40 Under 40 Class of 2007

Ryan Voiland

Age 28. Farmer and Owner of Red Fire Farms, Granby

Ryan Voiland’s tomatoes aren’t just tasty. They’re award-winning.

Voiland, who owns Red Fire Farm in Granby, has been entering his tomatoes in state-wide competition for a decade, and has taken home the second-highest number of accolades in the Commonwealth.

It’s not just one prize crop that continues to shine, either. Voiland said his farm produces about 75 different varieties of tomatoes, including heirlooms and hybrids, in addition to cucumbers, onions, carrots, several lettuces, and other fruits and vegetables. All of his produce is certified organic.

The business has grown from one tiny farm stand in Montague, which Voiland started in middle school and still maintains today, to more than 50 acres of land on which he produces crops for retail and wholesale buyers and for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) co-ops in Western Mass. and Boston.

In addition, Voiland promotes agriculture as a viable career path for people of varying ages. He started with a catchy name for his business — the farm’s homestead burned to the ground in 1922 after being struck by lightning, and Red Fire is a popular variety of lettuce he cultivates. He also began a radio show titled Farm to Fork, and offers apprentice and training programs.

Voiland said his parents (who aren’t farmers) have been supportive of his choice to pursue a career in agriculture, helping him with the necessary infrastructure on his first rented plot of land, which he started farming in high school and maintained while pursuing a degree at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Now based on land he largely owns in Granby, Voiland said his diverse farming model was a deliberate choice that differs from many farms of similar size.

“We grow practically every type of vegetable that can grow in this climate,” he said. “A lot of farms are more specialized, but that’s part of the beauty of our farm. We’re so diverse, we can ensure against catastrophic crop failure. A bad year for lettuce doesn’t mean the other crops will be affected.”

The model seems to be working thus far. Red Fire Farm is gradually expanding in terms of acreage, service area, and staff.

“It’s all part of a strategy,” said Voiland, who’s proving that though their work is sometimes difficult, farmers can still bring home the bacon with lettuce and tomatoes.

Jaclyn C. Stevenson