For many people, a long-term career goal is to leave the world a better place than you found it. However, for some, this goal is hindered by an inability to find a vocation that can be both financially beneficial to themselves and helpful to society at large. With hard work and determination, Kenneth Owen has managed to do just that. His farming business, which is located in Belize and operates under the name TKO Farms, Inc. has a variety of trees and fruits, but its primary focus is on producing graviola fruit. This small fruit is a powerhouse of antioxidants and has countless medicinal implications. Currently, TKO Farms, Inc. is the main source of this fruit for many markets.
Growing up in Oregon, Kenneth Owen learned the lumber trade. This agricultural experience stayed with him as he grew older and moved into different fields, and the dedication, hard work, and commitment to helping others he learned from it was permanently ingrained in him. Though he spent his early adult years working in the technology field, he always kept his eyes open for land development opportunities. When he found a 512 acre farm in Belize for sale, he seized the opportunity.
Ken’s initial plan was to continue growing the crops pre-existing on the farm—there were already coconuts, trees for lumber production, and graviola. It was when he learned the full benefits of the graviola that he decided to shift TKO Farms, Inc.’s production focus. Over the last five years, Kenneth Owen has produced graviola to be used, among other things, as an addition to chocolates and coffee. He has also built a processing plant on the property to make high-quality hand-crafted graviola-based teas with medicinal benefits.
Through all of this, Ken has achieved what he believes is the pinnacle of success with TKO Farms, Inc. by being able to improve the lives of literally thousands with his products. Providing people with the natural benefits of graviola fruit has come to be his life’s work.
Can you share a little about the early days of your company?
In the early days, I was planning to use the acreage for lumber. I learned how to farm lumber when I was growing up in Oregon. There was already teak and mahogany on the land and I figured we would just expand on that. I’ve never been someone who settles, though, so pretty soon after we got things up and running, I started looking for other things we could produce. There was already some diversity on the farm. We had coconut and other fruits, including graviola. Through my research, I found a big market for graviola. This fruit has so many medicinal properties, and demand for it is high because there are a lot of people moving to a more natural lifestyle. When I discovered this, there was no question in my mind that we should change our focus to this highly sought-after plant.
To take on a project of this magnitude, as you can imagine, takes years. A tree does not perform for approximately 36 months. In most cases, a tree matures and produces fruit at about 60 months. That’s all based on nutrients, water conditions, and other variables. For example, we need to be careful not to allow fungus to grow in between the branches because Belize is a moist environment. We also need to be very meticulous with the trees because it takes a lot of work to grow high quality graviola fruit. We produce what is called a ‘Grade A’ quality fruit. In the United States, it would fetch $10 to $15 per pound. The retail value of a tree could be anywhere between $200 and $400.
We’ve expanded into making tea, as well. We brought in leading tea experts to be sure we were making the best teas that we could. For the last three years, Nigel Miliken has been working with us to ensure we are doing things well. We are the only farm that has its own processing plant. The teas we produce are all hand-crafted. As for the fruit itself, that goes through a freeze-drying process in Utah. That process ensures that the fruit is pharmaceutical-grade and can be put into other foods, like coffee and chocolate. We are also looking into introducing graviola into other products, like baby food and puree, weight-loss supplements, and anything else that could be derived from the plant.
How have you achieved success?
I’ve achieved success by working hard and making the right decisions. I have one rule of thumb: If I can’t steal it, I can’t buy it. That means that I won’t allow myself to overpay for something, especially a major asset. Success, to me, is actually being dedicated to what you do, being honest with yourself, and staying focused until whatever project you’re working on attains success. If you make good decisions from the beginning and you stay committed to making the project the best that it can be, you will inevitably find success. The market is constantly changing, so you have to be ready to change with it if necessary. Back in the beginning, we thought lumber would be the source of our success. When we saw how much more we could do by changing the focus to graviola, we made the changes that we needed to. I feel very lucky with the decisions that I’ve made over the years for the simple fact that they’ve worked out. It’s been unbelievable to be able to do what I do.
What obstacles have you overcome in the process?
Every obstacle you can think of, I have probably been through it. We are an international company. There are infrastructure issues and administrative issues. Sometimes we have challenges with power. It’s a small country and there are a lot more challenges here than you would have to deal with in a more populated or developed area. You have to work hard to not only get past such issues, but also to create trust with the businesses you work with. Many companies in the United States are wary of dealing with a farm outside of the country. As the only farm of this kind in the world, we have built a solid reputation now, but it took a lot of extra work to get to that point.
What drives you to succeed?
I know exactly how healthy and helpful this plant is. I’m driven to move as much product as I can to as many people as I can. The benefits are phenomenal. Again, this is the only farm in the world with such a focus on graviola. There is nothing to compare it to. Yet, we have managed to get the fruit into a lot of different trades already and are looking for more opportunities every day. It’s really exhilarating to have something unique in the marketplace. Every day, I wake up thinking “What am I going to accomplish today?” For us as an organization, going from a farm to a retail product is really a major feat. I can’t say enough about what kind of hard work and determination it takes to get there, the people that it takes, and it drives me each day because it’s my responsibility to keep things moving. There are a lot of moving parts involved in our operations. Our fruit goes to many different warehouses all over the world to be put into many different foods. That takes coordination with literally hundreds of people. We are always looking for new markets to get into, so selling the product is also going on. All of this is what drives me. Many people depend on this farm and its success for their livelihood. I can’t think of anything more important than that to keep me driven.
How has your definition of success changed over the years?
I think when you are young, money seems to be what everybody considers success. For me it went from money to now more of a lifestyle brand, as well as giving back. To me, that’s the true meaning of success. I’m a gentleman of over 50 years now, so I see things differently than I did when I was young. Money is still important because it can bring you comfort and health, but for me, the most important thing that we are doing is improving the lives of other people with our product. That’s where real success lies. If you only knew how many people with cancer and other diseases have told us that our fruits or our teas have made a positive difference in their lives. Also, people with stomach problems. All kinds of people have improved their lives with help from what we make here. I’ve been so fortunate. I’ve been successful in many things, but this is true success.
Do you have advice for others on how to be successful?
First of all, the best advice I can give is to be true to yourself. I’ve said it many times: You can’t always win. A lot of times, especially with people that are younger, you have to fail a couple of times in order to learn some important lessons. You can’t let one bad time break you and just give up. It’s exceedingly rare to have success without first having failures. Don’t let this deter you from what you want to achieve. One of my favorite quotes is “When going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill said that at the height of the Battle of Britain. To me, it’s a reminder to stay focused, and I think that it is very important for anyone starting out to keep that in mind. Be true to yourself and do what you love. Leave the world better than how you found it. Give back whatever and whenever you can. If you have a chance to improve someone’s outlook, take it. The success you find will be more fulfilling when you share it with others.
How do you feel success affects a person’s outlook?
I believe the more success you achieve, the more avenues for success you will find. A positive mindset can make all the difference. As you learn to navigate the world you are creating, you gain more confidence. You learn which risks are worth taking and which to walk away from. All of this helps change your outlook and it helps you become more successful.