Smith’s Farm Inc.: Growing a Wholesome Legacy
Smith’s Farm Inc. (Smith’s Farm), located in Presque Isle, Maine, is a family-owned and -operated company that has been dedicated to producing fresh broccoli, potatoes and grain for over 150 years. What has assured the company’s success for over a century-and-a-half is that the promise of healthier produce begins with a healthier attitude.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on doing things the right way rather than the easy way,” says Emily Smith, a partner/part owner at Smith’s Farm. “Our strength as a company is that we’re six-generations strong and we can build on what each generation has done for the next generation.”
A Crowning Achievement in Modernized Cultivation
Though broccoli has only taken the chief acreage at Smith’s Farm for the past 20 years, the fiber- and nutrient-rich crop has proven an incredible success. Smith’s Farm is currently the largest broccoli grower on the East Coast, offering its highest quality product at the greatest value to chain stores. Sold under the Stag brand, the broccoli is available as iced, iceless or shrink-wrapped, in 14-count or 18-count bunches, as crowns, Asian crowns or florets. Smith’s Farm collaborates with Smith’s Truck Brokerage, which assures broccoli can go from field to shelf within one to three days (depending on market), guaranteeing the freshest product, as fresher is healthier. The company maintains a full-time staff of 25, and can have up to 250 employees in season. The northern Maine farm supplies most major retailers east of the Mississippi River through its sales-and-marketing arm, H. Smith Packing Corp.
“Americans are taking a proactive approach to living healthier lives, and that helps to promote our product in the marketplace as a whole, because broccoli can play a great part in wholesome living,” explains Emily. “To meet demand we grow approximately 4,000 to 6,000 acres in Maine to harvest July through October. The way we operate is healthier for the environment, as well. We trade ground with different growers and do land rotation for conservation practices and environmental sustainability. To achieve a four-year rotation on our broccoli crop, we manage 14,000 to 20,000 acres of land.”
The relatively short growing season in northern Maine means that people understand the sense of urgency to get to the end result, and for this reason Smith’s Farms is always looking to implement efficiencies that allow the company to maximize the use of its acres. “One of the newer technologies is sub-inch GPS, which helps tractors basically steer themselves to assure the crop is more even and we’re getting all the yield we can,” reveals Emily.
Efforts at Smith’s Farm aren’t just dedicated to getting the most out of the fields, however. The company is even more dedicated to growing the best for its customers, and each year Smith’s Farm maintains test plots to determine the varieties of broccoli that will best suit the characteristics of specific chain stores request.
“Our trials are abundant,” says Emily. “At any one time we’re growing approximately 25 to 30 different varieties of broccoli, and we’ve got new seed varieties in the field so that all the different situations will come into play – weather, fertilizer, soil pH and nutrients, cultivation – and we can see what new and upcoming varieties are available. We have early weather trials, mid-season trials, late-weather trials, long row and short block trials. We want to be able to offer our valued customers the type of broccoli their customers want.
“The main thing is that many retail grocery chains have specs that go above and beyond what the USDA average spec for broccoli is, so we need to know what customers want – whether it’s color, stem size, bead size, the shape of the dome of the head,” continues Emily. “What consumers are telling the chain store they want is what they’re telling us the spec is, so we work to have varieties that can meet or exceed the customers’ demands. Whether people are buying a bunch of broccoli with stalks – the kind you see in the rubber band – or whether they’re buying a crown with just two fingers of stock, the specs and varieties for each of these is different so we change our varieties and outlook to meet demands. It’s a challenge, but I feel it gives it a little more personal touch that we know what a specific chain wants and we will grow specifically for them.”
On top of its harvest in Maine, Smith’s Farm also cultivates between 800 and 1,000 acres in Florida to allow little disruption in supply during the winter months. The Florida harvest from December to April allows select employees to migrate to the warmer climate and continue to work. The company is also experimenting with a cauliflower crop. Concurrently, Smith’s Farm still produces table stock and seed potatoes.
Seeding a Healthier Future
All company efforts are backed by a commitment to food safety, traceability and accountability. Smith’s Farm has third-party audits by Primus Labs to monitor everything from the harvest crews to the cooling/packing house, and the company is USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified. The company’s diligence has resulted in Smith’s Farm receiving numerous accolades, including the Maine Potato Board Farm Family of the Year, the Red Book Business Character Award, the Safeway Produce Superior Service Award, the Conservation Farm of the Year Award and the Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Potato Council and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s not that we’re doing a whole lot different, it’s just that everything now is more documented and there’s a lot of backtracking that can be done easily and fast in case of customer concern,” reflects Emily. We always say that nothing is impossible, impossible just takes a little longer, and thanks to our people and our local partners we can supply our customers without dropping the ball.”
Smith’s Farm ships out over 2 million cartons of the purest produce a year, aided by strategic partners and an overriding Mainer can-do attitude. The seventh generation of direct Smith descendants is only four years old, but they are already enthusiastic taste testers that love Smith’s Farm broccoli for its quality and consistency. Smith’s Farm operates with a thorough understanding of what Maine’s agricultural industry brings to the county, the state and countless communities. Drawing on and adding to a healthy heritage, Smith’s Farm Inc. will continue nourishing the Smith family’s contribution to the Eastern Seaboard’s economical and nutritional well-being.