Anita Craine has always been passionate about providing safe, nutritious food for her family. Long before the local and natural food movement, she spent her time searching for local farmers who would give her food she believed was more healthful for …
Anita Craine has always been passionate about providing safe, nutritious food for her family. Long before the local and natural food movement, she spent her time searching for local farmers who would give her food she believed was more healthful for her family. She grew the foods she couldn't buy herself.
Anita grew up in a farming family, and her grandfather developed the first farmers markets in Alabama.
“I cut my teeth on dinnertime conversation about a living wage for farmers,” she says.
However, Anita spent most of her adult life as a teacher, wife and mother — she grew her own food at home, but never dreamed she'd one day be a farmer who supplied other families with food. But at 56, she's doing just that. In January, Anita and her son Micah opened Craine Creek Farms, a hydroponic greenhouse business. They provide lettuces and herbs to local restaurants, markets and grocery stores, and in the future, Anita says she will sell directly to customers at the farm.
“We want to grow safe food, and we want to grow delicious food,” she says. “So it really has to be all about the product, all about the lettuce.”
Anita spent three years reading, studying and making contacts with businesses who were interested in buying locally-grown lettuce. She and Micah, who recently graduated from the University of Alabama with a business and economics degree, traveled to South Carolina to train on a hydroponic farm before they even started building. This preparation has led to a successful first six months.
“The learning curve is sharp and long, but we are way ahead of where we thought we would be,” Anita says. “We took the time to go out and meet people and develop relationships. We felt like we knew most of the people we're selling to before we ever built and planted, and that has made a huge difference.”
Although Craine Creek Farm has done well so far, Anita says there are many challenges, especially with distribution. Because there are only a few small hydroponic lettuce growers in the area, it doesn't make sense for the larger distribution companies to make a special trip to pick up just a few heads of lettuce. Anita hopes more people will decide to grow lettuce in the area so there will be a critical mass of product for distributors to move.
“There are other people in the county and region who want to grow like we are,” she says. “We believe this could be a basis for an industry. Then you will have enough to make it worthwhile for distributors to come and take it to other parts of the state and around the South.”
Many of these new greenhouse farmers could be women, she says. Her husband Steven is a dentist in Loxley, and while he is always around to help her in any way he can, the business is truly she and Micah's project.
“I like that a lot of women are coming into farming now,” she says. “I think women bring a different viewpoint to markets, and I think we are particularly well suited for this local market that men might not be as patient with. Men just look at it differently.”
Sex, age or occupation shouldn't ever be a hindrance to try something new, Anita says. She is glad she decided to pursue a new venture in her 50s — it has helped keep her arthritis at bay and has opened up another lifetime of opportunities for her.
“You should never peak,” she says. “People ask, 'What were the best years of your life?' and I say, 'I don't know; I haven't had them yet. They just keep getting better and better.”
NAME: Anita Craine
BUSINESS: Craine Creek Farm, hydroponic greenhouse
Want to buy Craine Creek Farm's lettuce? Find it at these locations.
Flora-Bama Farms, 6404 Mobile Highway, Pensacola
Burris Farm Market, Highway 59, Loxley
Lulu's, Highway 59, Gulf Shores
Loxley Farm Market, Highway 59, Loxley
Seasons in the Sun, Spanish Fort