Mars Hill families receive Maine Potato Board honor

15 years ago
Staff photo/Scott Mitchell Johnson

    THE MAINE POTATO BOARD recently announced the recipient of the 2009 Farm Family of the Year, bestowing the honor to the families of Ward McLaughlin and Trent Lundeen of West Ridge Farms in Mars Hill.

Together, brothers-in-law McLaughlin and Lundeen farm approximately 900 acres of potatoes and 900 acres of small grain. Pictured with one of the farm tractors are, from left: Garth Lundeen, Trent’s father; Trent Lundeen, Ward McLaughlin and his two sons, Logan and Taylor. The McLaughlin and Lundeen family will be honored at the Maine Potato Board’s annual Industry Dinner Friday, July 17 at the Fort Fairfield Community Center during the Maine Potato Blossom Festival.

By Scott Mitchell Johnson
Staff Writer

    MARS HILL – The families of Ward McLaughlin and Trent Lundeen, brothers-in-law who together own and operate West Ride Farms in Mars Hill, were recently named the Maine Potato Board’s 2009 Farm Family of the Year.
    “I was shocked [when I first heard the news about the award],” said McLaughlin. “With all the farm families that are out there – and there are some really good ones – it was quite a surprise to be chosen.”
    “It’s definitely an honor,” Lundeen said. “We’ve done this for a long time and it’s nice to be recognized for your efforts.”
    McLaughlin grew up farming in Mapleton until his father, Roger, passed away when McLaughlin was just 15 years old. His mother sold the farm, and McLaughlin never dreamed he’d have the opportunity to farm again. That all changed when he met his wife, Stephanie, and was invited to farm along with her family – the Lundeens.
    Today, 25 years later, McLaughlin manages West Ridge Farms with Trent, a sixth generation farmer. Both men are quick to point out, however, that it’s more than just a two-person job. First, there’s the rest of the family: parents Garth and Jackie Lundeen, wives Stephanie McLaughlin and Kelly Lundeen, and their five children, all of whom play critical roles in the farm’s success.
    Then, there’s the greater farming and business community.
    “Farming involves working with a lot of people, from agronomists and field reps to suppliers and bankers, ” said McLaughlin. “We rely on a lot of people to gather information and to make smart decisions. It’s how we survive the ups and downs of agriculture.”
    McLaughlin acknowledges that potato farming has changed a lot during his lifetime, especially during the past 15 years.
    “Farming is not just sitting in a tractor, it’s working in an office,” he said. “There’s a lot to manage, and a lot of planning, skill, and collaboration is required these days.”
    Lundeen agreed.
    “When I started 26 years ago, farming was simple. We planted, harvested, and marketed,” he said. “Today, everything is computerized. Our storage facilities are controlled and cost millions of dollars, not thousands like back in the day. Everything is cutting edge, and there’s no room for error.
    “There’s also a huge focus on volume,” said Lundeen. “I used to farm 50 acres and make a living. Now we farm approximately 900 acres of potatoes and 900 acres of small grain.”
    What hasn’t changed, and perhaps what McLaughlin and Lundeen love most, is family working side by side with a common purpose. McLaughlin still thinks back to when he farmed alongside his father and grandfather. He also looks ahead to the day his son(s) carry on his legacy.
    “It’s tough to keep going with the cost of expenses rising the way they are,” said McLaughlin, “but we like working together as a family … it’s why we keep doing what we do. My oldest son, Taylor, started back working with us in January, and he started to grow a few potatoes this spring. It looks like he wants to keep it going. With my youngest one, Logan, we’ll see as time goes on. Taylor will be the seventh generation to farm.”
    McLaughlin and Lundeen transitioned West Ridge Farms from tablestock potatoes to processing and chip stock in the early 1990s. Today, West Ridge Farms has contracts with Frito Lay, McCain Foods, and Naturally Potato. These contracts, to a great extent, underscore the farm’s success.
    “You have to market before you plant,” said Lundeen. “It can’t be the other way around.”
    Lundeen said he enjoys farming for a number of reasons.
    “I like being independent, and being able to raise a crop and market it. It’s a good way of life,” he said. “I also like being outside. I was on a tractor from the time I was probably 12 years old. I was driving a tractor way before I had a driver’s license. It’s something you’ve got to love doing, and I love it.”
    McLaughlin also loves what he does.
    “With farming, you’re not stuck at one thing all the time … there are a lot of different aspects,” he said. “We’ll load potatoes in the winter, but come spring, we’re planting. In the harvest we’re digging them up. There’s something different all the time, and the challenges that go with it. It’s pretty rewarding when it all works out.”
    Often joined by family, McLaughlin and Lundeen meet at least daily to discuss marketing and business overall. They make all decisions together, and hope to pass their work ethic, way of life, and the rewards derived from farming onto future generations.
    McLaughlin serves on the Agricultural Bargaining Council (ABC) and the Mars Hill Town Council. He has also served on the Maine Potato Board and the Potato Marketing Improvement Fund (PMIF) Board.
    Lundeen also serves on the ABC and closely follows the National Potato Council.
    The McLaughlin and Lundeen family will be honored at the Maine Potato Board’s annual Industry Dinner Friday, July 17 at the Fort Fairfield Community Center during the Maine Potato Blossom Festival. Social hour begins at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 per person and can only be purchased at the Maine Potato Board office, located at 744 Main St. in Presque Isle.