WEST FRYEBURG – A pickup-truck tour of Green Thumb Farms, courtesy of president Donnie Thibodeau, is an education in Maine history as well as in local agriculture.

Pausing at “Hourglass” field, one of a couple of dozen expanses among the 2,200-acre farm’s 760 acres of recently harvested potatoes, Thibodeau explains that this fertile land along the Saco River was once “Pequawket.” He and his wife, Brenda, live nearby in a 1776 Colonial built for the Frye family, for whom this town is named.

Thibodeau is from Presque Isle. There his father, Larry, established Maine Farmers Exchange, which decades ago was the nation’s largest exporter of potatoes to Europe.

Larry, who died in 2004, also founded Green Thumb. Returning from Boston in 1965, he stopped for gas in Kittery and fell into conversation with a fellow who noticed boxes of potatoes in Larry’s car, and advised him of some special farmland for sale in Western Maine.

Larry investigated and reasoned that soil where feed-corn stalks grew to 9 feet would produce very fine potatoes. He purchased 150 acres. (An habitual doodler, he later casually created the Green Thumb Farms logo.)

When Donnie left UMaine Farmington to work for his dad in the mid-1970s, the farm had expanded to 500 acres. As it has grown, so have its products. The feed corn is now also used for home heating. One of the state’s largest potato farms, Green Thumb is a key supplier of potatoes and of four varieties of dry beans to Hannaford. The Saco River Valley’s favorable climate and alluvial soil are two keys to the excellence of Green Thumb potatoes, Donnie mentions.

A line of native turfgrass sods was added in 2005. That same year, Donnie and his brother, Lee, founded and partnered in Maine Distilleries. The Freeport operation uses Green Thumb potatoes to produce Cold River Vodka, Cold River Blueberry Vodka and Cold River Gin.

Pausing again on the tour, at the edge of Buzzell field, Thibodeau points across at the two peaks of Baldface Mountain, depicted on the vodka products’ logo.

Pleased as he is with the ever-expanding farm’s success, he seems prouder still that the family operation is in its third generation. The 65 people employed include several immediate-family members, all of them working in the office or on the farm today.

His wife, Brenda, is “my trusted lifetime partner in everything, including everything to do with the business,” Donnie says. Son Brian Thibodeau handles the turf division; his wife, Julie, does administration. Son-in-law Jim Pitreau is the farm’s operations manager; daughter Betsy Pitreau is in charge of HR.

Each couple has two young children. Donnie would love to see Green Thumb Farms’ history continue with the fourth generation. But already, he emphasizes, he and Brenda feel “truly blessed.”

For more information on Green Thumb Farms and its products, please visit www.greenthumbfarms.com, and see the farm’s profile on Facebook.

These monthly profiles are brought to you by Hannaford Supermarkets, which has been partnering with local farmers since 1883.  Hannaford works with more than 800 farms and other food producers located near its stores.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: