Two weeks ago, we received the bittersweet news that Peaslee’s Potatoes, one of our celebrated farm partners, is selling the farm. Peaslee’s leaves a 90-year legacy of selling potatoes grown in the Connecticut River Valley of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. We started working with Peaslee’s three years ago after our Scaling Up Forum, a Vermont First event focused on educating and connecting producers with our Vermont supply chain. At the time, Peaslee’s was in their third generation of ownership, and to their knowledge, the only female-owned potato farm in the country. They were looking to increase market share and were looking for new partnerships with Vermont businesses.
With Peaslee’s long history of selling to wholesale markets, putting the pieces together to buy from them was fairly straight-forward. We identified our potato usage by variety to inform their crop planning, and brought in our distributor, Black River Produce, who already carried Peaslee’s potatoes to help fulfill our statewide demand. In adding their products into distribution, Peaslee’s became available to many other Vermont food establishments, including the five Skinny Pancake restaurants throughout VT and western-NH. In addition to buying potatoes directly from Peaslee’s, the University of Vermont was looking for a fresh cut diced potato, as UVM didn’t have the time to process all of their potatoes in-house. The Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick, VT, made a diced potato for institutions, also sourcing their potatoes from Peaslee’s. We promoted our relationship with Peaslee’s at many regional and national conferences, and the relationship was featured in a Vermont Farm to Institution ‘Best Practice’ report in 2016. Over the years, Peaslee’s also became heavily involved in the food security movement with the Vermont Foodbank and Salvation Farms.
As Peaslee’s Vermont markets continued to grow, most people didn’t know that third generation owner Karen Guile-Caron was also the owner of an equine therapy business, Stable Connections. While running two businesses is no surprise to most Vermonters living in rural areas, that doesn’t make the task any easier. In addition to running her own business, with the combination of not having a 4th generation transition option while also looking out for her mother’s best interest, Karen knew she had a tough decision on the horizon. “Selling to Sodexo and the Vermont Food Venture Center [in Hardwick, VT] these past few years put us in the position of being able to sell the farm on our own terms,” shares Karen.
To honor her grandparents and her father Bert, Karen preserved the home farm of 64-acres of river-bottom land through the Vermont Land Trust, ensuring their family land will always stay part of Vermont’s working lands.
Succession planning can take many forms. For three generations, the Peaslee’s followed the more traditional path of the succession plan, passing the farm down from generation to generation. This succession takes a different approach, but ultimately keeps the land in production for a new farmer, and allows the family to pick the time for a graceful exit.
We could not be more grateful for our partnership with Peaslee Vermont Potatoes these past three years. There is no denying that this story is ridden with emotional undertones, but we honor the tough decision and celebrate the history of what the Peaslee’s have contributed to the state of Vermont for almost a century.