BBB concerned with organic farm investment offer - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

BBB concerned with organic farm investment offer

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The company claims you can make up to $40,000 a year. The company claims you can make up to $40,000 a year.
OWENS CROSS ROADS, AL (WAFF) -

The offer from one valley company is "invest with us and you can make anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000 a year." Cypress Creek Organic Farms claims you can make that by farming organic tomatoes.

However, the Better Business Bureau says "prove it." The BBB's website placed an alert (http://bit.ly/19U4JYv) on the company, calling on Cypress Creek Organic Farms to show proof of how farmers can make that kind of money and reveal who these farmers are.

Cypress Creek hasn't responded to those requests.

"I wouldn't give the Better Business Bureau ten of my affiliates to go interview, without talking to my affiliates first. I have them sign a non-disclosure form," said CEO Jaime Lawhorne.

The BBB is still waiting for that information.

Dawn Craig wanted to be an affiliate farmer after hearing about Cypress Creek Organic Farms over the radio. "Earn $25,000 a year providing local restaurants and grocery stores with organic tomatoes. We'll build a 100 ft. greenhouse on your property to get you growing," according to the radio ad.

"A week later we got a call that our soil was approved and we set up a time to tour the in production greenhouse," said Craig.

The company asks prospective affiliate farmers to invest $12,950 dollars for the greenhouse, 300 tomato plants, receive training and organic certification.

The website states Cypress Creek Organic Farms had been in the Lawhorne family since the 60s.

Business records show the company was established this April.

The BBB now wants Cypress Creek Organic Farms to prove farmers are making money to the tune of $25,000 and include the initial down payment paid by the farmer in their ad.

Lawhorne said his company makes money selling the tomatoes to local restaurants. The company's website lists more than 20 local restaurants and grocery stores where you can find their tomatoes.

Upon verifying that claim, some restaurants said they received the tomatoes for free as a taste test and some hadn't even purchased any from the company.

The BBB website states that on August 28, 2013, Cypress Creek Organic Farms applied for USDA Organic certification for their own company, but no certification decision has been made. On the company's website at www.followthetomato.com under the "Eat With Us," section, a heading appears which states "Here are the many locations you can try our tomatoes."

On August 28, 2013, the BBB contacted three of the restaurants that appear under this section of the company's website and learned that while the company did deliver some complimentary tomatoes to their businesses, none of the three restaurants contacted purchased tomatoes from Cypress Creek Organic Farms.

Lawhorne said he only has about six affiliates out of the 200 who have joined the company who are actually producing tomatoes. "It takes around four months to actually produce," said Lawhorne. Legally he can't sell the tomatoes after he's profited $5,000 because he still isn't certified as an organic farmer.

WAFF 48 News did some digging and found an arrest out of Limestone County for a fugitive of justice warrant under Lawhorne. Lawhorne confirmed what court documents state, he faced a forgery charge in Tennessee. "I was not guilty of that," added Lawhorne.

WAFF's background check also led us to other companies. Lawhorne is listed as the CEO of MacaRosea, a dietary supplement company. He was also a part of ARC Bunkers, a company geared toward doomsday prep to build underground bunkers.

Cypress Creek Farms is waiting to be approved by the USDA to be organic certified.

Lawhorne canceled a scheduled on-camera interview Thursday. It has been rescheduled for Tuesday.

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