50 Years of ‘Growing Goodness’

Throughout its 50-year history, Alsum Farms & Produce, Friesland, WI, reinvested in the business to innovate its farming operation and packing shed, including this 1985 expansion.
Originally printed in the october 2023 issue of Produce Business.

The story of Alsum Farms & Produce Inc., in Friesland, WI, began five decades ago, in 1973, in a 600-square-foot potato shed, with one man, Glenn Alsum, one vision, and a work ethic framed by dedication and service.

Today, Alsum Farms & Produce Inc. is a vertically integrated, family-owned farm, packing facility and logistics company. A leading fresh market grower, packer and shipper of potatoes, onions, and provider of fresh, quality produce, Alsum Farms grows 3,000 acres of Wisconsin Healthy Grown Certified Alsum potatoes along with pumpkins. From that lone potato shed in 1973, there are now 350,000 square feet of packing shed and production space, almost 325 full-time and seasonal employees, and 200,000,000 pounds of potatoes sold annually. Alsum ships potatoes and onions to many of the nation’s largest retailers, such as Aldi, Costco, Hy-Vee, Meijer, Piggly Wiggly, Walmart, Woodman’s, Whole Foods and dozens of others.

The first employees of Glenn Alsum Produce, founded 50 years ago, were Glenn’s mother, Lois Alsum (center), and sisters Cindy DeVries and Shelley Wiersma.

As time ticks by, the mission, vision and values haven’t changed, although the generations of leadership have. Since 1981, when Glenn was killed in a plane crash, Larry Alsum has been at the helm.

“When I first took over as general manager for Alsum, my day started out helping to load trucks, sweep the floor and organize inventory, and buy all the produce we needed — from potatoes, onions to all the fresh fruit and vegetables we bought and sold on a wholesale basis,” recalls Larry Alsum, current president and chief executive. “I assisted in calling customers and making a production plan of what we had to pack for the next day.”

“We were a small business with only about 12 employees, including our truck drivers and packing crew,” he adds. “As the business grew, we hired additional staff and we were able to specialize and develop our staff to take on more responsibility. One of the best parts of being in business is to see your staff grow and develop their talents to take the business to the next level.”

Today, Larry’s daughters, Wendy Alsum-Dykstra and Heidi Alsum-Randall, are poised to take over when Larry retires.

And that work ethic? It’s still framed by dedication, a commitment to service, and a belief in providing a field-to-fork, vertically integrated business approach that incorporates growing and harvesting, production, packaging and distribution — all under the umbrella of unrelenting quality.

Heidi and Wendy both agree vertical integration is a true differentiator for Alsum. Along with the 3,000 acres of land they cultivate, which accounts for half of their potato output, the company works with grower partners to pack and distribute Alsum’s remaining produce inventory, which strengthens the supply chain for all stakeholders and eliminates the risk of dependency on a single supply chain resource.

During a 50th anniversary celebration in August, President and Chief Executive Larry Alsum recognized founder Glenn Alsum’s family, including Glenn’s mother, Lois. She was the first employee of Glenn Alsum Produce, and worked for Alsum Produce for over 30 years.

In mid-August, Alsum Farms & Produce hosted a two-day 50th-anniversary celebration that welcomed more than 600 community enthusiasts, grower partners, customers and industry friends. As part of Alsum’s 50th-anniversary celebration, the sixth annual Tater Trot 5k run/walk hosted a record 140 runners and walkers, raising a record $14,000 to benefit seven Wisconsin FFA chapters.

“I have been blessed to have great people who work at Alsum, plus our suppliers and customers who make coming to work a pleasure every day,” says Larry Alsum.

At the end of the day, he adds, it’s all about “providing customers and consumers a quality potato product that nourishes their bodies and brings them back time and time again.”