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Presque Isle’s Randy Leavitt wants to pass farming onto the sixth generation

Randy Leavitt may be Maine’s Young Farmer of the Year, but he comes from family that’s been growing potatoes for more than 100 years. Randy is the fifth generation of Leavitts to farm in Presque Isle, and even at 30 he’s not new to the potato business.

Leavitt started farming on his own at the age of 15, growing fresh potatoes on a five-acre plot. Even at that age he said he knew he wanted to be a potato farmer.

“I just always knew farming was what I wanted to do,” Leavitt said. “I take great pride in continuing my father’s hard work and success. And I hope this trickles down to my kids and grandkids for years to come.”

He now farms 2,500 acres in Limestone and Fort Fairfield with his wife Lori and 2-year-old son Landen. About 1,250 acres are dedicated to potatoes, and the other half is used to grow grains. About 90 percent of the Leavitt and Sons acreage is processing varieties – Russets and Shepody – and most of those go to McCain Foods. He was recognized in 2003 as one of McCain’s Top 10 Growers.

He credits the people around him, from his family to his employees, with his successes.

And he shares that success with the community. Every fall, the farm lets the local schools bring busloads of children out to see the potatoes in the field. It’s something they’ve done for more than 15 years, said Judy Leavitt, Randy’s mother. The kids are pre-kindergarten and first graders from the Limestone school district. Although it’s a rural school, she said many of the kids have never been on a farm. The fifth-generation potato farmers at Leavitt and Sons Farms have plenty of experience to share.

The kids get a tour of the farm, and Leavitt talks to them about farming and about potatoes. Then they get to pick a 10-pound sack of russet potatoes from a row that’s been windrowed. Judy said the kids enjoy picking their own potatoes so much they still clutch their bags when they get back on the bus.

“They’re excited about it,” she said. “They’re quite overwhelmed.”

Leavitt and Sons recently started growing about 100 acres of blue potatoes, which are used exclusively for potato chips. She’s also made a sign featuring Healthy Mr. Potato Head because she thought the kids might recognize it from the Macy’s Day Parade. There’s also a coloring sheet for the students, which they’ll be able to work on during a break that also features fresh apples from a nearby orchard.

While Leavitt said she hopes the children learned something, it’s worth it for them just to have fun on the farm.
“It’s just getting them out there and seeing the joy in their faces when they’re picking potatoes,” she said.

Randy feels strongly about supporting agriculture in the area. Not only do the growers provide valuable inputs to processors, but farmers also support the area with jobs and the related economic impacts. Maine has fewer than 400 potato growers that contribute $540 million in sales, more than 6,000 jobs, $230 million in personal income and $32 million in taxes to the state, according to the Maine Potato Board.

“Farming is important to Maine, especially northern Maine, because of the jobs,” he said. “It’s the biggest thing going up here. Not to mention what we do for the land and the fact that we help feed the nation.”

Leavitt has been a part of the Central Aroostook Young Farmers for nearly 10 years and is currently vice president of the organization. He’s also on his fourth year of serving on the Agricultural Bargaining Council and is involved with the Maine Potato Board.

Originally posted Wednesday, Apr. 8, 2009

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