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President, Smith's Farm, Presque Isle
99 Fort Fairfield Road, Suite 1, Presque Isle
Employees: Maine in-season, 300; year-round, 25 full-time
Annual sales revenue: $30 million
Contact: (800) 393-9898
Growing fresh produce is a legacy six generations strong at Smith's Farm, and the future is bright looking toward the seventh.
That legacy is on Smith's Farm President Emily Smith's mind, even as she navigates the seemingly endless tasks involved in running a company that's a top player in Aroostook County's agricultural industry and has expanded to multiple joint farming ventures elsewhere around the country.
"I'm one of three people in the sixth generation involved now," says Smith. Her sister, Tara Smith Vighetti, directs marketing and sales and their cousin Zach Smith heads production. "Our job, in the sixth generation, is to take this business, grow it and make it stronger for the seventh generation."
Smith's Farm got its start in 1861. In 1888, the second generation began farming potatoes on a commercial scale. From the 1940s to 1990s, under the third and fourth generations' stewardship, the farm became one of Maine's largest, and first to implement consumer packaging and trucking to cities. In 1984, the fifth generation further innovated with broccoli production.
Since 1997, when Emily became a partner — followed by Zach in 2004 and Tara in 2012 —operations have greatly expanded in geography and products.
The company has expanded its growing operations into Florida, North Carolina and California, allowing the company to harvest produce year-round. Real-time shipping and product traceability programs were implemented in 2008.
While broccoli is a staple for the company, additional crops include cauliflower, lettuce, cabbage, bok choy, grain and barley. Today, the farm is the largest producer of broccoli and cauliflower on the East Coast, marketing under the Stag Brand. In 2014, Smith's completed a 100,000-square-foot renovation of its Westfield cooling-and-packing facility, installing the largest privately owned solar facility in Maine.
For Smith, the sixth generation's job of heading the farm was a no-brainer.
"I think everybody knew my cousin Zach and I were the ones coming back [after college]," she says. "We recruited my sister Tara to handle marketing because her background made her the perfect fit. The more family, the better."
Smith got her start picking potatoes at age 5.
"I was not the most productive, obviously, but I got to rise with the pickers and go to work," she says. "I was just happy to be out there with everybody."
She was 10 or 11 when the farm diversified into broccoli. She worked in the harvest crew, drove the tractor, cultivated and mowed. She did "all kinds of stuff. It was really fun," she says.
In high school she was active with Future Farmers of America, and continued to work at the farm while attending Northern Maine Community College. She transferred to California Polytechnic State University to study crop science and make connections with other growers. Returning to Maine, she jumped in as farm manager, then cooler manager, where she learned shipping and receiving. At the same time, she spearheaded human resources, managing the migrant labor crew — some have been with the farm nearly 30 years — and facilitating their travel to Smith's Farm sites around the country.
General management came naturally, after working every position over the years and learning how to fit all the pieces together.
"It's quite an opportunity to take over something that's been going on for so long," she says. "But with opportunity comes a lot of responsibility. I'm not sure this work ethic that we were born with is exactly healthy, but we certainly are driven."
That begs the question: How much time does she put in?
"In season, the work is hard to put down," she says. "There's bound to be some issues somewhere. If someone calls at 4 o'clock in morning looking for another truck to load produce out of the cooler, you find it. If you're flying crew across the country and somebody gets stuck, you fix it."
Today, farming around the country, "in season" means year-round. With the rest of the team, Smith's responsibilities include ensuring operations stay competitive by keeping up with technology that maximizes the potential of every acre and ensures fast market delivery. That's not easy in an industry that depends on the weather.
"There's always someone else knocking on your customer's door," she says. "We're farmers and we work hard, but we realize this operation isn't a given. You can't just be status quo. You've got to keep your eye out there for the next opportunity, whether it's a different crop or a new technology. But that's one of the cool aspects of being a generational farm. We've been told since we were kids that this is an opportunity and you grow it and leave it to the next generation better than you got it. The generation before was doing it for you, and you're doing it for the next. That's pretty strong for all of us."