Matthews Ridgeview Farms

Putting the sweet in sweet potatoes
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

Matthews Ridgeview Farms (MRF) represents five generations of family farming. More than 100 years ago, Samuel Doke Matthews started out as a share-cropper, growing cotton in Arkansas for the state’s booming cotton industry. Over the years, the family has added commodities, particularly the sweet potatoes that have become the family’s main crop. Today, Samuel’s great-great-grandson, Terris, runs the operation with his wife, Kim Matthews, as well as the couple’s two daughters, Jaylie, 13 and Taycie, 11.

Terris and Kim set out on their own in 2006. The duo established their growing operation, MRF, based on a solid foundation of faith and family values. Daughters Jaylie and Taycie have grown up in the business. Their parents aim to instill the same sense for business and integrity in this fifth generation. Terris’ father, David Matthews, is on the farm every day at 73 years old, sharing his experience and expertise that will help the family carry on a legacy of farming.

The family farm

The Matthews family owns and leases approximately 4,000 acres of farmland dedicated to sweet potatoes and other commodities such as corn and soybeans. The team also has a sister company, Delta Blues Farms (Delta Blues), which Kim manages. Delta Blues boasts more than 500 acres of sweet potatoes.

“It gives us more products to be able to market,” Kim clarifies. “Delta Blues is operated out of a facility we lease from a nonprofit organization. We offer storage, packing and marketing for other growers. We became involved with the nonprofit through our former secretary of agriculture in 2009.”

The process of growing sweet potatoes has been passed down from generation to generation in the Matthews family. “In order to achieve the best quality of sweet potato, we are hands-on during every stage of production,” Kim explains. “Our dedication and attention to details sets our sweet potatoes apart in both quality and flavor.”

Depending on the season, the company employs between 40 and 160 people. The crew performs every aspect of the process in-house from bedding to transplanting to harvesting.

Once the tasty root vegetables are out of the ground, MRF distributes to a diverse customer base. Clients include retailers and food service organizations for schools. Most products are sold in the United States with a concentration in Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and Michigan, as well as other central and southern states, depending on demand. MRF also exports product to Canada regularly and in the past has provided sweet potatoes and other products to customers in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Keeping it sweet

Despite a volatile commodities market, harsh weather patterns and the economic downturn, MRF has been doing quite well in recent years. Kim and Terris have taken on new opportunities to expand markets. As the business’ demographic grows, the facilities have had to keep up. The family purchased a facility in 2006 with 155,000 square feet of space for storage and packing. The Delta Blue facility offers 70,000 square feet, plus additional storage space.

Recently, the business updated its cooler systems. “Everything is climate-controlled and electronic,” Kim explains. “We have come a long way in the last three years.”

MRF has also branched into value-added products that better serve end users. “We now have our own bagged potatoes in 3- and 5-pound bags,” she notes. “We have microwaveable potatoes wrapped in plastic. Corn and soy beans now make up more than 60 percent of our crop rotation. We have around 1,000 acres of soy beans and 800 acres of corn.”

The team’s recent growth has not come without a unique set of challenges, though. “There are things as a business that we have had to address in recent years,” Kim notes. “Food safety regulations are constantly changing. We are also dealing with the Affordable Care Act. It seems the requirements change as fast as every day for migrant workers. This year, several growers seem to be planning a substantial increase in the sweet potato acreage, this makes for a volatile market situation in the fall. Right now the market is tight, but in the near future we will be dealing with more competition.”

To deal with these challenges, the MRF team maintains a positive attitude, geared toward service and relationships. The company works with select suppliers for netting, boxes, plastic containers and equipment. Quality, service and price are all factors Kim and Terris take into account when building relationships with suppliers and they assume the same qualities in order to serve the market well.

Furthermore, the company is affiliated with several organizations to build networks and seek out new opportunities, including Produce for Better Health Foundation, Global G.A.P., the U.S. Sweet Potato Council, the Produce Marketing Association and the Southeast Produce Council.

The family sees a lot of opportunity in the coming years. Kim and Terris are keeping close watch on regulations before making major moves. “Our focus as a family and as a business is to know and trust in the Lord,” Kim explains. “We trust Him and He will guide us. Communication has been our greatest asset in our business relationship and our marriage.” With a solid foundation of faith and experience, Matthews Ridgeview Farms is on a path of steady growth, providing quality agricultural products and services from the heartland.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Farm Credit Midsouth
Greenway Equipment
Hobbs Farm Equipment
Jimmy Sanders Inc.