BigDaddy’s Farm: Cultivating an Experience

Web AdminAgribusiness, Specialty Crops, Vegetables

By Tacy Callies

“I went to college so I wouldn’t be a farmer,” says Rex Clonts.

After earning a business degree from the University of South Florida in Tampa in 1972, Rex had several job offers and wasn’t sure which one to accept. He asked his father if it would be OK if he came home and worked on the family vegetable farm in Zellwood for a few months while he decided which offer to take.

“Dad said ‘yes’ and had a brand new Ford truck waiting for me. He hooked me in with that,” recalls Rex. “I quickly learned I could control my own destiny better at the farm than working for a company. Staying was the best decision I ever made.”

Rex grew celery, sweet corn, leafy vegetables and carrots until 1998. In the mid-1990s he began the shift away from vegetables toward expanding the family’s citrus operation in Clermont. The citrus did well until greening disease changed everything and eventually forced the sale of the groves. While in the process of selling his citrus groves and having recently moved to Oviedo, where his granddad had farmed, Rex realized he wasn’t ready to retire.

BigDaddy's Farm
Rex and Denise Clonts own and operate BigDaddy’s Farm in Oviedo, Florida.
Photo by Tacy Callies

As Rex toyed with the idea of starting a small vegetable farm in Oviedo, his wife Denise challenged him to grow vegetables organically. Rex had been a conventional grower his whole career but did not shy away from the challenge. The new business, named BigDaddy’s Farm, was born in 2018. The name is a nod to Rex’s grandfather, who was known affectionately as BigDaddy.

“I love the challenge of organic, but it’s a lot more work and a lot more expensive,” says Rex.

The location the Clontses chose for the new business is very near Oviedo’s many residential communities and only about 20 minutes from Orlando. The plot had been farmland since the early 1900s. Since it was most recently used for cattle, it was ready for U.S. Department of Agriculture-organic certification.


“The land had been neglected for years,” says Rex. “So, in our first year, we started planting cover crops to improve the soil.”

Rex says the first cover crop produced very uneven growth, but subsequent crops have been much more even. He plants cover crops annually in June and turns them under in August prior to planting vegetables in the fall. He notes that growing organic matter is much cheaper than bringing it in, but he is planning to introduce fish emulsion as a standard part of his fertilizer program. He also brings in beneficial insects for thrips, whitefly, aphid and mite control.

The business began with a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, with local residents purchasing subscriptions to boxes of produce.

“It was a good way to start and get our name out there, and it was a great showpiece for our products,” says Denise.

The couple soon realized it was easier to have their produce available in an onsite market than to assemble weekly produce boxes. Having a market allowed their customers to pick what and how much produce they wanted, as opposed to being limited to what was in the weekly box.


The market grew to include offerings from other local vendors and farms that BigDaddy’s partners with, including 4Roots Farms (see the September 2023 Florida Grower cover story) and Villages Grown (see the March 2023 Florida Grower cover story). Other partners supply the market with coffee, bread, meat, eggs, honey and even pottery.

Coffee partner Johnny Quinteros of Firehouse Roasters supplies product from Peru exclusive to BigDaddy’s. “When I first met Rex as a CSA customer, he asked me if I had some time to see the farm,” says Quinteros. “I got in his pickup, and he showed me how he does everything. An hour-and-a-half later and I was blown away. It is amazing to have access to fresh organic produce right in the Orlando area. Denise and Rex are extraordinary people with a great team. They put their hearts into BigDaddy’s and are very community minded. I don’t take it for granted that I get to be a small part of their business.”

“The partnerships allow us to sell products online when our produce is not in season, and they help us provide greater selection to our market customers,” says Denise. “We want to help other small farmers and businesses out, so we partner with them as much as possible. Some will buy our vegetables for their markets.”


BigDaddy’s newest venture will be to add a u-pick operation this season from December through May. The goal is to draw more visitors to the farm while encouraging larger purchases.

BigDaddy's Farm
The farm produces a variety of organic specialty crops that will include a u-pick option for customers this season.

“We want to provide an outdoor experience and give customers the option to pick their own or buy off the shelf,” says Denise. “People may only buy one squash in the market, but we are hoping they will want to pick more than just one. We want our neighbors to meet their farmer and see where their food comes from.”

She is optimistic the u-pick operation will increase the farm’s visibility from a marketing standpoint since people often post pictures on social media when they go u-picking.

“Our biggest challenge has been getting people to know we are here. We are only 1 mile off the highway, but local ordinances prohibit sign advertising on the main roads,” says Denise.

The u-pick crops will be strawberry, tomato, cucumber, squash, zucchini, eggplant and flowers (zinnia, sunflower and snapdragon). These items will also be available in the market, in addition to sweet corn, green beans, celery, broccoli, bok choy and kohlrabi.

“Two years ago, we were growing 55 to 60 different things,” says Rex. “We have pared back to what we can make money at and successfully grow.”


The Clontses say organic production requires customer education. Buyers need to understand why the produce is more expensive and why it doesn’t always look perfect. Fortunately, interacting with customers is one of the couple’s favorite parts of the business.

BigDaddy's Farm
BigDaddy’s market features fresh produce from the farm as well as goods sourced from local businesses.

“One of the things I like the most, after farming all my life, is that for the first time I know my customer, the end user,” says Rex. “I like to hear the instant feedback — both good and bad.”

For example, if a customer complains about spots on the napa cabbage, Rex is happy to explain how flea beetles are difficult to control organically and that the produce is perfectly safe to eat.

If a customer has an unresolved complaint, the farm will replace a purchase for free.

“This policy has earned us some of our best customers,” says Denise.

Although the farm has only been in business for a few years, it has already developed a loyal following. Some of its biggest fans are children. One of Denise’s favorite stories is about a boy who hated broccoli. After trying BigDaddy’s broccoli, he liked it so much he asked his mom to go back and buy more.

“BigDaddy’s is a huge blessing to our community and family,” says customer Nicole Robertson. “As a registered dietitian, I see and taste the difference, but my children notice the difference, too. They ask for BigDaddy’s produce and they love going to the farm! Denise always treats them to a beautiful flower, and Rex has a carrot for our puppy. The Clontses have cultivated an experience for the next generation to appreciate farming and the origins of our food.”

Denise loves to see young children having fun at the farm. They climb on the tractors and eagerly greet Farmer Rex, as they call him. “It’s so sweet to see the kids cling to him and vie for his attention,” she says.

If or when Rex is finally ready to retire, Denise says the biggest challenge will be finding someone to fill his shoes.  

BigDaddy’s Farm Profile

Founded: 2018 by Rex and Denise Clonts

Location: Oviedo, Florida

Size: 60 acres (18 in production)

Unique Feature: “The farm is in a microclimate on the south side of Lake Jessup,” says Rex. “It’s very warm, so we can grow corn, tomatoes and beans straight through winter. That’s regularly done in South Florida but is not common in Central Florida.”

Industry Participation: Rex was a long-time past director of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. He currently serves as a board member for Seminole County Farm Bureau and Farm Credit of Central Florida. BigDaddy’s Farm is a member of the Florida Agritourism Association.

Giving Back: BigDaddy’s donates excess produce to HOPE Helps Inc. food bank and makes monthly food bag donations to First Church Oviedo that go to a local retirement community.

Career Highlight: Rex was named the Swisher/Sunbelt Expo Southeast Farmer of the Year in 1997.

Defining Moment: “After a year and a half of work, when we packed our first set of beautiful community supported agriculture boxes of 23 assorted products — six or seven of which I had never grown before — I saw the fruits of our labor and realized we can really do this,” says Rex.

Favorite Farm Memory: “BigDaddy’s was selected for participation in the Outstanding in the Field program last February, an international farm-to-table outdoor dining experience,” says Denise. “A well-known local chef, Bruno Fonseca, came to the farm to cook dishes prepared with BigDaddy’s produce. This event brought people together to our farm that previously didn’t know we existed.”

Customers: The public, local restaurants and chefs, the University of Central Florida athletic department cafeteria and Retaaza, an organization that works to reduce food waste and fight food insecurity. Retaaza has purchased some of BigDaddy’s excess vegetables at a reduced rate and donated them where a need exists.

Motto: Feed our neighbors well.

Long-Term Goal: “We want to put more of our land into production,” says Rex. “Without economies of scale, this business won’t make enough money to hire the kind of staff we need to step back and eventually retire.”