Sarah Frey-Talley of Frey Farms & Tsamma Juice

Standing on the shoulders of someone like Teena Borek, our previous feature, is melon farmer Sarah Frey-Talley, a different kind of snowbird. She owns three farms in Florida – two in South Florida and one in Tampa. In addition, Frey-Talley recently purchased an 800-acre citrus grove near LaBelle.

Altogether, she owns 3,000 acres here. She lives half the year at her home in Naples, and the other half on the land she grew up on in Indiana, which she’s turning into a butterfly haven.

Frey-Talley is the youngest of eight children. At 16, she took over her mother’s summer melon-delivery service. She grew it to 150 grocery stores and later expanded her season by selling pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash.

At 19, she started marketing her business to three retail chains – Meijer, Kroger, and Wal-Mart – subsequently investing her profits in pumpkin, cantaloupe, and watermelon farms in the sandy soil of the Wabash River Valley.

She didn’t want to leave her business to go to the university, much to her mother’s dismay, but believes that the money she spent in the “college of hard knocks,” with successes and failures in the agriculture business, would rival, in value, the tuition at any Ivy League school. Ten years later, she did go to an accelerated executive education program at Dartmouth.

Today, she sells to the top 25 retail chains, and Frey Farms is the largest farmer of pumpkins in the U.S.

Sarah Frey-TalleyIn the late 1990s, Frey-Talley began the Florida branch of her business, first by building relationships with Florida growers and learning the different growing methods needed to produce watermelons from the state’s sandy soils. Then she started leasing land, in the early 2000s, and later buying farms and building packing facilities.

 Watermelons are the biggest part of Frey-Talley’s business in Florida: She has developed a product called Tsamma Juice, named after the tsamma melon of the Kalahari Desert. The juice is made from traditional melons, with seeds; they provide a better flavor than the contemporary seedless variety.

She thinks that someday the juice will rival the consumption of coconut water with its taste, nutritional value, and ability to be produced domestically.

Frey-Talley credits Morgan Roe of Blue Lake Citrus with helping her to figure out how to make it; Blue Lake Citrus is the Tsamma Juice co-packer. It’s sold in Fresh Market and a number of smaller markets nationally.

She’s very proud that she was able to convert a commodity into a value-added product for consumers, and considers herself a steward of the land.

Her immediate goal is to continue to find innovative ways to improve capabilities, and better ways of achieving sustainability.