Brother’s Keeper

Posted in Blog, Potato on Wednesday, May 01, 2024

For the Christensens, growing “Tatoes” is a family affair.

Brother’s Keeper

Damon Christensen walked through a potato field at Del Christensen and Sons in the Columbia River Basin, bending down to inspect a tangle of brown, dried-up potato vines. Despite the sound of dead plants crunching underfoot and the sight of brown as far as the eye can see, Christensen said these fields are very much still alive and healthy under the soil.

“We do what we call top-kill desiccation — it just takes out what’s green on top and leaves it like this,” he said, adding that it makes harvesting the potatoes much easier. He unearthed a huge, beautiful Russet Norkotah potato from the soil, a variety he said is known for their nice, blocky shape.

“That’s something I would grab in a grocery store,” he said, brushing off the dirt and admiring the tuber.

Christensen and his brothers Dean, Alex, Dallon, and Dexter, along with their parents, Del and Daneen, own and operate Del Christensen and Sons in Mattawa, which is known for its Tatoes brand of potatoes and onions. The Christensen family has been farming in Washington since the 1950s, and although working with family can sometimes be hard, Christensen said it’s mostly a great experience.

“We have ups and downs, but I feel like between my brothers and I, we’re our own best friends,” he said.

Del Christensen and Sons grows, packs, and ships all their produce to ensure that the best products end up in stores. After the potatoes are harvested from the fields onto huge trucks, they are loaded onto a conveyor belt and into large storage bins inside a dark, cool warehouse facility. Darkness is crucial to keep the potatoes fresh, said Christensen, both at the warehouse and in the kitchen at home.

“As a potato receives light, it starts to green up,” he said. “In your home, keep them in a dark corner — cool dark is best.”

After the potatoes are washed and cleaned, they head to the mechanical sizer, where cameras snap photos of each tuber zooming through at 50 miles an hour to determine whether it meets the size criteria.

“It gives a green light on the size to hit these little bumpers down here,” Christensen said, pointing down at a complex system of cables and flaps that sorts potatoes into large bins.

Finally, the potatoes are packed into bags and boxes and taken to a cold room, where they will be staged to go out on trucks for delivery. And with that, the staff at Del Christensen and Sons can finally say goodbye to the products of their hard work.

“This is the last thing I have to worry about,” Christensen said, smiling.

Overseeing every step from planting to shipping is a big job, but Christensen wouldn’t have it any other way.

“A good day is this — being out in the field,” he said. “I am not an office person, so the more I’m outside, the happier I am. … It’s very fulfilling to put something in the dirt and watch it grow, then turn around and pull it out of the dirt in the end.”

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