In the United States, a generation of innovative potato growers is using cutting-edge tools and techniques to advance their farms while ensuring the land’s protection for future generations. In celebration of National Fruits and Veggies Month, Potatoes USA is shining a spotlight on these individuals and their contributions to bringing America’s favorite vegetable to tables nationwide and worldwide. These farmers often work tirelessly behind the scenes, dedicating long hours during the harvest season to provide a significant portion of the produce consumed by Americans throughout the year. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with some of the brightest minds in potato farming to gain insights into their work and the impact they aspire to make.
Leah Halverson, North Dakota: Connecting Consumers to the Roots of Their Food
Leah Halverson, originally from Grand Forks, North Dakota, pursued an MBA and a career in advertising before returning to her roots a decade later to support her family’s farm, Black Gold Farms, and others in the agriculture sector through the founding of Ten Acre Marketing.
“More and more consumers care about where their food comes from, and there’s incredible potential to connect people back to the families and places that grow their food,” said Leah. “It’s opened the door for me to return to my family’s farm to do what I do best, to help make this farm successful so we can grow what my great-grandfather started.”
Leah’s marketing agency’s name pays homage to her great-grandfather, who established Black Gold Farms on ten acres of land over 90 years ago. In four generations, her family expanded to farming in ten different locations across the country.
Leah and her family are committed to preserving the land and leaving it in better shape for future generations, including her daughter and seven nieces. In addition to leveraging data and technology to enhance sustainability efforts, Black Gold Farms incorporates LEED® construction techniques in new construction projects and has achieved LEED® Gold certification for their headquarters.
“It’s inspiring to work in agriculture today and see how people are making changes that matter. Farmers are unbelievably innovative,” Leah shared. “It’s really, really hard work, but you get to grow something that everybody loves!”
Bryan Jones, Florida: Protecting Local Waterways and Crafting Fresh Potato Chips
At Riverdale Potato Farm, Bryan Jones specializes in growing potatoes destined to become one of America’s favorite snacks: potato chips. Located near the ocean in Saint Augustine, Florida, Bryan’s potato growing season extends from January to mid-June. But what sets Bryan’s farm apart is his emphasis on producing smaller, rounder potatoes with thinner skin and uniform shapes to create the perfect potato chip. Thanks to these methods, his potatoes can go from harvest to chip bag within 24 hours.
Bryan also embraces innovative technology, utilizing tools for rainfall tracking and subsurface irrigation to maximize crop yields while conserving water resources. This approach also contributes to protecting the nearby St. Johns River.
“We’re trying to irrigate less and keep the water table exactly where it needs to be,” Bryan explained. “We also use a fertilizer technique, where instead of spreading it, we drop it exactly where the plant needs to uptake it. That way, our nutrients don’t leave our soil, and we can protect the river.”
With two young children in his family, Bryan envisions the farm as an option for them if they show interest in it someday.
“There are always plenty of challenges,” Bryan shared. “That’s why we have to be innovative with our operations so that we preserve this land for generations to come.”
Taylor Grant, Idaho: Sustainability Advocate Using Modern Tools to Optimize Farming
Taylor Grant, the Chief Operating Officer at Grant 4-D Farms in Rupert, Idaho, oversees the cultivation of nine varieties of russet potatoes across 30,000 acres. During the harvest season, his team works tirelessly, putting in 14- to 15-hour days to ensure that Americans have access to their favorite vegetable year-round.
Although he grew up in Idaho, Taylor and his wife were living in Seattle when they decided to return to farming in 2013.
“In 2013, I asked my wife if she wanted to be on the farm or in Seattle, and she said on the farm,” said Taylor. “A week later, we were on a combine.”
Established in 1958, Grant 4-D Farms places a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation. In addition to crop rotation practices, such as planting sugar beets to replenish soil quality, the farm utilizes solar panels for power generation and employs soil moisture sensors.
“Sustainability is at the top of our list because we want to make sure this land is growing high-quality crops for years to come,” said Taylor. “Our tillage practices are constantly evolving.”
These innovative approaches allow Grant 4-D Farms to harvest a substantial quantity of potatoes. Each of their 30 storage bays can hold 10 million pounds of potatoes, translating to 90.6 million grams of plant-based protein and the daily value of potassium for approximately 4.5 million people in just one bay.
Outside of the busy harvest season, Taylor and his wife enjoy spending time with their two young children and engaging in outdoor activities like scuba diving, wakeboarding, and motorcycle riding.
About National Fruit and Veggies Month
September is National Fruits & Veggies Month (NFVM), a month-long celebration of everyone’s favorite fruits and veggies. The 2023 theme, Every Time You Eat, Have A Plant®, explores all the ways we celebrate fruits and veggies throughout the journey from farms to tables, and the joy they bring us along the way.
Remember – every time you eat, #haveaplant (potatoes are our favorite)! Tag #NFVM2023 and @potatogoodness with your favorite potato dishes throughout September.
About Potatoes USA
Potatoes USA is the national marketing and promotion board representing U.S. growers and importers. Established in 1971, Potatoes USA, the largest vegetable commodity board, was created by potato farmers to promote the benefits of consuming potatoes.
For more information on Potatoes USA’s mission to “Strengthen Demand for Potatoes,” visit PotatoesUSA.com.