Szawlowski Potato Farms: The Family that Grows Together, Succeeds Together

John Rupert Szawlowski founded Szawlowski Potato Farms Inc. (SWAZ) in 1910. Though the farm is now the largest in New England, it continues to be owned and operated by the Szawlowski family. The farm continues to uphold an unparalleled commitment to the health and wellness of each customer and the community as a whole today.

SWAZ works with producers across the country to ensure consistent, high-quality potatoes all year-round. SWAZ also believes in investing internally to ensure the long-term health of every potato producing field and with the technologies that make complete transparency and traceability possible.

“We have the manpower, the facilities and the technology to ensure our customers are always taken care of,” says Diane Szawlowski Mullins, head of marketing and public relations at SWAZ. Diane happens to be part of the fourth generation of Szawlowski family members working at the company, which is owned and operated by brothers and third-generation family members Frank, John, Chester and Stanley Szawlowski. They aren't alone: There are roughly 10 Szawlowski family members who continue to ensure SWAZ remains a family-farming operation.

SWAZ farms a variety of white, red, russet and gold potatoes over 2,500 acres in western Massachusetts and Connecticut, with headquarters and packing facilities in Hatfield, Mass. SWAZ has made great strides in recent years to invest in state-of-the-art equipment for its packing and cooling plant, enabling the team to pack any size of poly or paper bag in bulk sizes, cartons, truckloads or rail loads. In addition, the company also operates a fleet of four vehicles to ensure timely and expedient delivery.

The extra capabilities are critical since SWAZ annually averages over 6 million pounds of potatoes grown, packaged and sold to a variety of local restaurants and national retailers like Walmart Stores Inc. The packing facility’s state-of-the-art computerized packing equipment averages an output of 20 trailer loads of potatoes daily during harvest time.

Only the Best Will Do

SWAZ began packing potatoes from other farms in 1989, and now works with farmers in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, California, Arizona, Maine and Canada to ensure year-round supply to its clients. The company even maintains licensing to pack Idaho Potatoes as an out-of-state repacker to ensure overall satisfaction.

While the quality of its potatoes remains steadfast, the company continues to push for greater efficiencies in all aspects of its operations. SWAZ acquired 250 acres of additional farmland along the Connecticut River in 2011, which also included three potato storage facilities. This will enable the company to produce an earlier crop than typical.

The company also employs a full-time environmental safety supervisor dedicated to ensuring complete compliance with the industry’s most stringent food safety and traceability standards in both the fields and the packing facilities. SWAZ facilities are furthermore inspected by certified third-party inspectors at AIB International, which continually amends and updates its rating system to address the changing needs of highly specialized industries like potato farming.

“We’re also in the process of completing a major upgrade and expansion to our cooling storage facilities,” says Diane. The project is part of a larger effort SWAZ is undertaking to minimize its carbon footprint as boosting the efficiency of the cooling systems will have a great impact on SWAZ’s bottom line, considering the company’s cooling facility currently sprawls across 100,000 square feet.

Spectacular Spuds

The company also has installed solar panels atop two of SWAZ’s own buildings, which Diane estimates could generate up to 65 percent of the operation’s electrical needs. If successful, the solar panel installations could even be expanded over the years to generate additional revenue from selling the excess electricity back to the grid.

SWAZ prides itself on being a family company through and through. In honor of SWAZ’s centennial celebration in 2010, the company launched the Szawlowski Farms Agricultural Foundation, which offers scholarships to graduating high schools seniors in the immediate communities where SWAZ farms. Applicants must be accepted into either a two- or four-year university or vocational program to pursue an education in the field of agriculture. The company also celebrated with a private gathering at the family farm preceded by a parade down Main Street in Hatfield, Mass., to showcase the company’s selection of equipment.

It is not all fun and games in the potato business, though. The extreme weather patterns of recent years have presented SWAZ with much greater challenges than the economy. SWAZ lost over 200 acres of plantings in summer 2011 because of heavy rains and wind from Hurricane Irene. But no hurricane could make the SWAZ team lose hope, especially because of the tight-knit bond the company forges with all of its employees, blood relative or not. “We’re just a family-oriented company and we want to take care of our customers no matter what,” says Diane.

Frank Szawlowski and the three Szawlowski brothers continue to oversee the company’s operations, but as a true family-oriented company it’s no surprise that the plan will be to continue growing. SWAZ will continue to boast a reputation for the younger generations to uphold. In the process Szawlowski Potato Farms Inc. will continue a 102-year-old tradition of growth by pursuing what’s best for the community, the family and the industry.