These Sisters Are Running One Of The Largest Family-Owned Rice-Producing Companies In The Region

It started with a father’s wish for his daughters to take over the family farm in Louisiana.

The family
From left: Patchez, Meryl, Elton, Chantel, and Felicity. Photo: CEDRIC ANGELES

Elton Kennedy came from a family of ministers in rural northeast Louisiana, but he always wanted to be a farmer. When given the chance to lease land with an option to buy in the town of Mer Rouge, he turned to the plow. He farmed his first rice crop in 1969, and over the years, his bulk-rice companies, Kennedy Rice Dryers and Kennedy Rice Mill, grew to include an average of 60 growers per year working over 15,000 acres. But to him, it was a family business all along. "I always thought that I would have a son to take over one day," Elton says. "As it turned out, having four daughters worked out just the same."

While building his business, he raised those daughters: Patchez, Felicity, Chantel, and Meryl. They spent their childhoods making regular "check on the farm" visits— or, as Felicity remembers, "times when Dad would share all kinds of knowledge, either farming related or just general life lessons." Chantel explains, "When we were growing up, our father always referred to his work as the family business and said it was up to us to carry on." The sisters had other plans, and their dreams didn't necessarily include working the land. In fact, they all went off to school and started their adult lives elsewhere

The four sisters

The pull home, however, was stronger than they'd thought. After graduating from college, youngest sister Meryl planned to study abroad and struck a deal with her dad. If she agreed to work on the farm for a summer, he would pay for graduate school. As it turned out, studying overseas didn't happen—and neither did graduate school. "I think he knew that if he got me back to the farm, I would fall in love with the business," says Meryl. "It was the best deal of my life."

Chantel returned after college, married, and resumed working in the company. And so did Patchez. "Coming home with my children to family and childhood friends brought a sense of comfort that cannot be replaced," she says. Felicity joined in, too, working from her home in Tennessee.

Grains on the plant

Knowing that the business was in good hands, Elton retired in 2010. Then in 2016, the women launched KenChaux, their first in-house packaging and retail brand. It was renamed 4Sisters in 2019 as a nod to their partnership. Meryl assumed the role of chief executive officer, Patchez became chief marketing officer, Felicity started traveling and promoting the company as a brand ambassador, and Chantel's interest in organic farming practices led her to take on the position of sustainability manager. "It was natural for us to tailor our roles to suit each of our skill sets," explains Felicity.

Street between greenery
A road to the rice fields. CEDRIC ANGELES

"Dad didn't have to pour his knowledge of this male-dominated industry into four young girls, but he did it anyway," says Meryl. All those "check on the farm" visits ended up paying off. The company now works more than 25,000 acres of land, has a new state-of-the-art mill, enjoys relationships with national retailers such as Walmart and Whole Foods Market, and has launched an online store. To answer the growing demand for natural products, they offer organic and sustainably grown rice along with the conventionally farmed kind.

Elton began his company with a vision to take a small grain and make a difference in the world. "Working with my girls has been extremely rewarding," he says. "I am beyond proud of the effort they put into growing what I started, something that will be here long after I'm gone."

Field at sunset

Try These Louisiana-Inspired Rice Recipes

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Smothered Pork Chops with Rice

Recipe: Smothered Pork Chops with Rice

Pork with hearty, gravy and rice will have you licking your chops. The sauce is made with Creole mustard that you'll want to eat by the spoonful.

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Vegetarian Dirty Rice

Recipe: Vegetarian Dirty Rice

This meatless rice dish is filthy good. Poblano peppers add spice while cremini mushrooms and plant-based bacon pack in savory, umami flavors.

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One-Pot Shrimp-and-Sausage Jambalaya

Recipe: One-Pot Shrimp-and-Sausage Jambalaya

No matter your jambalaya preferences, this one-pot rendition is a winner. Shrimp and andouille sausage are well-seasoned to Creole-style in this rice stew.

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