Cultivation/Production, Most viewed stories, North America, Smart Farming

Feeding America: How the next generation of potato farmers are leaving their mark

Across the U.S., and sometimes in unexpected places, a generation of potato growers use cutting-edge tools and techniques to advance farms and protect the land for future generations. In honor of National Fruits and Veggies Month, Potatoes USA is highlighting a few of these individuals and celebrating their work, bringing America’s favorite vegetable to tables nationwide – and around the world.

These farmers often operate out of the spotlight, working 15-hour days during the harvest season and generating much of the produce consumed by Americans throughout the year. We recently sat down with a few of the brightest minds in potato growing to understand their work and the difference they hope to make.

Leah Halverson, North Dakota: Connecting Consumers to the Families and Places that Grow Their Food

After growing up in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Leah Halverson left to earn her MBA and pursue a career in advertising. A decade later, she saw an opportunity to come home, using her experience 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.”

The name of Leah’s marketing agency is a nod to her great-grandfather, who founded Black Gold Farms on 10 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 believe in preserving the land and leaving it better for future generations – including her daughter and seven nieces. In addition to embracing data and technology to optimize sustainability efforts, Black Gold Farms uses LEED® construction techniques whenever possible for new construction projects and 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,” shared Leah. “It’s really, really hard work, but you get to grow something that everybody loves!”

Her favorite potato dish?

Leah and her family have fallen in love with this fresh take on potato bruschetta. Using potatoes instead of bread increases the amount of vegetables and the flavor of the dish!

Bryan Jones, Florida: Protecting Local Waterways and Going from Potato-to-Chip in Less than 24 Hours

At Riverdale Potato Farm, Bryan Jones specializes in growing potatoes for one of America’s favorite snacks: the potato chip. Located just a few miles from the ocean in Saint Augustine, Florida, Bryan’s atypical potato growing season runs from January to the middle of June. But that’s not the only uncommon thing about Bryan’s farm. Because the weather can be wet, he uses military-grade trucks to get the produce out of the field more efficiently.

To create the ideal potato chip, Bryan focuses on growing smaller, rounder potatoes with thinner skin and a more uniform shape. As a result of these methods, his potatoes can go from harvest to a bag of chips in 24 hours.

Bryan also uses innovative technology, including tools to track rainfall and subsurface irrigation, allowing him to grow a bountiful crop using less irrigation and fertilizer. This also helps protect the St. Johns River, which runs beside the farm.

“We’re trying to irrigate less and keep the water table exactly where it needs to be,” said Bryan. “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.”

Bryan’s family includes two young children, and he wants the farm to be an option for them if they’re interested one day.

“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.”

His favorite potato dish?

Chips, of course! But when he wants to mix things up, he loves making his own homemade fries. Check out this recipe for easy, air fryer fries.

Taylor Grant, Idaho: A Sustainability Advocate Using the Latest Tools to Optimize Operations

Taylor Grant is used to hard work. He’s the chief operating officer at Grant 4-D Farms in Rupert, Idaho, which grows nine varieties of russet potatoes across 30,000 acres. During harvest time, his team works 14- to 15-hour days to ensure consumers have access to their favorite vegetable all year.

While he grew up in Idaho, Taylor and his wife were living in Seattle when they decided to move back and make farming their life.

“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.”

Grant 4-D Farms was started in 1958. As Taylor looks to the future, sustainability and innovation are major focus areas. In addition to rotating plants like sugar beets to replenish soil quality, Grant 4-D Farms also has solar panels to generate some of its own power and uses sensors to monitor the moisture in the soil.

“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 practices help Grant 4-D Farms harvest a lot of potatoes! Each of their 30 storage bays holds 10 million pounds of potatoes. In just one bay, that’s 90.6 million grams of plant-based protein and the daily value of potassium for about 4.5 million people.

When he’s not working 15-hour days during the harvest season, Taylor and his wife love spending time with their two young children and getting outdoors through scuba diving, wakeboarding, and riding motorcycles.

His favorite potato dish? Taylor’s wife has recently started creating dishes featuring smashed potatoes. Fast and easy, these potatoes have a great flavor and crispy texture, and are a “smashing” hit in the Grant household. Check out one of Taylor’s favorite recipes here!

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.

Erin Bracken
Vice President, Hillenby
Photo: From left to right – Taylor Grant, Leah Halverson and Bryan Jones

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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