Student Business Links Farmers and Buyers W&L seniors Will Gentry and Gray Carlton started Lexington Harvest Haul to deliver local food to consumers. They’re now looking to sell the successful business before they leave Lexington after graduation.
All college students have a list of concerns to address as graduation day approaches, including where they’re going to live next and whether they’re going to have a job to pay the bills. But Will Gentry and Gray Carlton, both seniors at Washington and Lee University, have been working to answer an additional question that may not be so common for graduates: Who is going to take over the small business they started in Lexington?
Gentry and Carlton, who are both earning degrees in business administration and geology, started Lexington Harvest Haul to deliver locally produced food to area customers. The idea came to them last year after they noticed that local farmers are producing quality goods but don’t seem to have enough avenues to connect with consumers. In addition, Gentry’s mom passed along an article about farmers across the country pouring out milk because they couldn’t move it fast enough amid the pandemic, so the students thought it would be an appropriate time to launch such a service.
“The reason we wanted to do this is to give some of our local farmers another way to sell some of their incredible stuff while giving people in Lexington another way to get local food, which should always be supported, I think,” Gentry said. “That’s the whole essence of why we’re doing this.”
The Chi Psi fraternity brothers both have experience doing what Gentry called “typical lemonade stand and lawn-mowing activity,” but neither has started a small business before. During summer 2020, when Gentry was taking advantage of an extra room in Carlton’s house to do homework in a quiet space, the two began to brainstorm ideas using some of the business knowledge they’ve picked up at W&L.
“It was Gray’s idea to just deliver local food to people,” Gentry said. “We talked about it a decent bit, got excited about it, and then took an entrepreneurship capstone class during Fall Term where we had to create and pitch a business.”
None of the teams in the class pitched their exact concept, but the process of preparing their pitches made them feel even more prepared to take a chance on starting Lexington Harvest Haul. “By the middle to end of the semester, I told Gray ‘We should just do it, try it, and see what happens,’” Gentry said. “There’s no reason not to.”
They started by visiting the weekly Lexington Farmers Market, where they connected with local producers and gauged their need for a delivery service. Many said that the farmers market is the only place they sell their products, and they have to take time away from working their farms in order to travel to the market for the day. Some were looking for additional options.
The students created a website for Lexington Harvest Haul and built an email distribution list of about 150 customers. On Wednesdays, producers let them know what products they have available that week, and Gentry and Gray update the website with that information. They accept orders until 5 p.m. on Monday, then pick up the food from sellers and deliver it to buyers on Tuesday. The business takes about a 15-percent cut on products and charges $7.50 per delivery.
“The best-sellers are usually produce staples like mixed lettuce,” Carlton said. “My favorite is ground beef that’s raised two miles from campus. We’ve also been selling steaks and chicken meat that is prepared the day before we deliver it. And we deliver lots of eggs.”
Gentry and Gray have done a good job of managing the business alongside their schedule. In addition to pursuing two degrees, Gentry is an Appalachian Adventure trip leader and president of the Fly-Fishing Club, and he is helping to raise money for the senior class gift. Carlton is on the Contact Committee.
Now, they’re getting set to graduate and move on to the next phase of their lives. Gentry has been accepted into Venture for America, a two-year fellowship program that trains recent graduates to work for startups in cities across America. “I’m super excited because it will send me to work for a small growing company and I’ll have an opportunity to contribute to its growth and success,” he said. Carlton is going to work for a company that designs and builds golf courses.
They’re still looking to sell Lexington Harvest Haul, preferably to a W&L undergraduate student who wants to continue to grow the business. Interested parties should email them for more details. They can attest that the experience has been educational.
“I think the main thing has been gaining the experience and being able to build a little confidence in starting something,” Carlton said. “Will and I both talked about wanting to eventually start some sort of business when we’re older, so being able to fall back on this and say that we know we can do it is very helpful.”