After nearly three decades of watching others turn his corn into tortillas and tortilla chips, Hardin County farmer Denny Hensel is doing it himself, in Ada.
His Harvest Pride Tortilla Chips were featured in the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance’s annual Member Appreciation Day luncheon on Friday, at the chamber’s headquarters in Kenton. Chamber officials used the occasion to announce a new Farm-to-Table marketing initiative that they hope will spawn similar agribusiness efforts here.
“Harvest Pride is our marketing case study,” said HCCBA president and CEO Jon Cross. The chips — crisp and crunchy, in Ranch, Guacamole and Nacho Cheese flavors — were 28 years in the making. Hensel, who has farmed all his life and currently farms 900 acres, said he first thought of going into the chip business when he sold his first bushel of corn to snack food giant Seyfert's Foods in 1987.
“Joe Seyfert took me through the plant, showed me the process,” he said. Through that, and other encounters with manufacturers, Hensel said he was “listening, looking, reading,” and brain storming on how he could do it, too. He said he has spent “millions and millions of dollars” building a manufacturing plant on East Montford, in Ada’s industrial park. He’s relied on his daughters, their husbands and his grandchildren for support. “There are three generations working out there,” he said of his tortilla plant.
The plant has two production lines, one fresh corn tortillas, the other for the fried tortilla chips that will be bagged and sold in stores. He also has the ability to make un-fried tortilla chips for Mexican restaurants, to fry and serve hot on demand for their customers.
The next step is to get his tortilla chips into the mouths of local eaters through area grocery stories, restaurants, even schools. That’s where the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance hopes to help though its new Farm-to-Table initiative.
“We’re trying to encourage farmers and growers to be entrepreneurs, to start a business like Denny Hensel did,” said CEO Cross. “It’s no different than trying to recruit light and heavy manufacturing. It’s local food for local consumers."
To build awareness and buzz around local ag products, the Chamber had Hardin County resident and Ohio Northern University grad Wesley Goldsmith design a logo. The image is a fusion of a barn and silo with a plate and fork, under which is the phrase, “Eat Fresh. Eat Local. Hardin County.” It will be featured at the upcoming Hardin County Fair. Cross said he hopes to see it at area restaurants and on locally-produced products like Harvest Pride. “There are a lot of people who want to have access to fresh food, and they really support the ‘buy local’ concept,” said Cross.
Cross and Hensel said they’ve reached out to local grocery store chains, including Community Market. Hensel said local Mexican restaurants have shown interest. He said he expects to be in full production by the fall.
“I farm for a living, I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire,” he said. “This has taken longer to get going than I had appreciated."