A Century of Success

LaJoie Growers LLC of Van Buren, Maine

Published in the May 2015 Issue Published online: May 30, 2015 Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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The LaJoie family has always been farmers—at least for as many generations as anyone cares to mention. But they haven’t always grown potatoes in northern Maine; that’s only been going on for a mere 115 years or so.

“I attribute a lot of our success today to earlier generations of my family,” says Jay LaJoie, who represents the fifth generation of LaJoies to work the original farm in Van Buren, Maine. “My family has always had that hard work ethic; I was brought up with it.” 

That work ethic has driven the growth of what today at 1,300-acre operation, 500 acres of which are dedicated to as many as seven varieties of potatoes. About half of those potatoes in a given year will go to the chipping sector, with about 20 percent going to both the fresh and processing markets. The remaining 10 percent of the LaJoies’ potato crop is seed, the majority of which goes back into their own operation.

In 2007 the family organized the farm into an LLC. The organization now consists of four joint owners—Jay LaJoie, who acts as secretary/treasurer and farm manager; his father, Gil, who serves as vice president; Gil’s brother Dominic, president of the company; and a cousin, Lucas, who manages the processing sector of the business. “What’s nice about our operation is that everyone has their own expertise,” says Jay LaJoie.

The LaJoies have never shied away from changing things up if they felt it would benefit their operation. “Over the years our markets have really diversified,” says Jay. Indeed, over the years the LaJoies’ potato operation has gone from being primarily a producer of table stock to a farm that produces for every sector of the industry. Table beets are also a big part of the farm, and vegetables such as carrots and cabbage have been known to make an appearance as well.

“There seems to be a growing demand for colored varieties,” says Jay, noting that blue potatoes are a major source of income. “We’re also seeing more requests for small packages of seed—50-pound bags, garden orders. We even work with some mail-order magazines who market smaller orders of those specialty varieties.”

Jay has led the farm’s effort in recent years to promote and increase soil health, experimenting with different rotations and cover crops, mostly green manures. The LaJoies begin harvesting an early crop of potatoes in early August, so there’s a big push to cover that potato ground as soon as possible to help it establish root systems and protect against erosion. They keep meticulous records to determine which cover crops and/or traditional methods work best in which fields and with which crops.

The LaJoies have always seen value in having a voice in the industry and being involved in their community. Currently, Jay serves on the administrative committee of the U.S. Potato Board. Dominic has served on the Maine Potato Board and currently sits on the executive committee of the National Potato Council.

“The way I was brought up, my family was very much involved in the community and the industry as well,” says Jay. “We really have a passion to see our local community and region succeed in agriculture, and the industry on a national level as well. It’s definitely a contributing factor to our own success when we can stay in tune and network with other growers around the nation to develop relationships and be aware of what other regions are struggling with, and making them aware of what we’re struggling with.”

The LaJoies also host antique tractor pulls every summer in Van Buren and have put together a small ag heritage museum at the entrance of their packing facility. It’s all an effort to promote not only their own farm, but the lifestyle agriculture in northern Maine has afforded them and for which they are grateful. “They’re just small things,” says Jay, “but we always try to do what we can for our community.

“My uncle, my father and my grandfather—who passed away a couple years ago—have all been a big part of demonstrating a passion for agriculture and teaching farming practices,” Jay continues. “I guess that’s what I attribute most of our success to: what they’ve given us in the past. Now it’s up to us to take what they’ve taught us and run with it.”