I now have a couple of months worth of new potatoes, because I grew these myself. Those in the picture are Yukon Gold and Russet potatoes. It’s next to impossible to buy potatoes of this quality. You have to grow them yourself.
With that said, hereby hangs a tale, as Shakespeare might have written. I come from a line of many generations of potato farmers, and my grandfather Earnie claimed to have started the sweet potato industry in Alabama. Here’s the story.
During the 1920’s, farmers from the South would travel to Northern industrial cities to work during the winter. Folks from Cullman would go to Cincinnati to be among their fellow German descended folks. Factory work paid better than sitting on your butt all winter.
Factory owners caught on to this migration, and instituted a rule that no one who quit to work at a higher paying factory could be re-hired by another one. Before the days of Social Security numbers and other ID, my grandfather just used a different name, every time he moved from factory to factory.
He would also look for markets for anything he grew. One day he ran across a grocery wholesaler who was really interested. Here’s how he would describe the conversation:
Wholesaler: “So what do you grow down there in Alabama?”
Earnie: “Our main crop is strawberries.”
Wholesaler: “Too perishable. They’d be rotten by the time they got up here.”
Earnie: “We also grow lots of sweet potatoes.”
Wholesaler: “Sweet potatoes! Oy vey! I can never get enough sweet potatoes. I’ll take three carloads.”
Earnie: “I’ll get three guys to bring up three carloads.”
Wholesaler: “No, I want three train carloads. That will just be the start.”
And thusly every sweet potato in the county was sold, and an industry born. The first time I walked into our first Whole Foods store, I saw a big sign that said “Local Sweet Potatoes,” next to the picture of a farmer I went to high school with. Taters run deep.