Sue McCrum: A Medical Professional Finds Her Passion on the Farm
“I had a grandfather we called ‘Ol’ McDonald,’” she laughs. “He raised cattle, sheep and hogs. He was also a butcher and a grocery store owner. We visited him several times a year. I got exposure to agriculture through those visits, but nothing like what I have today.”
What she has today is a potato empire in northern Maine: a large operation complete with its own processing plant and transport company. For someone who started her professional career in an entirely different industry, Sue has carved out quite a name for herself as a woman in agriculture.
The Family Business
Sue married her husband, Jay, while she was still in school to be an X-ray technician. They were married for less than a year before they had the opportunity to buy Jay’s family farm in 1972.
“My father-in-law was stepping out of agriculture and into teaching at the vocational section of the local high school,” Sue remembers. “So we bought the farm.”
The farm had been in the McCrum family since the 1860s. Jay was the fourth generation to work the land. When they bought the farm, it was about 300 acres total. Sixty-five of those acres were potatoes. Today, the farm has expanded to 12,000 acres.
Changing Her Tune
“Love what you’re doing. You need to have a heart for agriculture and what you do. And be proud of what you’re doing. You’re feeding your family, your community and the world.”
Sue stayed in the medical profession for several more years after buying the farm. It was a job she loved. But after the birth of her third child, she knew it was time to hang up her lab coat and get her hands dirty in the field.
“It was an adjustment at first,” Sue says. “I really enjoyed my job and being out with the public. I never thought I’d be leaving the medical profession full-time, but there was a need for childcare at home. My husband was running the farm at that time, so I made the decision to stay full-time at home and help out on the farm as needed.”
At first, Sue’s primary job was to care for the children and keep her family fed while they worked the land. It wasn’t long before she was out in the fields, driving the tractor and harvesting the potatoes.
Sue says she doesn’t regret leaving her job as an X-ray tech and loves how the farm brought her family together. “My favorite thing was when we were all on the farm working, once our children had grown up a little bit—when they all became little partners with us,” she says. “They each had small chores to do and showed an interest in being with their dad. It was all of us working together.”
A Woman in Agriculture
Today, the farm is mostly run by her sons and nephews—the fifth generation to farm. The sixth generation isn’t far away, as Sue has a granddaughter who plans to become involved in the potato processing side of the business after college.
“I never thought she was going to be interested in it,” Sue says. “But she’s been around the American Agri-Women organization since she was eight years old. She’s been involved at the state and national levels. Nothing would make me happier than to see our granddaughter become that sixth generation involved in agriculture.”
American Agri-Women is the nation’s largest coalition of farm, ranch and agribusiness women with more than 50 state, commodity and agribusiness affiliate organizations, united to communicate with one another and with consumers to promote agriculture.
Sue is proud to be a part of American Agri-Women. In fact, she served as the president of the national organization, and only recently termed off of the executive board. She became involved in the organization after a friend attended one of the first American Agri-Women conferences. Together, with the help of wives of other potato farmers, Sue and some friends started Maine Agri-Women.
After more than 40 years as a woman in agriculture, Sue has some words of wisdom for the next generation. “Love what you’re doing,” she advises. “You need to have a heart for agriculture and what you do. And be proud of what you’re doing. You’re feeding your family, your community and the world.”