Title: Chief Operating Officer
Company: Sklarczyk’s Seed Farm LLC
Year started: 1982
Offices: Johannesburg, MI
Activity: Uses advanced tissue culture practices in state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouses to grow pathogen-free seed potatoes for commercial growers.
Annual Revenue: $2 million
Attended: Michigan State University
Degree: Ben: B.S., Agricultural Business, 2003; Alison: B.S., Animal Science, 2005
Company website: ssfseedpotatoes.com
“We focus on what our customers want, even if that means a short-term loss, because having a positive relationship is what benefits us in the long run.”
If you’ve ever eaten a Frito Lay potato chip, odds are it got its start at Sklarczyk’s Seed Farm in Johannesburg, MI. Ben Sklarcyzk is the COO of this family-owned and -operated business. He manages the Greenhouse Seed Farm that provides Frito Lay with 75 percent of the seed potatoes growers use to grow the potatoes that become Frito Lay potato chips. The seed farm is the largest supplier to a major French fry manufacturer as well.
The farm was started in 1942 by Ben’s grandfather and carried on by his father and mother. His parents were first to use state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouses and tissue culture practices to grow pathogen-free seed potatoes for commercial growers back in the 1980s.
Ben grew up on the farm, working there throughout his middle- and high-school years, but once it was time to go to college, he thought becoming an engineer sounded more appealing than farming. He went to Western Michigan University for one year before realizing that farming was in his blood, and soon transferred to Michigan State University’s agricultural business program. When Ben graduated, the greenhouse operation was producing only 10 potatoes per plant while the farm’s competitors were yielding 20 to 30. By turning to the business knowledge and management skills he learned in college, including setting up a database tracking system, Ben was able to increase productivity and more than double the greenhouse’s output.
The greenhouse now is in the process of adding on another 20,000 square feet of space to the 30,000 square feet already there. Having saturated the potato chip industry, they are now branching out to provide seed potatoes for both French fry and table stock companies.
“You get so much back when you put into your community.”
It was in his senior year at MSU that Ben met his future wife, Alison, who was an animal science major with dreams of becoming a veterinarian. After meeting Ben, she switched focus to use her experience in research labs to help Ben in the greenhouse. The two were married in 2005 and have worked alongside each other since.
Ben and Alison’s goals are to continue to create and build upon their operations so they can sustain a comfortable lifestyle for themselves, their family and other staff members, as well as be a “shining star” business in their local community. Ben says his grandfather instilled in his father—and his father instilled in Ben—the passion to give back to the community. Ben and Alison have been involved with their local church youth group, are on the boards of a few local non-profits and involved with national potato council committees, among others.
They’ve also contracted with local workers to do the greenhouse expansion. The six men they hired may not have had any work over the winter, but are now eating lunch at a local restaurant, providing that owner with revenue that he may not have gotten otherwise, spreading the farm’s success throughout the community.
Photo credit: Drew Socia