CONTINUING THE SEWELL FARMS' LEGACY
By Jim Frankowiak
Photos by Stephanie Humphery
Sewell Farms was founded by McCager Newman Sewell in 1928 and the legacy he began at that time has continued for five generations. Marc Sewell, his wife, Megan, and brother, Marshal, continue the legacy through different aspects of the agriculture industry. Marc and Megan now own the family farm, while Marshal is the Southeast Florida sales representative for Seminis Vegetable Seed, a branch of the Monsanto Company.
Despite constantly evolving variables, like weather, market conditions, labor and regulatory initiatives, the Sewell family farm has persevered through many generations.
Starting with McCager, it has been passed on to his son, G.C., and to G.C.'s son, Buddy. Buddy's son, Marty, later took over responsibility of the farm but, unfortunately, passed in late 2007. His legacy is carried on by Marc and Marshal, the fifth generation of Sewell agriculturists.
At the time of Marty’s death, Marc was a student at Hillsborough Community College and Marshal was still attending Durant High School. A few years later, after a decision to take a step back, Buddy and Marc's mother, Marie, presented Marc and Megan with the opportunity of family farm ownership in 2009.
After much thought and consideration, “we decided to move forward,” said Marc. “Thanks to ongoing support of our family and many growers in the area, we have succeeded.” Grandfather Buddy continues to provide guidance, while Megan takes care of financial management of the operation, a role she took on in 2012. “My mom takes care of all Food Safety aspects of the farm, which consists of multiple audits throughout the year for each commodity we grow,” said Marc. Attesting to the effective transition is the recognition that Marc and Marshal recently received as the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce “Young Agriculturists of the Year.”
Marc and Marshal were both very active throughout high school in the FFA with supervised agricultural experience projects (SAEs) and career development events (CDEs). Marc enrolled in Ag Co-Op classes being offered that, “enabled me to complete high school coursework in the morning while being able to work on the farm in the afternoons,“ he said.
Marc went on to HCC, but decided to forego pursuit of his degree and work fulltime overseeing the operation following his father's death. In 2009 came marriage to Megan and also the decision to buy the family farm. Marc and his wife, Megan, have two children – Maddox and his sister, Macyn, who was born on September 16. "I hope Maddox chooses to be the sixth generation to continue farming in our family,” said Marc.
Throughout school Marshal competed in almost every FFA contest available and, at the 2008 National FFA convention, he took first place over the nation in the Prepared Public Speaking contest. Following high school, Marshal decided to continue with his FFA activities and pursuit of a college degree. After serving as the 2008-2009 State FFA President, he enrolled at HCC to obtain his Associate's degree while working on the family farm.
After graduating HCC he transferred to the University of Florida and earned a degree in Food and Resource Economics, while also receiving the Outstanding 2 Year Graduate award of his graduating class. Upon graduation, Marshal had anticipated going back to work on the family farm with Marc, but was presented with the opportunity to join Seminis Vegetable Seed.
Doing Whatever It Takes
Though he is a Broward County resident, Marshal is in continual contact with his brother discussing the latest changes in the vegetable industry, ranging from production techniques to new varieties. The Sewell brothers recognize they must do whatever it takes "to stay ahead of the curve in today's agriculture industry,” Marshal stated. One dimension of that is Marc’s designation as a Seminis’ co-operative grower. He is one of 12 such growers so designated in Florida. “In addition to buying some of my vegetable seeds from Seminis, I also participate in field trials of new varieties and products,” said Marc. “This enables us to actively participate in the latest innovations that have the potential to impact our yields favorably and give us another option to have in the field.”
Sewell Farms grows strawberries, bell peppers, squash, eggplant and watermelon. “We are diversifying this season by limiting our strawberry crop to 120-acres and dedicating the remaining acreage to winter vegetables,” said Marc. “That is a departure from the way things have been done in the past for us, but we are hoping it is the way to go.”
Adapting To Change
Though they respect the traditions and origins of the family farm, brothers Marc and Marshal also recognize the need to change and adapt to effectively meet the challenges of contemporary farming. The co-operative grower role with Seminis is one aspect, but there are many others.
“We both see the value of continued networking so that we are aware of advances that we could apply to either of our careers in the ag industry to help ensure success," said Marshal. “Proper use of our natural resources is essential and I am pleased to be able to control the daily irrigation of our farm by computer” said Marc.
The same is true of the farm equipment. “Most of the equipment has been converted to utilize the latest GPS-technology, which has become a valuable tool for efficiency and time management.”
This networking is manifest in different ways. One is through Marshal and his work with Seminis and the information and people he works with in that capacity.
Marc is also an active member of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association and a member of its executive board of directors, with that involvement helping to keep him in the forefront of industry advances that may benefit Sewell Farms.
“We have to work hard to keep at the top of our game,” said Marc. “It is vital for us to keep pace with advances in technology as well as other matters that could have an impact on the farm. This could be pricing, competitive factors, labor, regulatory matters and more. Keeping abreast is something we are able to do through our networking activities.”
“We have to do what we can to continue to improve gross margins by increasing yields and reducing any costs,” noted Marshal. “Everything is fair game. We have to consider almost anything that will contribute to the success of the farmer.”