In 2013 Sara Corey cracked an agricultural glass ceiling when the Maine Potato Board named her the Young Farmer of the Year. At 23, she wasn’t just the youngest farmer to get the award (it can go to anyone under 40), she was the first woman ever to win the honor. We called her to up to find out how things are going on her family’s farm in Monticello and get the skinny about the french fry-themed Maine Potato Board commercial she starred in. We also learned how many different varieties of potatoes she grows and how the career she almost had as a pharmacist does come in handy on the farm.

SARA IN CHARGE: Corey has eased into a leadership role at Daniel Corey Farms, named for her father. “My dad has started pulling back,” she said. “He’s been spending a lot of time in Florida.” What, is he a snowbird? “He’s farming,” she said. “Growing table stock – red and yellow – down there.” Talk about a climate change. How did that come about? The Corey family has been selling seed potatoes to growers in Florida for years, and “he worked out a deal with a buddy.”

THE SHIPPING NEWS: When we called she was in the middle of a very busy season. “We are up in New Jersey,” Corey said. Wait, not Monticello? This is seed potato talk: “It’s shipping season,” she explained. As in, they’re sending seed to New Jersey farmers. “We will start in Florida in about October, and as January comes we are probably in the Carolinas. The shipping business moves on up the coast until they’re sending seed to other Maine farmers. Then it starts all over again.

TRAINING DAY: In college at Husson, Corey studied chemistry, which she planned to use as a pharmacist. But she found that a white lab coat life wasn’t for her. “I just hated the repetitiveness of it. With farming, every day you are doing something different.” The chemistry does come in handy, though. “It’s great for soil analysis and for overall chemical crop propagation process.”

GOOD VIGOR: Corey Farms grows for Frito-Lay suppliers as well as Snyder’s-Lance (though known for its pretzels, the company also owns Cape Cod Potato Chips). When her dad started farming, he focused on growing potatoes to process, then transitioned into growing for seed. Now the farm is Maine’s biggest seed farm, with just over 1,030 acres in production. “We have good quality and we have no disease, no virus. And good vigor.”

IN THE FIELD: They’ve got nearly as many varieties as Heinz 57. “Right now we have 54 varieties. Fingerlings, creamers. …We grow all blue for Jet Blue (the airline serves Terra Blues chips on flights). There are just oodles of them.” Although the farm focuses on seed potatoes, they do produce for eating, too. If you wander through downtown Monticello around the Fourth of July, you’d see the Corey’s farmstand loaded with the first new potatoes of the season. Favorite recipe? Roasted, with butter and parsley.

YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS: After Corey confessed to finding Farm Bureau meetings a little dull, we had to ask, what is like life at the end of day for a young farmer in Monticello, population 790 as of the 2010 Census? She laughed. “I travel a lot,” she said. “My last trip I went to Curacao. It’s two islands over from Aruba.” Then there are work trips, like the National Potato Expo, or visiting Frito-Lay in Orlando. “It’s my account now,” Corey said. “Dad was stepping back, and they actually approached us about it.”

BROTHERLY LOVE: She does get help from her two younger brothers, John, 24, and Ben, 21, who she says can’t wait to finish college and join the family business. “I think we will do a lot of expansion together.” More potatoes? Actually, Christmas trees. “I have been trying to get into the larger companies, like Home Depot and Wal-Mart.” It’s tough to compete with the Canadian market, but the Coreys have a lot invested in trees. “We have about 100,000,” she said. All balsam fir. When a trailer load leaves the farm, it typically makes several stops at small roadside stands; she’d rather send to one destination.

NOTORIOUS: The award brought her some notoriety and still does, especially during “Potato Picker’s Special” season. That’s the 5 to 6 a.m. weather update that runs on local television in Aroostook County in September and October. Commercials made by the Potato Board often run during that hour, including one featuring Corey trying to order french fries in a drive-thru. She gives an embarrassed laugh at the mention of it. But she’s grateful for the honor of being named Young Farmer of the Year, and for whatever progress it might help usher in in what can still be an old-fashioned business. “It says a lot. There are a lot of farmers out there that only have daughters. … Just because you have two daughters doesn’t mean you don’t have the succession.”

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