Featured Image: Michelle Gurda (left) with sister, Taylor (right)
In fall 2015 when OnionBusiness.com first profiled Michelle Gurda, daughter of A. Gurda Produce founder Andrew Gurda, she spoke proudly of her multi-generation farming heritage and her role in a field-to-fork operation that produces not only yellow and red onions but also potatoes and other vegetables and greens.
Located in Pine Island, NY, the “Black Dirt Region” of that state, A. Gurda Produce was founded in 1977 by Michelle’s father, Andrew, and today he and Michelle work the sales/marketing desks. Andrew’s brother, David, is farm manager and oversees planting, spraying, and harvesting. Stanley Smith, Andrew and David’s brother-in-law, is warehouse manager. Also part of the team this year has been Michelle’s sister Taylor, who has finished nursing school and will soon begin her career in that field.
And though she stays busy with sales and marketing, Michelle capably wears a variety of hats that include director of food safety and transportation coordinator.
“Food safety was my first job with the company, and transportation was added. I also help handle day-to-day packing operations,” she said.
She said, “I’m one of only a few women in my age group who is going to someday be the head of a company like this.”
Michelle added, “This is a very male-dominated industry, and I think it takes a lot of time for women to earn respect. I have to know what I’m talking about, and I have to stay on top of conditions and situations in other regions.” The expansion of her role fits right into Michelle’s future, which she said is to “eventually step into my father’s role.”
Working alongside her dad and uncles, “carrying on what my grandfather started,” is providing both experience and confidence, and Michelle’s work ethic is a pure farmer, from sunrise (or before) to sunset (or after).
“I don’t dread working seven days a week,” she said. “In fact, I look forward to coming in every day. I get up at 3:30 or 4, go to the gym at about 5 and am in the office by 7-7:30.” Most days she’s there until 7-7:30 at night, she said.
Because A. Gurda Produce is vertically integrated, crops are “grown to meet customers’ needs.” Michelle said, “Nothing is left to speculation, and we cater to our customers. It’s how we farm and how my dad has always done business.”
To keep pace, a packing facility was added, and Michelle said two lines have lowered overtime and man-hours while increasing volume.
“It’s been mostly for our onions,” she said. The onion program remains steady with the same acreage, but she said this year’s yields were higher significantly higher.
Onions account for 60 percent of the farm’s production, and A. Gurda ships year-round, pulling from other areas when needed. Its own onions ship from harvest in August through May, and Michelle said, “That second line helps our year-round operation a lot.”
Most of the onions go to retail on the East Coast, with some also shipped to the Southeast. A. Gurda grows yellows and reds, with most of the crop in yellows.
“Our farming methods are designed to maximize on what works well for us,” she said. “We don’t have specific plans for expansion, but we are working to make our current process more efficient.
The additional product line is being increased with more greens, and the company is offering some smaller pack sizes for onions, including 1.5-pound bags for white boilers and 2-pound bags for yellows.
As she becomes increasingly knowledgeable of all aspects of the industry, Michelle Gurda is on a steady path to strong relationships with customers.
“It’s all about learning what each customer needs in a changing market,” she said. “My biggest learning experience is in building relationships. We work directly with buyers, and we always have to have our thumb on the changing needs and demands. One day a customer might want a certain label, and then a month later they want something entirely different. We provide that.”
A tough job, but Michelle Gurda loves it, and she loves the legacy she’s inheriting and leaving behind. When asked where she sees herself in 10 years, she said, “I think Dad and I will be running it together, more or less on the same level. And my own goal is to stay up with what our customers need.”
For more on this family story, visit A. Gurda Produce online at www.agurdaproduce.com.