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Worzella's of Plover inducted into WPVGA Hall of Fame

Trina Sankey
Longtime potato and vegetable growers Norm, right, and Marv Worzella of Worzella & Sons in Plover, Wis., were inducted into the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Hall of Fame at the industry’s annual awards ceremony held Feb. 3, 2021. They are joined by sister, Shirley Sankey, holding a photo of their parents, Clarence and Regina Worzella, who founded the business.

PLOVER – Long-time potato and vegetable growers Norm and Marv Worzella of Worzella & Sons, Inc., Plover, Wisconsin, were inducted into the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Hall of Fame at the industry’s annual awards ceremony Feb. 3, 2021.

In 1953, Clarence Worzella, Norm and Marv’s father, started potato farming on a 40-acre parcel of land with an irrigation system. After graduating high school, Norm and Marv were given the opportunity to pursue additional schooling or join Clarence in the family potato business. They chose to work with their dad, a decision neither of them regrets.

Today, Worzella & Sons of Plover, Wisconsin, grows 1,800 acres of potatoes, along with 3,400 acres of other vegetable crops.

“We are proud of the business’s growth, which is largely attributed to the dedicated employees we’ve had in our 60 years of farming,” says Norm Worzella, CEO of Worzella & Sons, Inc. “We are glad to work alongside our sons, who are the third generation of this business.”

Marv, who is CFO of Worzella & Sons, Inc., adds, “We learned from our dad from a young age on. We started working with Dad in 1955, and we incorporated in 1964. Dad worked side-by-side with us and taught us how to grow vegetables and get started in farming.”

Importance of giving back

Norm and Marv’s parents, Clarence and Regina, were community-minded people who donated to many organizations and causes. They instilled in Marv and Norm the importance of giving back, and Worzella & Sons has been able to make donations that are crucial to the well-being and future of the Wisconsin potato and vegetable growing industry.

Working with Louis Wysocki, the WPVGA and Village of Plover, the Worzellas participated in a land exchange, discontinuing to farm a parcel of fertile land to make room for the Little Plover River Watershed Enhancement Project. The goal of the project is to improve the health of the Little Plover River and the quality of life of the surrounding community.

The Worzellas also donated more than 20 acres of land to the Farming for the Future Foundation for a new Discovery Center to be built along the Highway 39 corridor, in Plover, within the next two years. The Discovery Center promises to connect Wisconsin families and the agriculture industry through education and experience.

Marv and Norm have also been instrumental in donating for causes such as improvements at Lake Pacawa Park in Plover.

The brothers are honored to be inducted into the WPVGA Hall of Fame.

Keeping up with technology is key

Being in the business of farming for over 60 years, they have operated numerous pieces of equipment and worked in each part of the farm, saying a big part of a successful farm is to keep up with technology. 

And as the farm expanded, bigger equipment was needed. Norm remembers harvesting potatoes and boxing them up by hand. “I didn’t like picking and grading them, but I picked a few,” he says. “Now you have Lenco 12-row harvesters.”

Today, Worzella & Sons of Plover grows 1,800 acres of potatoes, along with 3,400 acres of other vegetable crops.

“I did some spraying with a little sprayer,” Norm adds, “and then we got a bigger sprayer that we pulled with a rope. There were no air-conditioned tractors back then. You sat in the open. I couldn’t even run the machines we have now.

“We are proud to have had the opportunity to provide better equipment for our employees to do their jobs more efficiently,” he added.

Dad's philosophy

Marv says he liked getting up every morning, going out into the field and seeing how the potatoes were doing, watching them grow. Even though he is 84 years old now, he visited the fields in 2020 before going to Florida for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

“I like watching the potatoes grow, from seed potatoes to plants and then to being harvested,” Marv relates.

Marv continued with his dad’s philosophy of working hard when the work needed to be done so he could take time to travel in the winter months.

In 1961, Marv was called up for the National Guard due to the Berlin Crisis. He was stationed in Washington but never activated to go oversees where he was qualified to serve as a medic.

Marv has managed the packing warehouse, but now mainly oversees the financial part of the business. With the WPVGA , Marv was involved in the bargaining committee that negotiated contracts with the vegetable processors.

In addition to his work at Worzella & Sons, Norm has been involved in several organizations, serving on the WPVGA board, as a volunteer fireman for the Village of Plover, director of the Bank of Plover (now known as BMO Harris Bank), as a member of the Planning Commission for the Village of Plover and as a lay minister at his church. 

Norm attended several conventions as part of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Organization.  Attending these provided a vast amount of information for the business, but perhaps the most important information that he learned resulted from trips taken to various countries. 

The list is extensive, but the countries include those in South America and Africa, as well as China, Egypt, India, Russia and Australia.

Being able to see farming in a variety of climates and soils, and the different machinery that was used, the travels taught Norm that there was not one set way to farm. “The U.S. was so much more advanced with technology,” he says, “and we took for granted how ‘easy’ it was at the time for us.”

Four generations ago, Worzella Farms of Plover, Wis, started growing vegetables on a small 28-acre farm, adding acreage and experience with each year, and each generation. This experience combined with modern farming techniques allows Worzella to grow wholesome, high-quality vegetables while protecting the earth by further enriching the soil of their 5,200 acre farm each year.

Growing the business, crops

Both Marv and Norm’s favorite part about farming continues be seeing the growth of the business and watching the crops, from planting to harvest. 

They have also enjoyed developing relationships with suppliers and other farmers. Norm often drives around looking at the crops and visiting other growers to see how their operations are going, always hoping to hear good news. 

The brothers stay active in the business by checking in with their sons to see how things are going and if they need help. During potato storage, Norm is helping everyday with picking.

Marv enjoys all parts of farming, from the start to finish of each season, although farming is a gamble, never knowing what yields and returns to expect, which is the most stressful part of the business for him. He is still involved in overseeing the financial aspects of the business.

Marv and Norm’s sister, Shirley Sankey, is the Secretary/Treasurer for Worzella & Sons While she was officially hired on the farm in the early 1970s, Shirley worked in the fields and packing warehouse as a young child and all the way into high school. Now, semi-retired, she still oversees the office staff. Shirley has managed everything from employees to daily office and financial responsibilities. Her daughter, Trina, is the President of Worzella & Sons.

Marv and his wife, Audrey, have been married for 58 years. They have three children, Perry, Tim and Tanya, and six grandchildren. Sadly, they lost a daughter, Lisa, in 1990. Marv and Audrey spend the winter months in Naples, Florida, where Marv enjoys going for walks, playing sudoku and golfing.

Norm and his wife, Marie, have been married for 56 years. They have four children, Steve, Shelley, Sandy and Scott, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. They spend the winter months in Fort Myers Beach, where Norm enjoys deep sea fishing.

The Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Hall of Fame honors lifetime achievement in the development of the state’s potato industry. It is the intention of the WPVGA to continue to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the potato industry in Wisconsin by making annual Hall of Fame inductions.