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The potato has sustained this Ohio farm for four generations
 
By Doug Graves
Ohio Correspondent

URBANA, Ohio – The next time you feast on a loaded baked potato, don’t automatically credit Idaho. That potato could have been grown in Ohio.
Michael Family Farms is a fourth-generation family potato business on 3,000 acres of naturally rich soil in Urbana in the Ohio Central Valley. It grew from a tiny farm in 1958, when Doug and Phyllis Michael began growing white varieties of potatoes and sold them seasonally. Today, Michael Family Farms sells over 30 different types of potatoes year-round.
Doug and Phyllis eventually turned over the potato side of the business to their son, Todd Michael, and his wife, Jill. Todd received his bachelor of science degree in agricultural business and vegetable production from The Ohio State University. He’s an award-winning grower, having won the American Vegetable Grower Achievement Award, Environmental Stewardship Award and three Golden Potato Awards, just to name a few. Todd has served as the president of the National Potato Council and the Ohio Potato Growers Association.
Today, their four children, Kathy, Kyle, Kurt and Scott, have taken the reins of the operation. Kathy and Kyle operate the potato portion of the farm, under the name Michael Family Farms. Scott and Kurt manage the portion of the farm that grows sweet corn, green beans and cabbage, under the name Michael Farms Inc. However, it’s the potato that first put this family farm on the map.
“There are some growers who grow potatoes in the state, and they’re in pockets in the northwest and north central part of Ohio, but they’re for chippers for potato chips,” Kathy said. “There are some soils in this state which are conducive to growing potatoes, where they thrive very well. Soil and drainage capability are so important when growing the potato. Potatoes don’t like heavy soils, like the ones used in growing field corn. There’s simply not as many large potato growers in the state as there used to be.”
Kyle, an OSU alum, is an alumnus of the Potato Industry Leadership Institute and is currently a Potatoes USA Board member. He is a co-owner of Michael Family Farms and manages all growing operations.
Kathy, also an Ohio State alum, worked for John Deere before turning to the family business. She served as a Potatoes USA balloon ambassador for the Healthy Mr. Potato Head balloon in the 2006 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. She is co-owner of Michael Family Farms and manages sales, marketing and administrative operations.
After years of outside industry experience, both Kathy and Kyle were able to come back to their true passion – continue growing the family potato business.
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 family grew only round whites focused on seasonal marketing. The industry has obviously changed considerably in the ensuring years, and the Michaels have evolved accordingly.
“We’re at the heart of it all. We’re close to where a lot of the population is and people don’t want their food coming from across the country,” Kyle said. “It all starts with the seed. On our home farm, we grow round white potatoes and red potatoes. Our soil conditions and weather patterns prove well for these varieties. Our family history is also rooted in the round white potato. Our russet and yellow potatoes are grown at our partner farms in nearby Indiana and Michigan. All the potatoes are transported to our centrally located state-of-the-art shed to be washed, packed and loaded.”
All of Michaels’ considerable customer base is located within a five-and-a-half-hour driving radius from the farm.
Knowing they needed to continue to innovate, the Michaels created a national marketing group called Fresh Solutions Network with seven other like-minded family growers.
“Retailers want to reduce expenses by sourcing from single-point suppliers who carry a full line of potato products and provide innovative new products,” Kyle said. “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 offerings from traditional 10-pound bags of russets to a very popular convenience line dubbed Steamables.
Scott and Kurt both hold agriculture production degrees from OSU.
“We’re a family operation,” Scott said. “My brother, Kurt, is our COO, and my son, Josh, helps with today’s extra demands like communication, information and logistics. We have a number of special connections with other family members, too.”
Michael Farms employs as many as 120 workers during the harvest season.
Michael Farms’ ability to stay true to its core values, while adapting to contemporary demands, is a balancing act that continues to drive the company’s longevity and growth.
“I don’t know that we’re driving what’s preferred in the market, but we’re reacting to it,” Scott said. “Every time we’ve seen a new trend, we’ve embraced it, and sure enough, we’ve got more business than we used to as a result.”
“Since before I could drive a go-kart, ride a bike or even walk, I have been involved in farming,” Kyle said. “Feeding the world is a calling for all farmers, and it has always been my passion. Our philosophy is driven by putting family first. 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.”
10/2/2023