Idaho Potato Farm Tour
It was really fun learning all about how potatoes are grown during an Idaho potato farm tour this fall. It’s really sad how the lowly potato—a simple, little plant-powered food—has gotten such a bad rap in recent years. As my readers know, I think potatoes are fabulous, you just have to use care over how you prepare them (avoid large amounts of unhealthful fats), and be sure to use portion control—a rule that applies to many foods. During my potato tour, I saw a potato straight from the farm that weighed about 1 pound! Of course, that’s an anomaly. Keep in mind that a serving is about 5 ounces each and you’ll be fine! Potatoes are America’s favorite veggie—we eat about 110 pounds per year! Most Americans like their potatoes baked—my favorite way to enjoy these tubers, too.
I started my farm tour in Idaho Falls, Idaho—a prime growing region for potatoes. On the road to the hotel, we spied potato farms—in the middle of harvest time, and potato sheds dotting the landscape. Every year, Idaho produces 13 billion pounds of potatoes! 94% of those are Russet potatoes, while the other 6% is specialty varieties, such as gold, red, and fingerlings. Why does Idaho seem to be the perfect spot for cultivating spuds? The rich volcanic soil, warm days and cool nights, and water from the Idaho mountains seems to give potatoes just what they want!
I learned all about potatoes during my trip to Idaho. I already knew that potatoes are rich in vitamin C (45% Daily Value in one potato), potassium, vitamin B6, and fiber. One potato only has 110 calories, which is a very satisfying food for that calorie payback. What I didn’t know is that the potato industry has been working diligently with fast food restaurants to ban trans fats in French fries for a while now—this type of fat is virtually eliminated in restaurants. And schools do not fry French fries—they oven bake them (a really healthy way to eat potatoes).
Potatoes—which grow in tubers under the ground—are the energy storage containers for the potato plant. The original potato is traced back to the Peru/Bolivia region, but they have since spread across the world and are enjoyed in many traditional diet patterns—from India to China. The potato “seed” is actually a chopped up potato which is planted under the ground and later will grow into a vine, with the tubers growing under the ground. When it’s time for harvesting, the vines are killed so the nutrients go to the tubers, and then they are harvested mechanically and placed in huge storage sheds before the potatoes are transported to be processed.
If it’s a whole, fresh potato (such as you find at the supermarket in bags), it’s simply washed, sorted, and stored. If it’s turned into a product (such as french fries or frozen potato products), the potato is simply washed, sorted, cut, precooked, and frozen. If it’s going to be turned into mashed potato flakes, the potato is simply washed, cooked, and run through a machine that creates a thin paper-like sheet of potatoes, which is cut up into flakes. Many of the potato farms across Idaho are family-owned; in fact we visited a potato farm at the James Joff Farm and had a lovely farm to fork dinner there.
The second day of our potato farm tour, we got to visit Lamb Weston to see how potatoes are turned into French fries. It was a much more simple process than I had suspected: Bring in mountains of potatoes, clean them, slice them, and precook/fry them, then freeze and package them.
Next up: the Wada Farms tour, where we got to see how fresh potatoes are processed. We saw mountains of potatoes, which were cleaned and packaged for shipping out.
The next day we visited Idahoan to see how they turn fresh potatoes into instant mashed tators. It was fascinating to see mounds of potatoes fashioned into vats of mashed potatoes, which are then pressed into sheets of potato “paper” to become small flakes, which can be reconstituted into mashed potatoes at home.
The final leg of our potato tour was Teton Springs Lodge, in the majestic Teton Mountains, where we got to experience the true culinary arts of cooking with potatoes. Chef Rick Sordahl created a magnificent wine and small plates reception, with tempting tiny bites of potatoes, such as gold potato cups filled with asparagus.
For dinner, we made our way to the Linn Canyon Ranch for a dude ranch meal, which started with cocktails and appetizers by a roaring bonfire, and ended with a farm fresh table, inspired by vegetables from the garden on the ranch. It was a truly magical evening!
To learn more about the healthy benefits of eating potatoes, as well as delicious, creative ways to include potatoes in your meals, visit:
For some of my favorite healthy potato recipes, check out:
I am not a spokesperson or profiting from these products or companies; just providing my own unsolicited opinion about popular products, services, and organizations in the food world today!