Broccoli is the bread and butter at Smith's Farm in Maine
by John Groh | August 30, 2010
When a company has been involved in farming for more than 150 years, it's
safe to say that the decades of experience bring expertise and passion that
can be matched by few others.
Such is the case at Smith’s Farm, a Presque Isle, ME-based broccoli and
potato grower-shipper that traces its farming roots back to 1859. With the
fifth and sixth generations of the Smith family now running the business,
Smith’s Farm brings an ideal mix of time-tested experience and forward-
thinking enthusiasm to producing its crops.
Broccoli is the primary commodity grown at the Maine operation of Smith’s
Farm (the firm has a farming operation in Hastings, FL, which also grows
broccoli and potatoes), but that has not always been the case. When Oliver
Carpenter Smith and his wife, Isabella, first arrived in Mars Hill, ME, in 1859,
their foray into farming involved potatoes, which the family first produced on
a commercial scale in 1888.
In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s that fifth-generation family members Lance
Smith and Greg Smith, who are cousins, first introduced broccoli onto the
scene at Smith’s Farm, and then only in a limited fashion, with 50,000 cases
In the 20-plus years that have since passed, Smith’s Farm has become a
leading shipper of the commodity on the East Coast. At its Maine location,
between 3,500 and 4,000 acres are in production, yielding 1.3 million to 1.5
million cases during the July-through-October season. In Florida, another
1,000 acres are devoted to broccoli, which is available from December
Broccoli from both locations is marketed under the "Stag" brand and is
available in iced, iceless and shrink-wrapped options in 14- and 18-count
bunches, as well as crowns, Asian crowns and florets.
Smith’s Farm has had its ups and downs with broccoli this season.
“It was an early spring, so we were harvesting the first week of July, which is
earlier than ever before,” said Tara Smith-Vighetti, a member of the family’s
sixth generation, who is director of marketing for Smith’s Farm and its sales
arm, H. Smith Packing Corp.
Maine product is in direct competition with California during the summer
months. What’s more, lower demand on both the foodservice and retail fronts
due to the down economy left more product on the open market, which kept
early-season prices modest at best.
“And California has a much higher yield per acre than Maine — maybe 40
percent higher — so our growing costs are much higher as a result,” said Ms.
But Smith’s Farm offers distinct advantages over California product, not the
least of which is its proximity to its customers.
“We sell direct to almost every major chain east of the Mississippi River,” said
Ms. Smith-Vighetti, who works from the company’s Florida location. “We can
have product in a store in two days versus five days for product from
California. That gives our customers a big advantage for freshness and shelf
The close proximity also offers customers a huge savings on freight, she
High quality and strong volume ushered in the Maine broccoli deal this
summer, but the extreme heat wave that gripped much of the Eastern
Seaboard in mid-July slowed things down a bit.
“Broccoli likes cool nights and warm days,” Ms. Smith-Vighetti said Aug. 19.
“Now that we are in that pattern again, volume is exploding and quality is
outstanding. Fresh, local and all-natural from one of the most pristine
environments — that is what we are promoting.”
While Ms. Smith-Vighetti monitors the sales and marketing end of the
business, two other members of the sixth generation play key roles on the
production side. Her sister, Emily Smith, and cousin, Zachary Smith, are
owners and partners in the operation. While they wear many different hats at
the family-owned business, their key responsibilities include maximizing
yields and developing new varieties through trials, which number nearly 100
In any given year, there are between 15 and 20 varieties planted for
commercial production. Those varieties are selected based on how they meet
optimum outcomes in various weather conditions as well as how they meet
“Many retailers have expanded their broccoli specs beyond the typical U.S.
Department of Agriculture requirements, which makes variety and lot
selection key to meeting customer needs,” said Ms. Smith-Vighetti. “Emily and
her field managers choose which lots to cut when and for what customer
based on their individual requests.”
Food safety and traceability are also priorities for Smith’s Farm.
“We are third-party audited by Primus, which covers everything from the
harvest crews to the packing and cooling facility,” she said. “We are also
audited by USDA for our Good Agricultural Practices, which are headed by
Regarding the Produce Traceability Initiative, Ms. Smith-Vighetti said that
Smith’s Farm has made major investments toward being compliant and is on
schedule to meet the PTI milestones.
Compared to her sixth-generation counterparts, Ms. Smith-Vighetti was a
late-comer to the business. She graduated from the University of
Massachusetts and then earned an MBA and master’s degree in accounting
from Northeastern University in Boston prior to working as an auditor.
“Emily and Zach were born to do this,” said Ms. Smith-Vighetti. “They have
been into it their entire lives. For as long as I can remember, Emily and Zach
have been involved in all parts of the operation. Everyone knew that after they
finished college, they would return home to farm.”
The lure of family ties brought Ms. Smith-Vighetti to Smith’s Farm in 2004,
and her outgoing personality made her a perfect fit to head marketing efforts
for Smith’s Farm and H. Smith Packing Corp.
“One of the reasons we are so successful is because our family has been able
to work so well together,” Ms. Smith-Vighetti said. “Transferring assets as
well as responsibilities between the generations can be a challenge, but it
works because we respect their experience and wisdom and what they built,
and they respect our passion and what we bring with technology and new