The Network

Massachusetts-based Cambridge Farms’ distribution channel on the East Coast is built on integrity and quality.

Published online: Feb 09, 2019 Articles, Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This article appears in the February 2019 issue of Potato Grower.
Photos courtesy Kenneth Gad

Ken Gad is not a farmer; he refuses to give himself that much credit. But a lot of growers up and down the Eastern Seaboard—and elsewhere—wouldn’t be the success stories they are without the help of Cambridge Farms, the potato brokerage company Gad co-founded in 1983. He’s business-minded, decisive and quick on his feet, but personable, genuine and completely honest about who he is and what he does.

When asked what his agricultural background was when he signed on with the new company 36 years ago, Gad laughs self-deprecatingly. “Well, I could ride a horse and drive a tractor,” he says. “I grew up in the Midwest on, for lack of a better term, a play farm. I’m not going to say I had a farming background, but I had a good business background.”

That business background has blossomed into a substantial network of growers, packers, shippers and retailers from Prince Edward Island to Florida. Connections in Idaho, Colorado, California and the Midwest have further strengthened that network. Cambridge Farms has grown from a seasonal combination broker-shipper based in a warehouse outside Boston to one of the premier national and international resources for its marketing partners in the produce industry. That’s the terminology Cambridge Farms uses when referring to what others might call clients or customers: marketing partners.

“I hate to use the monikers ‘buyer’ and ‘vendor’ and ‘seller,’” says Gad. “That inherently sets up an adversarial relationship. Our goal is to create continuity of supply. We like to create a scenario for the farmer to win, for us to win, for the retailer to win, and for the consumer to win. If you set it up as buyer/vendor, it feels like one has to win and one has to lose. But if we set it up as marketing partnerships, we create a win-win-win.”  

Gad isn’t just blowing smoke, either. In the course of our conversation, he repeatedly refers to different growers as “one of our partners” without even thinking about it. He even interrupts the interview to take a call from one of those partners in North Dakota, illustrating the very point he’s been making about treating them the right way.

It’s difficult to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg, but as those personal relationships have matured, so too has Cambridge Farms’ business plan. In fact, several of Cambridge’s growers trust Gad and his team to such an extent that Cambridge now has management and financial input in their operations. Gad himself has spent more than a dozen summers away from home on farms in Virginia, Delaware and Florida.   

“Being on location lends us greater legitimacy,” he says. “There are all sorts of issues a grower has to deal with, and being there with them gives us a better understanding of what it takes to get the right product and to take care of our partners.”

If all goes to plan, Gad’s son Jay, who has been at Cambridge Farms for the last five years, will head out this coming grower season to spend it consulting face to face with growers, on the very ground Cambridge’s Patriot Brand potatoes comes from.

“We want to let our growers know, ‘We’re here with you,’” Gad says. “We’re going to put our hands in the dirt and on the packing line with our grower partners to make sure our customers get what they need and our growers get the return they deserve for the work they’re putting in.”

Dedication to people. That’s what has helped Cambridge Farms evolve into the force it is today for potato supply up and down the East Coast.

“There’s more to this business than just hanging up the phone and saying, ‘There’s another few hundred bucks in my pocket,” Gad says. “If that’s what you worry about in this business, you’re going to go out of business.”

If he’s right, Cambridge Farms should be in business for a very, very long time.