Mid Isle Farms has brought passion to its potatoes for the last 40 years
In the early 1980s, seven farming families on Prince Edward Island banded together to help meet the growing demand for washed potatoes in the marketplace. Officially formed in 1982, Mid Isle Farms is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, with plans to continue modernizing its operations to provide top-quality product and service to its client base.
Andrew Costa, general manager of Mid Isle Farms, said the founding families — Dawson, Webster, Mulligan, MacDonald, Robinson, Mackay and Woods — are all still involved as owners of the co-op and have members that sit on the board of directors, some with second-generation representation.
“Mid Isle Farms is a co-op so we have the unique opportunity to receive product from a variety of growers,” said Costa. “In the early years, our product was entirely supplied by our owners. As the years have passed and our demand grew, we began to collaborate not only with our owners’ farms, but also independent growers too. We consider it a privilege that farms put their faith in us to store, wash, pack and move their potatoes into the fresh market.”
Costa said Mid Isle employs around 35 to 40 people given the season, and as general manager he reports directly to the board, while three individuals report directly to him: the director of food safety, the director of sales and marketing and the operations manager. Under each of those roles are supervisors, coordinators and production floor team members.
“While we all have different responsibilities, Mid Isle would not exist without everyone contributing,” he said. “Mid Isle is truly a team!”
Costa said when Mid Isle was founded in 1982, its mission was to bring the best Prince Edward Island potatoes, in the very best form, to consumers across North America, and the co-op has stayed true to that mission for the past four decades.
At the beginning, Mid Isle exclusively handled russet potatoes. But as consumer preferences evolved and colored potatoes grew in popularity, Mid Isle added those to its roster.
“Now, we have as many as 16 different potato varieties, including some reds and yellows, but we are still heavy to russets,” Costa said. “We do try to add new varieties every couple of years, and we conduct trials to see what works best and add those based on market demand and preference.”
Mid Isle Farms distributes potatoes coast-to-coast throughout Canada, directly servicing three of the top five national retailers. “And we have indirectly serviced the other two,” said Costa.
In the United States, product is distributed mostly on the Eastern Seaboard, with some occasional shipments to the Midwest. “But our key U.S. markets would be Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York,” he said.
Acknowledging that there is much competition in the potato industry, Costa said PEI offers some distinct advantages over other potato-growing areas.
“For one thing, PEI is famous for its red soil, which is rich in iron and retains the right amount of moisture to produce the best quality potatoes,” Costa said. “Additionally, there are three distinct climate zones on PEI, which is an advantage for the wide array of varieties we produce.”
Costa said sustainability is an important aspect of Mid Isle’s operation, and in fact it is one of the core values under which the co-op operates.
“From our growers to our production and management team, we recognize that sustainability is non-negotiable in our industry,” said Costa. “Through planned crop rotation, integrated pest management and buffer zones focused on protecting watercourses and wetlands, Mid Isle chooses to be a leader in this sector.”
He added that the co-op is looking at employing solar renewable energy with a goal of being net-zero within five years.
Mid Isle’s other core values are people and community, said Costa.
“People are the most important factor in the success of our company,” he said. “We believe each individual brings a unique and credible dynamic to our collective team. We are dedicated to creating a work environment where individuals have the opportunity for professional growth, a collaborative approach to find solutions to challenges, and to feel valued and respected.
“Our community is the place that our families live and our children grow up,” he continued. “Where nutritious school lunch programs, hospitals, local fire departments and team sports matter. Our existence has been, and will continue to be, woven into the fabric of where we are located.”
As a native of PEI, Costa is passionate about the community aspect of Mid Isle, though he is relatively new to the co-op. Prior to joining Mid Isle last year, he worked in CPG with stints at Pepsi-Co and Frito-Lay.
“I grew up near Mid Isle and left PEI to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and business. While I have always kept close ties to the island, this year is the first year I have lived on PEI in over a decade,” he said. “Islanders always seem to find their way back, and my wife and I wanted to return to be closer to our families. I found this opportunity at Mid Isle and it has been a great experience.”
Costa said that while he does not have a background in potatoes, his expertise in technical processes, manufacturing and problem solving, in partnership with support and guidance from Mid Isle’s board of directors, gives him confidence that he can approach and navigate challenges or new experiences as they arise.
For example, when the U.S. border closed last November to PEI potatoes due to the discovery of potato wart in two fields, he was tasked with finding a home for the bumper crop of potatoes Mid Isle had on hand.
“This season we were sending about 60 percent of our crop to the U.S. before the closure, so we had to pivot and Canadian retailers really answered that call,” he said. “They really stepped up for us. Something we’ll always be appreciative for. The PEI government, in collaboration with the PEI Potato Board also stepped up by offering wage subsidy programs and other initiatives to support our industry. We knew who had our backs!”
Costa’s mechanical engineering background also will be beneficial as Mid Isle looks toward the future.
“Over the next five years, we will be focusing on continuing to modernize our processing and packaging equipment and plant layout,” he said. “Our major goals are to maximize our plant capacity while reducing our internal costs. We believe by investing in these things, it will allow us to explore new potential markets and opportunities, and service our existing customers even better.
“Mid Isle has experienced a great deal of success in its first 40 years,” he added, “and we believe the groundwork we are laying right now over the next several years will create a very exciting future for our company as we prepare for even more growth.”