer advice and information to others interested in starting in this type of farming.
“It was a tough transition—by no means easy—going from conventional farming to what we are doing now,” Lee admits. “Our learning curve was really long because nobody was doing it. If we can shorten that learning curve for others who have the same passion as we do, we’re more than willing to do that.”
Blaine adds, “From the beginning, this has been a belief-driven endeavor. That is something that has attracted us to stay here and to see the purpose beyond the job or work.”
“Their mother and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way,” says Lee.
The Seven Sons Farm is a testimony to what a family can do when they create a atmosphere of diversity and passion, both in the way they farm and the way they face life.
Seven Sons Family Farms
15718 Aboite Road
Roanoke, IN 46783