Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

Healthy Grown Grower Spotlight: Alsum Farms and Produce

By Larry Alsum, Alsum Farms & Produce, Inc., President & CEO

Larry Alsum

Larry Alsum standing in Alsum Farms HG Prairie Restoration Project

When did you join the HG program?

Alsum Farms has been a part of the Healthy Grown (HG) program since its inception in 1996. We highlight the Healthy Grown Program and our commitment to sustainable farming in our marketing messages to customers. We have also utilized the Healthy Grown promotional and merchandising materials to help educate Wisconsin consumers and elevate sales at retail. There is a strong desire by the consumer to know who grows the food they eat and we have integrated this strategy into our brand. The Healthy Grown program has been the foundation of our stewardship and sustainability message to our customers, our associates and the communities that we farm and operate in.

Why did you decide to join the HG program?

When the Healthy Grown program started in 1996 we had only been farming for 5 years on our own, although we had been packing potatoes for 23 years. I was eager to learn about the Integrated Pest Management (IPM )concepts and the collaboration with UW-Extension. I feel that there is always room for improvement in everything we do and the HG program provided many new and progressive ideas about farming and the environment. The concept of collaborating with environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund and International Crane Foundation also gave us as potato growers a different perspective on the environment and how to proactively be involved in protecting and improving the world we live in. As farmers, we understand that the land we farm is the source of life, food, jobs and it is our responsibility and opportunity to preserve and care for the land and environment. I feel that farmers understand this better than anyone else.

Alsum Farms & Produce, Inc. and Alsum Farms, Inc. have made a commitment to be responsible in our growing and handling practices to produce the freshest quality potatoes while reducing our environmental footprint. We hill potatoes in rows to create the ideal growing environment. Our scout carefully inspects the fields and recommends the use of pesticides when necessary. When we do use crop protection products we spray low to the ground, making it safer for employees and as environmentally friendly as possible. Minimum tillage and soil conservation practices round out our commitment to the environment. We use irrigation only when necessary to conserve water. At our production facility, our water recycling program is an example of our commitment to the environment.

We are committed to applying the Healthy Grown practices on all of our acres grown on our farm. Alsum Farms is one of the original members of the group that created the Healthy Grown program and we strive to be a leader and encourage other Wisconsin farmers to adopt the HG program.

How much time do you spend on the program each year?

The time spent varies from year to year depending on what we are doing to manage our HG project. For 2018, we did a prescribed burn of both our prairie remnant project and our woodland restoration project. In addition we are reseeding our original prairie project so we will have over approx. 60-80 hours spent this year.

What is the “value-added” you see coming back to your farm and you as a grower?

The Healthy Grown Program brings awareness to what we as potato farmers do every day to be stewards of the land. This forward thinking marketing program creates a brand for eco-friendly Wisconsin grown potatoes and communicates our commitment to consumers they are getting a product that is grown in a sustainable manner.

Why would you encourage other potato/vegetable growers to become HG growers?

The HG program has expanded our knowledge of what wildlife and plant species exist on our property now and a better understanding of what we can do to work in harmony with nature. The HG program has become the framework for our stewardship and sustainability programs for Alsum.

What are some challenges you have experienced as a HG grower/with the program?

Time is always a challenge. As mentioned above, it does take a commitment to the program to manage the HG projects on our farm. There is also some recordkeeping and administrative time.

What do you think about expanding the HG program?

We have seen a modest increase in both the number of growers involved and the acres in the program. I feel that the increased interest by consumers and retailers wanting to understand where their food is coming from has caused growers to recognize that people want to know where their food is coming from and how it is grown and the impacts that we are having on the environment as the farmers that are growing the food. With less than 2% of the population engaged in agriculture production, there is a need to show consumers that farmers are taking care of the natural resources that we all enjoy. The Healthy Grown program has helped us as growers to learn about the environment, plant and animal life that is living around us and the impacts that we are having. I have learned so much more about the plants and animals that were native to Wisconsin and the benefits of protecting a healthy environment for them. One of the resources produced in 2016 was a handbook called: “Promoting Natural Landscapes: A Guide to Ecological Restoration and Practices for Wisconsin Farms”. This handbook is an excellent resource for growers to use to develop their HG restoration plan. I strongly recommend to other growers to consider the Healthy Grown Program as a learning process for improving their farm practices and in turn to promote the positive impact that our farms are having in our local communities.

If applicable, why do you think expanding the program is essential for the program itself as well as for Wisconsin potato growers?

Today’s consumers have a growing interest in locally grown produce and the Healthy Grown Program when promoted within Wisconsin or the Midwest can fit within this niche. Shoppers recognize Wisconsin locally grown potatoes at retail and it is a benefit that supports local farmers, communities and economies. Wisconsin potatoes are typically marketed heavily in the Midwest and East of the Mississippi to the east coast.

Larry Alsum 2

Larry Alsum scouting Potato Fields at Alsum Farms

Does expanding the program give the growers and the state a good image, and if so, how?

The Healthy Grown Program brings awareness to what we as potato farmers do every day to be stewards of the land. This forward thinking marketing program creates a brand for eco-friendly Wisconsin grown potatoes and communicates our commitment to consumers they are getting a product that is grown in a sustainable manner.

What advice do you have for growers not currently part of the program in encouraging them to participate?

The HG program is a collaboration between the grower and the UW Extension staff. We are fortunate to have a great relationship and partnership with the Extension staff and they provide excellent support and are always looking to improve our best practices as farmers and environmentalist

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