How many Q-tips does it take to clean your ears after spending the morning on a potato farm?
I wish I knew because after using eight swabs...I ran out. And my ears were still dirty. But maybe I should start from the beginning...
This blogging thing has afforded me some really unique opportunities and I have been able to experience some pretty cool things. Experiences are what life is all about and I am grateful for this job that continues to reward me with things I would not have encountered otherwise. It keeps me grinning from ear to ear.
Last June I won a trip to Black Gold Farms and they said, "Hey, we'd love to show you our potatoes and what we do on our farm". I couldn't get there fast enough. When a company is willing to spend their time educating folks about their products, something amazing is going to take place. And usually the greatest reward is meeting the faces behind the brand. In this case it was a multi-generational family and their dedicated employees.
The Halverson family welcomed us with open arms, big potato hearts and Northern accents. We felt completely at home in their open fields, cool warehouses even inside their giant potato harvest-tractors. We experienced what it takes to grow and harvest potatoes from the field to the factory. It was enlightening to see and learn firsthand where one of my favorite foods originates.
In usual form, when a bunch of food bloggers descend...anywhere...it ALWAYS begins (and ends) with food. No matter what. In our own defense, we were starving by the time we made our way across the country into Memphis, Tennessee. So naturally, we had to stop for some BBQ before heading to our first destination of the evening.
I sat across from my two lovely friends Sandy and Ali as we munched away on some tasty BBQ sandwiches from Tops BBQ. Let's just say there weren't many leftovers, if any.
From our Tops BBQ lunch we scurried off to the hotel in Paragould, Arkansas, at least an hours drive from where we were in Memphis. We passed old cotton gins and peaceful countryside before arriving at our hotel.
After merely seconds in our rooms, we headed out to Don Jose's to grab a margarita. It was "hawt" in this part of the world and a cool drink was the perfect way to kick off our night.
Now, did you really think the food would stop? I mean, this is how we roll on these trips.
Black Gold Farms had an evening planned for us at the Paragould Country Club. We dined on entrees paired with their lovely potato side dishes. This is where we really got down to business learning about Black Gold's operation in Missouri and around the country.
We had a hardy dinner and enjoyed getting to know the Halverson family and how they have achieved success in their Midwest operation.
Exhausted from traveling we went to bed at a decent hour anticipating our big day on the potato farm seeing Black Gold in action.
We were truly in small town America and it was REALLY hard to keep track of what state we were in at any given time. The borders of Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee seem to run together in this part of the country.
It turns out Sheryl Crow is from one of the itty-bitty small towns we drove through. It was worth turning the car around and snapping a picture of their very large sign. (Thanks for doing that Glenn!) This is obviously this towns claim to fame.
We made it! Even though we were in Missouri, this is only one of Black Gold Farms locations, with twelve potato farms in eleven states. It was over 80 years ago, in North Dakota's Red River Valley, where the Halverson family began growing potatoes.
Generations have passed since the first 10-acre plot of Black Gold potatoes were planted. Now, it is up to John, Eric and Leah (4th-generation) to carry on the family legacy of potato farming in the Midwest and beyond.
I was truly inspired by what I found at this family operation. I know how hard it is to make-a-go of a commercial operation such as this one. It is complete dedication and is never easy.
The Halverson's impressed me with their focus on sustainability and their effort to put forth the very best product into the marketplace. Their dedication to give back to the communities where they farm was also impressive.
Have you ever seen potatoes pulled right from the ground?
The potatoes grown there thrive in the loamy, well-drained soils I saw in Missouri. The loose soil makes it easy to pull the potatoes right out of the ground.
With each potato plant producing about 2-1/2 pounds of potatoes, the harvest of two plants fills your 5 pound bags.
Yes, it is completely wrong to stab potatoes with a pitchfork, but girls will be girls and it surely seemed like a great way to take a tater picture.
Here is the more "politically correct" shot of a pitchfork and potatoes. Which one do you like better?
The potato farm was in full swing-harvest mode when we arrived. Black Gold grows both red potatoes and white chipper potatoes as you see above. Black Gold's farms supply over 1/2 a billion pounds of potatoes annually....that's a lot of potato chips! However, that number makes sense as the potato is the second most consumed food here in the United States.
Chipper potatoes are subject to the "flick test". Easily removed skin is optimum for potatoes used in the making of potato chips. (Black Gold Farms is the leading supplier of chipper potatoes to Frito Lay.) By leaving the green vegetation above ground in the field, the potato skin does not develop a thick, harder-to-remove skin layer. This makes it much easier and less cumbersome to take off in the processing of potato chips.
Black Gold's farms are purposely located in proximity to their customers. This eliminates wasteful practices and gets the potatoes where they need to be with optimum freshness in mind. This also reduces their carbon footprint when it comes to transporting their goods to the marketplace.
I loved watching the potatoes harvested in the field. I am guilty of going to the market and never really thinking about where the fresh produce in the bins come from. It's heart-warming to know families such as the Halverson's are growing the food we eat every day.
I did lay down in the dirt to take this glamour potato shot just for you all. You're welcome!
After we spent time in the white, chipper potato field, we headed over to the red potato harvest to see a completely different scene of how potatoes are grown.
This field is not desolate...it is full of red potatoes right under the dirt. Top-killing of the potato foliage prior to harvest induces maturity and accelerates skin set. Thicker skin affords the potato a longer shelf life as they are stored through the long winter months.
This is where we were able to ride in the harvesting tractors...this is one giant, green machine.
Left to right, Meghan, me, Ali, Sommer (front), Angie (behind Sommer), Sandy, Heidi and Jose (our driver).
I believe this is where my dirty ears came from.
Can you believe we found a red "twins-tuber" shaped like a heart? Perfect for this potato-loving girl. Of course we had to stick a pitchfork through it, since we didn't have an arrow. We are worse than boys sometimes.
The earthy smell of fresh potatoes from the field made me want to teleport back to my kitchen and get cooking. A little butter, herbs and Parmesan would make this into a perfect little snack.
My view from inside the harvester posted on Instagram.
The field experience had us hungrier than we expected. We stopped in Holcomb, Missouri where we dined at Strawberry's BBQ.
As you can imagine, this small town had not really seen the likes of a group like us. And what I mean by that is, a group of people who take a picture of every-single-thing they are eating. One of the waitresses in her slow drawl asked,
"Honey...did you just take a picture of that food?"
Well, yes I did.
"But whhhyyyyy?", she asked.
I loved it. But yes, everyone around the place was staring and wondering what the heck we were doing. We're used to it. Sort of. And the food was darn good.
After lunch we headed to the potato warehouse where they are brought in for sorting, a nice bath and packaging. Truck after truck full of potatoes arrive constantly during harvest season.
Potatoes passing swiftly under your feet can make you a little dizzy...I'm just sayin'.
Red potatoes and chipper potatoes in various stages of processing.
Chipper potatoes are sampled and tested for specific gravity before they make their way to the potato chip plant.
I'm pretty sure this is where the saying, "heavier than a sack of potatoes" came from. I believe, (but I could be wrong) this is 2000 lbs (a ton) of potatoes. Whoa.
More potato glamour shots of a wee-red-one.
After we were dirtier than one could ever imagine, we headed back to downtown Memphis for an evening of pure luxury. A shower never felt so good. This is where I discovered eight Q-Tips were not enough to clean the potato farm dirt that had taken residence in my ears.
Our first stop was for drinks at the historic Peabody Hotel. If you happen to go, indulge in the Cosmopolitan, probably the best I've ever had. Here we are gathered in front of the duck fountain with Glenn Renyolds, national director of sales for Black Gold Farms and a true Southern gentleman. His great-grandfather painted the intricate ceiling found in the lobby of this beautiful hotel. Make sure to look up next time you are there.
The Peabody is full of pomp and circumstance when it comes to their traditions, especially with their famous ducks.
And the ducks reside on the roof of the hotel in this house. Yep, you really need to go there and see what this is all about.
From The Peabody we headed over to Flight and had a memorable dinner. All menu items...drinks, appetizers, entrees and desserts can be ordered in flights of three. We were able to enjoy so many different choices this way.
Not many pictures were taken on this particular evening as our phones were ceremoniously placed faced down in the middle of the table. While difficult for all of us, we enjoyed each other's company and had a great, great night.
I did manage to snap this one of Sandy enjoying one her flights. Such a unique and fun way to have dinner!!
As we walked back to our hotel through the thick, humid air, the moon over Memphis lit our path. A stellar evening with friends new and old was had by all.
Don't think for a second I left Memphis without getting my Elvis on. Banana Pancakes with Crunchy Peanut Butter Syrup & Grits from the Blue Plate Cafe. Yep...it hit the spot.
I want to thank John, Leah, Angie, Glenn and Melinda for the unreal trip I was afforded. Each one of you made the trip unique and interesting in your own special way. I will never look at a potato the same way again. Hope to see you all again soon.
A few links to some of my favorite Red Potato Recipes you must try:
Cheesy-Italian Pressure Cooker Potatoes
Balsamic Baked Red Potatoes
Mini Loaded Red Potatoes
Garlicky-Lemon Shallot Potatoes
Smokin' Red Roasted Potatoes
To learn more or join the conversation with Black Gold Farms or their Better With Reds campaign, follow them here:
Black Gold Farms on Facebook
Better With Reds on Facebook
@BlackGoldFarms on Twitter
@BetterWithReds on Twitter
Better With Reds on Pinterest
Better With Reds on Instagram
Disclosure: I won an all expense paid trip to Black Gold Farms. This account was about my experience and is not a sponsored post. However, please support this wonderful, family operation that puts real food on our tables and employs many people across our nation.