Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Date With the Farm Boys

Our office anticipated the farm trip all week. "I hear those Ohio farmers are cute," my colleagues teased. The whole flight up I went wild with speculation. I was briefly distracted with all that gorgeous shiny white snow lying in the ridges of the empty fields. "Wow." I thought. "What an adventure." The plane was the tiny kind where they don't bother with jetways. You just walk down the airplane steps the old fashioned way. I was wearing my farm outfit with a long scarf with black ostrich feathers thrown on for a touch of the city.

I drove out to MooMaw Farms and took a deep breath of that Ohio farm air. Big mistake. It was so cold I think I froze one of my lungs. It remained impaired through-out my entire farm visit. And those farmers are full of vigor. I'm not certain but I think I lost four pounds just following them around and climbing up on those massive tractors. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I felt I was the city ambassador coming to bring good tidings to our country potato farmers. Without those boys, we couldn't make our delicious sassy, savory chips.

The farm itself was huge. Two big old farmhouses, and I mean big, sat in front a million acres of potato farmland. Later they told me it was only 600 acres, but to the untrained eye, the fields sprawled out endlessly. And okay, the farmers were cute. The brothers are continuing in the family tradition. This farm belonged to their parents, who still come by and help sort the potatoes at harvest.

The brothers are proud of their operation. They took me on a tour, following the journey their potatoes take from earth to harvest. There are all sorts of huge machinery lined up neatly in their organized barn. They talked tenderly about the equipment, using words like "scooper" and "belt fans". There was some stroking of the big machines. They were sparkling clean, and looked like family pets.

Our potato chip factory is very picky. This can make the farmers cranky. Sometimes they take their truck loads to the factory only to have the factory turn them away. The standards are very high for chipper potatoes. Once the truck gets to the factory, about a twenty minute drive from the farm, the intake person fills a random bucket from the truck. Those potatoes are then judged for size (the tiny ones are given to the local dairy farmers to fatten up their cows), green potatoes (caused by too much sun), and water content.

I asked the farmers if they felt compensated for the their work. They both looked surprised by the question. They were so happy to be farmers, so proud to carry on the tradition. They said it's hard, sometimes, to have to throw a whole truckload back into the field. They talked about irrigation systems on the bigger farms that helped regulate the water and produced a more consistant product. But at the end of the day, they love the farm and feel they are compensated well. They told me that although our factory is very picky, we also pay top dollar for the chippers.

The brothers were so happy. They graciously answered all my pesky questions and let me walk through the living room with my boots on.

Some things I learned:

Their farm dog Lilly doesn't bite.
The potatoes are cleaned twice before going to the factory.
One of the brothers is his church Music Director.
They use an all natural pesticide of ground of up stones to battle the flea beetle.
Their children (six between them) help sort potatoes at harvest time.
April 10th is planting day. (Unless it's raining).
They are very comfortable operating big equipment.
The farmers love potatoes.
The farmers love each other.

The Potato Chip Girl


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