Potatoes. The Pemberton Valley is famous for them. Delicious little nuggets lovingly plucked from the earth in hues of red, gold, brown and white. Sold locally at farmers markets and then roasted, baked, boiled or fried. You may think nothing more about those potatoes after you have done your dinner dishes until the next time you are face to face with your farmer or grabbing a bag from the supermarket.
As producers of the ‘seed potato’ John and I do ALOT of thinking about potatoes. In a sense we have to try to be ahead of the curve because we are producing a product that takes 3-4 years to have anything for sale. Working closely with our buyers we try to forsee new trends in the potato market. Our industry is constantly looking for the next big thing in potatoes. A Red to out-red all others or that perfect Russet with a yield we can take all the way to the bank.
Every year we attend the Potato Variety Trials in the Fraser Valley. A yearly event put on by E.S Crop Consultants in conjunction with the BC Potato Growers. Heather Meberg and her cohorts at E.S Crop gather 80 or more potato varieties from around North America. Some of them tried and true, while others are so new they have don’t have a name yet. On a rotating basis potato farms in the Fraser Valley donate a small section to plant the trials. In the fall they put on the trial day which is attended by farmers and food industry reps from far and wide.
The samples are set out in neat rows with name or number and where the sample came from. With our clip boards and pens we walk the rows examining and taking notes on each one. Red potatoes with yellow flesh, purple potatoes, whites with pink eyes, rough Russets and smooth yellows. How do they cook? How long is the growing season? How do they yield? All these questions are asked and answered in an attempt to discern what you, the eating public, will pick up when you are in the produce section of your local store.
We as seed potato growers have to educate ourselves and do our homework. We spend our winters attending trade shows, variety trials and lectures in order to produce the best product we can.
Next time you’re at your local market deciding on a potato for dinner give a thought to where it came from. Ask your farmer, he may be able to tell you exactly where. You say potato, I say… years and years of work to get it to your plate.