Keeping it close to home

As a born and raised Michigander, I like to support my fellow residents. I am also about providing the freshest produce around. What a wonderful thing that by doing business with local farmers, I can accomplish both.

Hiller’s has relationships with about 20 area farm families, some going back 30 years. They’re based all over, from Monroe to Imlay City. They’re part of Hiller’s family, and I value them a great deal.

michigan_guyOur Produce Managers call in produce orders early each morning . We, in turn, call our farmers, who have the orders ready by morning when we head out to Eastern Market or Detroit’s Produce Terminal. We like to pay our suppliers on the spot or within a day, unlike most store chains, by the way. And most big-box stores don’t go to Eastern Market or Produce Terminal every single day. They have farmers deliver to a warehouse, where produce goes to stores every 2-3 days. With us, they harvest it today and by tomorrow, it’s at our stores. We’re proud of that. We start in March with  flowers, and spices even, and now we have beautiful tomatoes.

Let’s hear directly from a couple of our cherished local suppliers. Robert Ruhlig, for one, gets us zucchini, cucumbers, sweet corn, green bells and specialty peppers, cantaloupe, eggplant and other items. “Whatever they can get local they always try to do that,” Ruhlig said of Hiller’s. “And they like the biggest and the best.”

Based in Carleton down there near Ohio, Ruhlig is a second-generation Hiller’s farmer. He’s done business with us for a decade; his dad close to 15 years. In fact, his folks, children of farmers themselves, are still involved in the 1,200-acre Ruhlig Farms and Greenhouses, established in 1970. A true family affair, Ruhlig’s brother handles production while his two sisters are in management and accounting.

Team Ruhlig makes the hour-long trek to Eastern Market at around midnight, finishing up around 7 a.m. (During the week the market is for wholesalers; Saturdays are for retail). Their season runs from spring to first frost, around Halloween. “Hiller’s is very committed to buying consistently whatever is local and available,” Ruhlig said. “When the season starts they’re the first ones around, and they stick with us until the end.”

And then there’s George Horkey of Horkey Brother Farms in Dundee. For Hiller’s, his 2,000 acres yield sweet corn, potatoes, bell and mixed peppers, cantaloupe and all manner of gourds. He’s been with us about 25 years. Just a solid, solid relationship.

Interesting, Horkey’s great-grandfather had been an onion farmer on McNichols in Detroit, eventually selling the land to make way for the University of Detroit. Horkey’s grandfather had a farm on 12 Mile Road and John R where Horkey’s dad toiled before graduating from U-D, getting a law degree and becoming Royal Oak Township supervisor. Horkey’s two sons farm as well, making for five wonderful generations.

“Hiller’s has really worked to promote Michigan, especially the last four or five years or so,” Horkey said. “I really enjoy our relationship with Hiller’s. It’s been good and it’s lasted a long time. They’re a class act.

“But they’re very strict buyers, you know. And that’s a good thing. It certainly keeps us on our toes.”

Well, here’s the thing: by supporting Hiller’s you also support your neighbors, your fellow Michiganders. And your food’s fresh, too.

Working together. That’s the Hiller’s way.


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