2013 Grower Achievement Award Winner: Torrey Farms

Torrey Farms

Families stick together, through thick and thin, and the Torreys of Elba, NY, are a group that does just that. With roots that go back to the 1600s to the current family farm in Elba, the Torreys, this year’s Grower Achievement Award winner, never let a little hard work stand in their way.

Torrey Farms
At A Glance

Location: Elba, NY
Owners: John, Maureen, and Mark Torrey
Acreage and Crops Grown: 11,000-acre farm includes 7,000 acres of vegetables for fresh market and processing. The list includes beans, carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, onions, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, and sweet corn. The remaining acreage is dedicated to grain crops. The Torreys also operate a dairy farm that was purchased about 18 years ago.

Today, this family farm is a year-round vegetable producer/distributor. Through the years, acreage increased from 700 to 7,000. Tackling tough issues along the way, one of the owners, Maureen Torrey Marshall, a longtime ag advocate, has taken up topics such as immigration reform and the Farm Bill with Congress.

However, it is Charles Torrey, the father of the farm’s current owners — siblings John, Mark, and Maureen — who is credited with placing the farm on the course it is today. Charles started the operation in 1954 and had the foresight to look down the road to “see what we should be doing in the future,” explains Maureen.

A turning point occurred in the early ’80s after the farm began producing storage cabbage. When a freeze hit Florida and Texas in December of 1983, the Torreys, fortunately, had 4,000 tons of uncommitted storage cabbage, making them a go-to cabbage supplier. Maureen adds that the farm’s location in upstate New York puts them at a tremendous advantage as the operation is within 40% of the country’s population overnight.

Take Control

It also was in the early ’80s when the Torreys took over all aspects of their farm and catapulted from producing on 700 acres to 7,000. All the growing, packing, and shipping was done in-house, which was not the norm at the time.

About The Award

AMERICAN Vegetable Grower’s 12th annual Grower Achievement Award is slated to be presented at United Fresh’s Washington Public Policy Conference, which will be held Sept. 30 -Oct. 2 in Washington, DC. The award is synonomous with excellence, as recipients strive to produce high-quality produce while working for the good of the industry.

For more information about the conference,
go to www.unitedfresh.org.

Typically, back then growers were simply pro-ducing crops and having others pack and sell it, explains Maureen.
So how did they take the farm from 700 to 7,000 acres? Simply put, it took a lot of hard work. With Maureen handling the marketing and human resources aspects, and her brothers handling the growing and running the packing shed, coupled with the trios’ willingness to try new things, they were on a course to success.

“We aren’t afraid to try new varieties, and have always looked for what we can grow that is of good quality and volume that we have the packing facilities to manage,” says Maureen.

For example, they added green beans, yellow squash, and zucchini to their crop lineup, and in the ’90s onions became part of the list.

As Elba is known as the Onion Capital of the World, the operation had tried to grow onions in upland soils, but didn’t have much success. When they purchased some Elba muck land in 1992 — soil that is ideal for onion production — they became entrenched in the onion business. “Now we are shipping our stored onions 11 months a year,” she adds.

Lead The Labor Charge

No stranger to tackling tough issues or getting in front of an audience, Maureen delivered a statement to the Committee on Agriculture on the 2007 Farm Bill and has presented a couple of statements to Congress on the topic of immigration reform. As having enough labor has been a longtime concern, Maureen says for the last six years, the farm has used H-2A workers but adds that H-2A is merely a band-aid.

Last year, the operation lost 92 of its 100 employees who worked in the packing shed as the result of an I-9 audit. “So now we have new and inexperienced people, working on the packing line,” she explains. “The employees we lost averaged about 18 years of experience. Now we have to build it back up — from scratch.

“Labor is our No. 1 asset,” she continues. “We invest in [our employees]. We have a 401K program and we guarantee [employees] a 3% investment in profit sharing — many years as much as 15%. That includes all farm workers who worked 1,000 hours or more.”

 

On Top Of Food Safety

When the Food Safety Modernization Act became law in 2011, the Torreys were already prepared. Making sure the vegetables they produce are as safe as possible has always been a top priority of this New York farm. The operation is USDA GAP and GlobalGAP certified. “We have always been ahead of the food safety curve,” says Maureen.

For many years, the farm has worked with Betsy Bihn — a senior Extension associate in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University and program director of the Produce Safety Alliance — to stay current on food safety protocols. The biggest challenge in this area, adds Maureen, has occurred in the last couple of years, trying to educate some of their vendors on practical food safety practices.

Giving Back

Although the Torreys are not the type of people to tout their collective horn, this farm family has been a prominent member of the community, providing ample donations to food banks, monetary donations to various organizations, and has taken the reins in education programs — just to name a few activities.

Charles was instrumental in giving back to the community as he set up a fund before he passed away in 1989 to ensure money would be distributed on an annual basis to several organizations in Elba.

“These organizations have been receiving funds for nearly 25 years,” recalls Maureen. “Back then, we didn’t realize what an impact it would have on so many people. My brother, Mark, is president of the school board, and
I’m chairman of the board of trustees for the community college in our county. Our community is small but
we are very much a part of it.”

Maureen also is very active beyond the local community. Her resumé is quite extensive as she has been affiliated with numerous organizations including New York Federal Reserve Board, Erie Niagara Insurance Board of Directors, New York Farm Bureau, New York State Vegetable Growers Board of Directors — to name a couple of local organizations. She also is involved with United Fresh, the Produce Marketing Association, the USDA Fruit and Vegetable Advisory Committee, and National Council of Agricultural Employers. In fact, Maureen served as the 2006 United Fresh co-chairwoman.

The Farm’s Future

One of Maureen’s priorities, however, is the direction the farm will take when the 12th generation, Mark’s children, takes the reins. As quite a bit hinges on what happens with government policy, Maureen says she would like the group — Molly, Travis, Shannon, Jordyn, Lucas, Jed, and Maxwell — to enjoy the success she and her brothers have had over the years.

“If we can help shape and get the switch for action turned on and guide some of the government policies, the future will be awesome,” she concludes. “With the growing demand for food and having twice as many mouths to feed, we are fortunate that the U.S, has the most productive farmland in the world.”

 

 

Pages: 1 2

Topics: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “2013 Grower Achievement Award Winner: Torrey Farms

  1. On behalf of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, I offer hearty congratulations to Maureen and the entire Torrey Farms family. Also congratulations and thanks to United Fresh for making an excellent choice with this award. Maureen is a true national leader who steps-up to do what she can, with what she has, wherever she is not only for the betterment of her own business but for he betterment of all domestic producers. Frank Gasperini Executive VP/CEO National Council of Agricultural Employers

Farm Management Stories

CitrusGrowers Need To Take The Ball And Run — Now! [Opinion]
October 18, 2014
Help yourself, your farm, and fellow colleagues by becoming more involved in your industry. Read More
CitrusDiversification Is King For Small Farm’s Success
October 16, 2014
Being flexible and adapting to the times critical for Central Florida's Vo-LaSalle Farms. Read More
Farm ManagementVidalia Onion Committee Reaches Younger Audience with Digital Marketing Efforts
October 15, 2014
“V is for Vidalia” campaign focused on social and digital media outreach. Read More
Food SafetyCalifornia Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Revises Website To Provide Easy Access To Food Safety Topics
October 15, 2014
The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement's revised website provides food safety news and resources. Read More
CitrusUF/IFAS Joins In On Specialty Crop Block Grant Bonanza
October 15, 2014
Researchers partnering with FDACS and USDA on 24 separate projects to strengthen the produce market sector. Read More
Citrus2015 Florida Agricultural Hall Of Fame Inductees Announced
October 14, 2014
Six more to be honored for helping shape and influence the state’s farming industry. Read More
FruitsCornell University To Host Marketing Conference
October 9, 2014
Two-day event focuses on emerging markets, wholesaling, and ethics in agribusiness. Read More

The Latest

CitrusGrowers Need To Take The Ball And Run — Now! [Opi…
October 18, 2014
Help yourself, your farm, and fellow colleagues by becoming more involved in your industry. Read More
CitrusDiversification Is King For Small Farm’s Success
October 16, 2014
Being flexible and adapting to the times critical for Central Florida's Vo-LaSalle Farms. Read More
Farm ManagementVidalia Onion Committee Reaches Younger Audience with D…
October 15, 2014
“V is for Vidalia” campaign focused on social and digital media outreach. Read More
CitrusUF/IFAS Joins In On Specialty Crop Block Grant Bonanza
October 15, 2014
Researchers partnering with FDACS and USDA on 24 separate projects to strengthen the produce market sector. Read More
Citrus2015 Florida Agricultural Hall Of Fame Inductees Announ…
October 14, 2014
Six more to be honored for helping shape and influence the state’s farming industry. Read More
CitrusFarm Bureau Urges Senate To Ditch Proposed Water Rule
October 8, 2014
Farm Bureau says the time is now to have the proposed water rule withdrawn. Read More
Farm ManagementSpecialty Crop Producers Score Nearly $118 Million In G…
October 2, 2014
Via 2014 Farm Bill, USDA seeks to bolster major driver in U.S. economy.   Read More
BerriesReal Estate Firm, Wish Farms Strike Large Land Deal
October 1, 2014
$13.8 million transaction includes more than 800 acres acquired from longtime Central Florida produce operation. Read More
CitrusFarming Is Quite The Scary Prospect For Some [Opinion]
September 30, 2014
Florida Grower managing editor Paul Rusnak says economic realities might frighten off future leaders from noble professions. Read More
CitrusFlorida Announces Its 2014 Woman Of The Year In Agricul…
September 29, 2014
Longtime award recognizes women who have made outstanding contributions to the state’s farming sector. Read More
CitrusFlorida Produce Industry Embracing Progress, Confrontin…
September 29, 2014
Production pressures and politics hot topics at FFVA’s 71st Annual Convention. Read More
CitrusFlorida Farmers Finding Ways To Cultivate An Environmen…
September 26, 2014
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam salutes producers putting their best management practices forward. Read More
CitrusGrowers Should Partner Wisely To Stay Afloat Amid WOTUS…
September 26, 2014
According to Florida Grower editor Frank Giles, the Clean Water Act is muddying waters for farmers. Read More
Farm ManagementUSDA Takes Steps To Help Farmers Manage Risk
September 25, 2014
New programs offers farmers protection against price drops and additional unforeseen risks. Read More
CitrusFDA Announces Cooperative Agreement To Implement Nation…
September 17, 2014
Agreement will provide information to help plan and carry out the produce safety rule in partnership with state regulatory agencies. Read More
CitrusSouth Florida Wet Season Receives Slight Respite
September 9, 2014
Reports indicate most areas around the region received below average rainfall during August. Read More
Farm ManagementStay One Step Ahead Of Legal Challenges
September 8, 2014
Don’t get caught up in easily prevented legal troubles from a lack of planning. Read More
Farm ManagementWilbur-Ellis’ Updates AgVerdict Software After Grower…
September 8, 2014
Design made with growers in mind, allows on-the-go data entry. Read More