Cecil Farms continues to grow, make big local impact after 5 decades with family’s dedication

Over the past 5 decades, Cecil Farms has grown exponentially thanks to forward thinking and dedication from multiple generations of the family-run operation. Cecil Farms has become a staple both at the Owensboro Regional Farmers’ Market and in the agricultural presence throughout the community at large.

Gary Cecil started the farm in 1974 when he rented 10 acres of tobacco land, and he began hauling hay for area farmers and ear corn to local elevators.

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That was the same year Gary married Imelda, his high school sweetheart. They have three children — Ryan Cecil, 46, Suzanne Cecil White, 43, and Katie Cecil, 37 — and the entire family remains deeply involved in Cecil Farms Produce, LLC.

In 1981, Cecil Farms started growing fruits and vegetables. They produced some of their crops commercially, such as harvesting potatoes for companies like Frito Lays or Charles Chips.

In the early 2000s, Cecil Farms switched their main crop to watermelon.

“To this day, we grow about 500 acres of watermelon,” said Suzanne, who is the Director of Operations. “The watermelon then gets shipped to grocery chains on the eastern side of the United States.”

While the main focus is the watermelon, they continue to grow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and other staple items. According to a release, Cecil Farms now operates 2,414 acres — 180 of which are owned by the family and the rest of which are rented.

But the family operation has grown well beyond producing grain, fruits, and vegetables. Cecil Farms also provides a custom spreading and spraying service (Cecil Spread Service), greenhouse production, an event venue (White Chateau), and educational tours. They have an active role in the community, working with local boys and girls clubs, sponsoring programs such as the Salvation Army Summer Camp, and maintaining relationships with local schools and restaurants.

In 2011, Suzanne started a home delivery service that allows customers to receive a box of fresh vegetables each week from the farm. Soon after, Cecil Farms started going to the Farmers’ Market, and they’ve been a regular vendor ever since.

Suzanne served as president of the Farmers’ Market when it was still located in the parking lot of Owensboro Christian Church. She said at the time, the idea of a permanent pavilion was just a dream.

Now, White said the permanency of the Farmers’ Market at 1205 Triplett Street is exciting.

“It’s becoming a signature spot for Owensboro,” she said.

Cecil Farms also prides itself on being family-run. Ryan is a main partner and a key person in the production and management of all crops as well as the spreader service. Suzanne has a hand in several aspects of the business, including running the White Chateau. Katie manages wholesale produce distribution for Cecil Farms and also runs a fresh-cut flower and event business, Katie Ann Flowers at Cecil Farms.

“Every member of my family is back at the farm now,” Suzanne said. “We all have our own piece of the operation that we grow and focus on.”

The family has also been recognized for their efforts, especially in recent years. Gary was named the 2022 Kentucky Farm Bureau Farmer of the Year and the Sunbelt Ag Expo 2023 Kentucky Farmer of the Year. Suzanne was named the 2021 Farm Woman of the Year by Kentucky Farm Bureau in the first year the award had ever been given. Katie was named the 2022 Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) Generation Bridge Advocate of the Year.

In a release about his most recent award, Gary said: “You’ve got to want it badly and truly enjoy it to make it your way of life. Passion is essential because when the hard times come, you might be tempted to walk away. But there’s that ever-renewing, pure satisfaction of watching crops get planted, grow to maturity, and get harvested. There’s really no better feeling on earth.”

He also said he was thankful that the farm’s future is in good hands.

“You need the perspective of youth to energize and grow your operation,” he said. “And they have the capability and willingness to reinvent, change, and evolve as the times dictate. They’re open to implementing new ideas and enterprises, which is essential to the future viability of the farm.”

Originally published in Owensboro Times
presented by Independence Bank
August 5, 2023
Layne Boarman