It can be hard to distinguish yourself when your last name is synonymous with Wisconsin potatoes, when you are the third generation inducted into the Wisconsin Potato Industry Hall of Fame, when your son is chairman of the board of the $100 million-a-year family business.
But that’s not the case for Jerome “Jerry” Bushman. He founded Bushmans’ Inc. in 1974 with an innovative idea, one that started the company down a Wisconsin potato giant’s path.
He wanted to defeat the calendar.
His son, Mitchell, chairman of Bushmans’ Inc., said that Wisconsin potato farmers harvested from August to May, and took summers off.
But potatoes for eight months a year created problems in keeping customers over the other four. Mitchell said his father recognized the importance of continuity with customers.
“He said the two hardest things to do were to start selling the new crop and finish selling the old crop,” Mitchell said. “It’s true.”
He said his father was the first pioneer in the area to see where things had to go. The company has kept the tradition, expanding its growing base to every major growing region in the U.S. and Canada.
Mike Carter, chief executive officer of Bushmans’ Inc., said the Bushman family has dealt in potatoes for 100 years.
Bushman rode the potato railcars between Galloway and Rosholt, Wis. – the headquarters of Bushmans’ Inc. today – and worked for his father on the family farm.
“It sounds like a Norman Rockwell painting,” Carter said.
That painting got bigger as Bushman started his own company and his family grew. He and his wife, Barbara, had two sons, Derrick and Mitchell, and a daughter named Tia.
Along with the growing family, he enjoyed his work. In second grade, Mitchell’s class did a report on parents. They asked what their parents enjoyed doing.
”Most parents said ‘bowling, fishing, that kind of thing,” Mitchell said. “He said, ‘Going to work.’”
Bushman started J&B Marketing when he started Bushmans’ Inc. Later in the 1970s, Bushman created Potato World Inc. and A&W Farms with partner Darrell Koehler. A&W Farms eventually grew 10,000 acres of potatoes, peas, beans and sweet corn until Bushman sold his interest in it in 1999.
Carter said that Bushman created a family culture that remains with the company today.
Now, Derrick and Mitchell are the principle owners of Bushmans’ Inc. and Tia works for other family businesses. The Rockwell painting reached maturity.