The World's Best Potatoes
All about Washington Spuds
Enjoyed some tasty french fries recently? There’s a good chance they came from potatoes grown in Washington state, particularly the Columbia Basin. This is where the Cascade range shields farmers from a lot of weather frustrations and provides farmers with idyllic conditions for growing this prized vegetable. The availability of water, rich volcanic soil and long growing season create farmland that can grow more potatoes per acre than any other state in the country.
“This is the best potato-growing area in the world,” explained life-long potato farmer, Frank Martinez. “No one else has what we have.”
For as long as Martinez can recall, his life centered around agriculture. He grew up traveling the country as a migrant farm worker and rose to the rank of foreman by the age of 17. Martinez credits his early success as a farm worker on his ability to speak both Spanish and English fluently. But his decision to branch out on his own, first with a small, 35-acre plot of land near where he worked, to a much bigger farm, was all his grit, determination and love of potatoes.
“Greatest vegetable in the world,” Martinez said, and not without merit.
Potatoes are a dense source of Vitamins C and B6. They also contain more potassium than bananas and are a rich source of fiber, all while being very low in fat. Potatoes are also delicious! French fries aren’t the only way to enjoy this tasty vegetable. One of the delights of potatoes is the hundreds of ways they can be prepared. You can probably think of several dozen just off the top of your head: baked potatoes, hash browns, potatoes au gratin, country potatoes, potato casserole, mashed potatoes, potato salad, potato pancakes, potato chips, potato goulash, potato soup, potato bread, tater tots, potato wedges, cheesy potatoes, and so on.
To grow the potatoes on his farm, Martinez creates large mounds for each plant.
“We have to,” he explains, “because Washington potatoes grow so big.”
At the same time, Martinez uses the bare minimum pesticides necessary to keep everything growing. The main challenge Martinez faces when it comes to running his farm is sorting out imposed regulations. These can include extensive record keeping requirements and utilization of technology he is not familiar with, necessitating additional hiring to sort and maintain everything that is required to keep the farm within regulatory standards. As an employer, Martinez stresses the importance of building relationships with and appreciating his workers.
“We have to pay them well,” he said, noting that without them, none of it would be possible.
Of course, Martinez knows from experience exactly what it takes to grow and maintain a potato farm. After all, he’s been doing it for more than 30 years.
Luckily for local restaurants such as Dick’s Hamburgers, Washington state’s potato production doesn’t seem to be dwindling anytime soon. Martinez and his neighboring potato farmers measure their output by the ton, not by the barrel like many other potato farms do, simply because of the sheer volume they harvest every year. This is particularly lucky for us—the restaurant attendees. We get to consume each delicious french fry with a little more vigor, knowing we are supporting a local farmer with each savory bite.