Sarah Frey in 2006
Sarah Frey (born July 24, 1976) is an American farmer and entrepreneur. She is the CEO and owner of Frey Farms, which she founded at age sixteen. Frey Farms is the largest H-2A visa employer in Illinois as well as the largest grower of pumpkins in the United States.
Early Life and Education
Frey was born July 24, 1976,:7 to Harold and Elizabeth Frey. Both had been previously married. Her father was a steelworker and a farmer and for a time part owner of the Dixie Feed franchise in St. Louis, but her parents fled to Tennessee to escape what Frey calls "a perfect storm" of bad decision-making by her father, who staged an accident to make it look as if he'd died. The couple's first child, a girl, was killed as a toddler in a farm accident; the couple left Tennessee for Illinois shortly thereafter. Frey has four older full brothers, thirteen half-siblings from her father's first marriage, and two from her mother's first marriage; counting her half siblings she is the youngest of 21.
The family's original 80-acre farm, which they called the Hill, is five miles from Orchardville and thirty miles from Mount Vernon in southern Illinois. The family's home did not have indoor plumbing until Frey was five years old. It was heated by a woodstove. The family survived mostly on food raised on the farm or hunted and fished for, sometimes resorting to poaching. Frey wrote in her memoir, The Growing Season, that "I never remember going to bed without eating anything, but sometimes our meals were just a bowl of mush."
In her memoir she describes learning to drive by the age of five, writing, "There were vehicles everywhere with the keys in the ignition. Starting when I was four or five, whenever my parents took the truck into town and left me alone at the farm, I'd hop into their old two-door Mercury Grand Marquis. I would hot-lap around the farm, driving in circles".
In her memoir Frey wrote that at age seven she was sexually abused by a farmhand, and when she told her father, he told her mother to keep a closer eye on Frey. She wrote that only after she'd discovered a peephole the farmhand had drilled between her bedroom and his and showed it to her mother did her parents send him away.
At 15, she moved out of her parents' house.
Her parents' financial situation had become dire. Her parents, who had falsely presented themselves as married for thirty year, were separating. The farm was being foreclosed on. In her youth, Frey had wanted to follow her brothers off the farm and move to a city, but following the threat of the farm's repossession, she decided to help save it. She purchased the farm outright at age 18. At the time it was in two parcels, the original 80 acres and another parcel of 20. She decided to use the land to grow pumpkins, a fall crop that would be ready for harvest after the melon season ended and thereby extend her earnings period. She the local Walmart distribution center business in 1997, while still in high school.
Frey has been described as "the Pumpkin Queen of America". She grows more pumpkins than any other farmer in the United States. In 2016, Frey sold around five million pumpkins. Most of her pumpkin crop is not suitable for eating, but is very popular for Halloween lantern carving. The family business now owns about 15,000 acres (6,100 ha) of farms, spanning Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, and West Virginia. Although pumpkins are the most popular produce, the business also farms watermelons, cantaloupes, sweet corn, and hard squash. In 2018, Frey Farms launched Sarah’s Homegrown. Sarah’s Homegrown is focused on agua frescas and fresh produce. Frey Farms is a Certified Women Owned Business.
She created Tsamma Watermelon Juice as a way to use the "ugly fruit" that would otherwise be discarded or tilled back into the fields. Frey's business negotiations with Walmart have been featured in a Harvard Business School study.
Sarah Frey serves on the United Fresh Government Relations Council and the National Watermelon Promotion Board. She is also a member of the Illinois Agriculture Coalition committee. Frey is currently on the steering committee for the IBIC.
In 2019, Sarah Frey was recruited for Rep. Shimkus' seat after he announced his retirement but decided not to run.
The Boston Globe called her "a woman with a potent sense of self and an unmatched ability for inventing and selling herself in a business world often skeptical of or hostile to women, especially those without pedigree or connections."
- For the Love of Pumpkins: A Visual Guide to Fall Decorating with Pumpkins and Ornamentals (2007) ISBN 978-0979534201
- The Growing Season: How I Built a New Life--and Saved an American Farm (2020) ISBN 9780593129401
Awards and Recognition
- PMA "Eight Women Leaders You Should Know" 
- 2015 Jan Fleming Award 
- Frey Farms won the United States Advocate of the Year Award in 2015 
- 2020 Women in Produce Award 
Frey is divorced with two sons.
- Frey, Sarah (August 25, 2020). The Growing Season: How I Saved an American Farm--and Built a New Life. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-593-12940-1.
- "The Great Pumpkin Patch". The Advocate-Messenger. October 20, 2008. p. 10. Retrieved March 20, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- Severson, Kim (October 12, 2016). "America's Pumpkin Queen Has a Request: Don't Carve, Cook". The New York Times. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
- Dunn, Laura (March 26, 2015). "Women in Business: Sarah Frey-Talley, Founder of Tsamma". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
- "The Great Pumpkin Patch". The Advocate-Messenger. October 20, 2008. p. 12. Retrieved March 20, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Elaine Reeves: For love of gourd". The Mercury. March 4, 2017. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
- "Stuffed Baby Pumpkins". New York Times Recipes. October 12, 2016. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
- "Pumpkins: from decoration to delicacy". Produce Retailer. August 25, 2017. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
- "Frey Farms Opens Fruit and Vegetable Processing Facility" (Press release). PR Newswire. October 17, 2017. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
- Farms, Frey (October 23, 2018). "Frey Farms Launches New Beverage Line of Aguas Frescas". GlobeNewswire News Room. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
- "2015 Packer 25 - Sarah Frey-Talley: Frey Farms". The Packer. October 23, 2015.
- "Frey Farms CEO wins award at Midwest Expo". Packer. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
- "Sarah Frey's journey from selling melons to building a multi-state farming phenomenon". CBS This Morning. August 29, 2020.
- "Negotiating with Wal-Mart – Alumni – Harvard Business School". www.alumni.hbs.edu. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
- Staff, S. P. W. (May 21, 2020). "Sarah Frey To Be Honored At Women In Produce LIVE!". Southeast Produce Weekly. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
- "About Us ⋆ Illinois Business Immigration Coalition". Illinois Business Immigration Coalition. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
- "The Growing Season: How I Saved an American Farm—and Built a New Life". www.publishersweekly.com. Retrieved May 3, 2020.
- Miller, Stuart (August 27, 2020). "From a difficult childhood to business success in 'The Growing Season'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
- Jordan, Tina (June 9, 2020). "Three New Memoirs Bring the Farm to the Page". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
- THE GROWING SEASON | Kirkus Reviews.
- Sarah, Frey. "The Growing Season: How I Saved an American Farm—And Built a New Life". Library Journal. Retrieved November 9, 2020.
- Maxwell, M. (November 27, 2019). "'Pumpkin Queen' emerges as potential contender to succeed Rep. Shimkus". WCIA.
- "Great Pumpkins". Daily Herald. October 14, 2007. Retrieved March 20, 2018.
- "United Fresh Advocate of the Year Award". United Fresh. July 3, 2019.
- "Sarah Frey to be Honored at Women In Produce LIVE!". Southeast Produce Weekly. SPW Staff. May 22, 2020.