At the Heart of It All

Published online: Dec 31, 2019 Articles, Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This article appears in the January 2019 issue of Potato Grower.

Michael Family Farms is located right in the kind of sweet spot that has the potential to make a lot of growers jealous. Urbana, Ohio, where the Michaels have farmed for four generations, is certainly rural enough to be considered a farm town. But crucial infrastructure and population centers are close enough to make getting products like potato to market a relatively simple matter: All of the Michaels’ considerable customer base is located within a five-and-a-half-hour driving radius of the farm.

“A successful operation in our area utilizes the unique strengths we have based on geographical location,” says Kyle Michael, who, along with his sister Kathy and their father Todd, co-owns and operates the farm. “This area is known as ‘the heart of it all,’ so properly leveraging infrastructure, people and sustainable farming practices sets operations up for success.”

Todd Michael and his wife Jill have for decades been active in the potato industry and helped to nurture a love for that industry in his children from a young age.

“Since before I could drive a go-kart, ride a bike, or even walk, I have been involved in farming,” says Kyle. “Feeding the world is a calling for all farmers, and it has always been my passion.”

In a region where the agricultural landscape is dominated by corn and soybeans, the Michaels’ success in the potato industry has always depended largely on their taking advantage of unique market efficiencies. During Todd’s early days in the business, the farm grew only round whites focused on seasonal marketing. The industry has obviously changed considerably in the ensuing years, and the Michaels have evolved accordingly—not only to survive, but to thrive.

Today, the Michaels grow early-season round white varieties (primarily Superior and Reba) on the home farm in Ohio, while their russet and yellow potatoes are grown on partner farms in nearby Indiana and Michigan. Whatever the times have called for, the Michaels have risen to the occasion while remaining true to their roots.

“We are constantly looking at different varieties and their performance in different soil types,” says Kyle.

In 2008, Michael Family Farms was instrumental in creating Fresh Solutions Network, a marketing group of like-minded family growers spanning coast to coast.

“Retailers want to reduce expenses by sourcing from single-point suppliers who carry a full line of potato products and provide innovative new products,” says Kyle. “Being a part of Fresh Solutions Network has allowed us to innovate new products to provide regional and national customers with locally grown potatoes, as well as to diversify our supply across the country.”

Among those innovations is Fresh Solutions’ Side Delights brand, a complete line of potato offering from traditional 10-pound bags of russets to a very popular convenience line dubbed Steamables. In a year like 2019, which proved a difficult one for many growers across the country due to unfavorable weather, Kyle Michael says it has been important for his family’s business to be a part of an entity that has multiple locations and is therefore still able to cover customers’ needs on a consistent basis.

Of course, the heart of Michael Family Farms is a lot more than just a great location or a willingness to evolve as a company. It goes even deeper than the sincere and earnest business partnerships they’ve formed.  

“Our philosophy is driven by putting family first,” says Kyle. “After that, we’re committed to growing the business, sustainable cropping practices, and delivering complete service to our customers. Being able to apply both our passion and our education together to grow the business and feed the world is extremely fulfilling.”

Suffice it to say, the Michaels really have found a sweet spot.