In late September, we announced a new partnership with Alexia Foods. We’re thrilled to be among a select few food bloggers who get to serve as Alexia Foods brand ambassadors — or Tastemakers, as we are officially known. Part of our continued collaboration with Alexia will include information about new and exciting Alexia products, exclusive giveaways, and of course more of our own original creations featuring Alexia Foods products. In case you missed it, we recently kicked things off with our own version of the Canadian potato favorite–Pork, Fennel and Onion Poutine. Our next Alexia installment, however, takes us out of the kitchen for a change, as we venture over to the farm.
Like many of you, we’re always curious about the origins of our favorite foods. Alexia gave us an inside peek at the process of their most precious crop, the potato. We dreamed of a field trip where we’d get to roll up our sleeves, strap on a pair of rain boots and rummage through potato fields. Then, hair net and all, we’d be ushered through the processing plant and get a firsthand account on the inner-workings of their delicious products. As you guessed, coordination of such an adventure proved to be too extensive in the short turnaround we had, but Alexia was more than gracious to still unlock their virtual doors and entertain our curiosities.
Below is the first of a two part Q&A that answers many questions about the who, what, when, where, why, and hows’ of Alexia Foods’ main potato producer–Watts Brothers Farm in eastern Washington. In this first part, we touch on farming potatoes, their harvesting season, and the background of the Watts Brothers farm. Enjoy!
1. When was Watts farm founded?
The farm is also known as the 100 Circle Farm (although there are now nearly 200 circles) and has been a working farm for over 35 years. The Watts Brothers Farm plants circular fields, a common practice in the western U.S. where irrigation is an important part of farm yields. Each “circle” or field is about 100-125 acres.
2. How many acres of land are here?
The Watts Brothers Farm in Patterson, Wash. plants six thousand acres of potatoes, but the whole farm adds up to 20,000 acres. We also plant sweet corn, green peas, lima beans and carrots. The Alexia story extends beyond Watts Brothers Farm. We work with many farmers across the country to grow and harvest quality potatoes and other vegetables.
3. How many people are employed at the farm?
Just like the life-cycle of a potato, our farm has varying levels of activity throughout the year. At any given time, there are 50 full-time staff members.
4. How have sustainable, organic and/or all-natural methods been incorporated into the potato farming industry? Are any of those elements used here for Alexia Foods’ crops?
a. There are approximately 3,000 acres of organic fields at the Watts Brothers Farm, which are managed with natural fertilizers and pest deterrents, such as kelp, fish and mulch.
b. Another example is that before we plant the potatoes, we first plant mustard seeds, which grow and are then tilled into the soil. As they decompose, they emit nitrogen which serves to fertilize the soil naturally, helping the potatoes grow.
5. How big are your organic fields? Please explain the difference in the treatment of the crop.
There are approximately 3,000 acres of organic fields at the Watts Brothers Farm, which are managed with natural fertilizers and pest deterrents, such as kelp, fish and mulch. Another example is that before we plant the potatoes, we first plant mustard seeds, which grow and are then tilled into the soil. As they decompose, they emit nitrogen which serves to fertilize the soil naturally, helping the potatoes grow.
6. How many types of potatoes are grown here?
a. The Watts Brothers Farm grows “white flesh” potato varieties in the Russet family, including (see links):
7. How long does it take a potato to grow?
a. Approximately 90-100 days.
8. How many potatoes, on average, does Watts Brothers Farm grow?
Approximately 3 million lbs each year. In addition to potatoes, the farm also grows and harvests sweet corn, green peas, lima beans and carrots. In addition, Alexia works with farmers in the Northwest and Midwest to grow even more potatoes.
9. Why is the farm located in Washington? Can you explain the benefits of the soil?
The volcanic ash and sandy soil make for excellent growing conditions. In addition, the relatively moderate climate of southern Washington means that the temperature highs and lows don’t vary too extensively.
10. When is the best time to harvest the potatoes?
Harvest times vary, but at Watts Brothers Farm, we begin harvesting “early” potato varieties in July and continue through October.
11. How do you know when they are ready to be harvested?
The approximate growing period is about 90-100 days, so we’ll start by first harvesting a few potatoes from each field to test them out for flavor, texture and overall indicators of maturity.
12. Can you please walk us through harvesting step-by-step?
a. First, a potato harvester— a tractor-like machine roughly the size of a semi-truck with specialized farm attachments—extracts the potatoes from the ground and gently loads them onto truck beds.
b. Next, they are hand-sorted to remove leaves and dirt and other organic material.
c. Then, many of the potatoes are sent directly from the field to be washed, sliced, seasoned and frozen, many within hours of leaving the field. Because the harvest process occurs during such a tight time frame, we also keep potatoes at the farm in a natural setting while they wait their turn to become table-ready. Our farm-to-freezer process provides the freshest tasting, chef-inspired product Alexia fans have come to expect.
We will continue the second half of this interview next week. In the meantime, stay tuned for a Thanksgiving-perfect dish featuring Alexia Foods’ newest product, Sweet Potato Rolls. If you want to become an Alexia Ambassador, sign up for Alexia Rewards! Points turn into coupons and prizes that you can use to enjoy Alexia Foods products.
Disclaimer: We are part of the Alexia Foods Tastemaker Program and received samples and compensation for participation. All opinions given are our own. Information and photos provided by Alexia Foods.