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The legacy and success behind Smith's Farm in Aroostook County

The sixth-generation family farm is the number one exporter of broccoli and cauliflower east of the Mississippi River.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine โ€” Smith's Farm goes back five generations of growing and harvesting potatoes. The sixth generation shifted the farm's operation from potatoes to broccoli and, most recently, cauliflower.

"I am one of six generations on the farm," Emily Smith said. She's the current president of the farm and handles everything from seed to sale in Presque Isle, year-round.

Throughout the decades, the farm has grown to 4,000 acres.

"This land is our livelihood," Emily stated. "And with great opportunity comes great responsibility."

This past fall harvest season, Smith's Farm had more than 280 migrant workers, mostly from Mexico and El Salvador, who each season are in charge of picking, packing, and storing up the cauliflower and broccoli.

"I've been here working the fields for 13 seasons. What does this job mean to you? I like the job, I live from this job," Alvaro Lopez from Mexico said.

Emily Smith said migrant workers are the backbone of the company and, without them, Smith's Farm wouldn't exist.

"They are making the decision on the front line here in the field; how that broccoli is packed and for what customer," she said of the workers.

She explained that the broccoli and cauliflower plants are grown specifically for clients based on their specifications.

"We are selling to almost every major chain store east of the Mississippi, and if we are not, we want to," Emily said. "We are cutting today, what's going to be in the markets tomorrow."

Emily said they control everything from seed to sale, a factor that makes them stand out from the rest.

"All those things play into having a good crop," the president explained.

During the 2023 harvest season, Smith's Farm shipped 25,000 to 30,000 boxes like these every day, which means the farm packed more than 1.5 million boxes of broccoli and cauliflower during the course of the year.

"The work that goes into getting this food on the table, every head cut by hand," Emily said. "Cauliflower, if it sees the sun once head formation, then it will turn yellow, so we have to bundle up the leaves and tie them with rubber bands."

Workers treat each head as if they were handling eggs to avoid any bruising.
This is something the Smiths learned through trial and error when they recently began growing cauliflower.

"It took quite a few years and actually quite a few tries. We would try and fail and try and fail and then wait a few years, and then try and fail," Emily explained.

Now, they've got it down to a science.

"When my great great grandfather came up here, cleared land, and started farming, it was a generational thing. We just stayed doing it," Lance Smith said. "It's gotten big in a generation. I say some days we've created a monster,"

Lance Smith is Emily's father. He used to have the job she holds now. Now, he is chairman of the board.

"I've spent my lifetime doing it," Lance said. "There is nothing easy about farming. There is lots of risk, and it's a lot of hard work."

Lance explained that it has gotten even harder thanks to rising costs of fuel, packaging, labor, equipment, and more.

"You make money, the first thing you have to do is pay your taxes. Then you have to replace equipment, you have to improve your infrastructure, do any capital expenditures that you need, and then what you have left, you can think about your own retirement," Lance said.

Competition is always one of their biggest challenges.

"We have a lot of competition, more all the time. When we started, our competition was in California and we were on the East Coast. It was a huge advantage," he explained. "Now, a lot of our competition is in Canada or Mexico. Their labor costs are less. Their growing costs are less, and they have an exchange on a dollar that gives them a lot of advantage."

Lance's 14-year-old grandson and Emily's son, Lane Carmichael, is learning the ropes.

"Drive forklift, help the guys up here on the pad, load trucks, load boxes into the trucks that go to the field, sort palettes....," Lane said of the tasks he helps out with.

"If he decides he wants to do this after college, that would be seventh generation," Lance said with a smile on his face.

"Everyone here, they come to work every day. It's about integrity. Get up, go to work every day, work hard, and each and every guy works together," Lane said.

"Well I think the key to success probably for a business like this or any business is hard work, and trying to make smart decisions," Lance added. "We've grown this business in the last 30, 40 years in a big way."

"I'm really happy to be able to supply the East Coast with broccoli and cauliflower all summer long and all year long as we move down the coast," Emily said.

Click here to learn more details about Smith's Farm.

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