PEARSALL, Texas — My boys dug red potatoes out of the ground with their bare hands, chucking them back into the path of the harvester as we talked with Leah Halverson, director of new business development for Black Gold Farms.
Halverson’s upper Midwest accent is a little out of place down south of San Antonio, but this is all a part of bringing local potatoes to retailers in Texas this time of year.
Grand Forks, N.D.-based Black Gold Farms has been farming potatoes in Texas since 1992, Halverson says, but it was for the company’s chip potato business. Fast-forward to 2011, when the company decided to take advantage of the early start in Texas to offer a local option.
“We had fresh red customers in Texas at the time, so we knew we had an opportunity to better service them and their customers if we can move our product closer to the source — at least for a few weeks,” she says. “Our customers love it, and we love telling the story.”
Texas is one of 11 production regions for the company. Halverson has found the nomadic nature of moving from region to region opens doors with customers and consumers.
“Visiting our different production locations is my favorite part of the job,” she says. “There’s nothing better than getting out to the field and getting my hands dirty. Also, I get out of the cold of North Dakota.”
It also gives Halverson a chance to talk to people about agriculture.
“I always love talking about the local story,” she says. “It’s a story that really excites the consumers, and opens the door for that agriculture conversation — which is so needed and so important. At the beginning and end of the day, we’re farmers and that’s our passion, so if we have a captive audience we’ll tell that story.”
Farming locally also creates a culture of transparency with customers, she says. “Our doors are always open, and there is nothing better than to show people around the fields, the packing sheds and everywhere in between. That just really resonates and attaches some meaning to the fact that it does take a lot of work, and a lot of people, and a lot of equipment to get a potato to grow in Texas, so someone in Texas can enjoy it.”
After we threw spuds around in the field, watched them get washed and packed up in the shed, my boys and I made the drive back to Austin. The next time we were at the store, we found some of Black Gold’s red potatoes on the shelf, and wondered if maybe these were the same ones we’d touched in the field.
“When you know where your food comes from, it’s that much better,” Halverson says.