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Danielle Kartes of Rustic Joyful Food Blog Post

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The Harvest

I had the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before! I flew to Idaho to witness the great Idaho potato harvest. 

I don’t think I’ve ever much considered large-scale harvest before. I go to the grocery store every few days without paying much thought to the origins of the produce on display. I know that farmers work so hard to bring food to our tables, but sometimes it’s easy to just move through and grab up the produce, not thinking too long on it. I buy what I need and head home. I can remember the days when my family didn’t have much money, and I would waffle back and forth about the things I really needed and the things I could skip because, well, there will always be food at the grocery store for me to come back and buy on another day, after a bit more money comes in. How fortunate and blessed we are here in America. Farmers help make our lives easier. They work tirelessly to get food onto our tables. How incredible! 

My goal while in Idaho was to learn about potatoes and the potato harvest. That was it—have fun this week! What an incredible opportunity!

I trucked into potato fields along with about 20 other people, where massive machinery gently dug up the rows and separated the potatoes. After the potatoes were dug up and separated, more huge machines on wheels, called SPUDNIKs, came through and lifted ton after ton of Burbank russet potatoes into their beds. It was an immediately impressive operation to behold. I began to consider how profound an impact this agricultural component of our economy had on my life—on all our lives. This was going to be a special experience.

The group I was fortunate enough to be a part of visited several farms, and the farmers were kind and generous and honest. I began to hear the same concerns and stories from the farmers running each new farm we visited. This summer had been hot and unforgiving. There was wildfire smoke floating over the mountains which affected photosynthesis. The plants on some farms had died early. This affected the sizes of the potatoes and the overall yield. It was difficult to imagine working while troubleshooting these environmental concerns.

Despite the challenges, we observed trucks and machinery hauling these big, beautiful yields into the faculties for washing and packaging. Talk about perseverance. The summer was tough, but the harvest still went forward. At each facility we’d walk into the lobby area first, and they all smelled like potatoes! Sounds funny and obvious, but I thought it was pretty cool that each office had that earthy potato smell. We’d then go into the warehouse. It was incredible to witness the volume of potatoes coming out of the trucks and into the washing and sorting basins, tons of potatoes being moved efficiently through machine processing, all with the goal of feeding people. Idaho leads the way in supplying the entire country with potatoes. The sheer size of that undertaking is staggering, and seeing it firsthand gave me a new perspective on the value of our agricultural industries.   

Every farmer I met seemed to be a 4th or 5th generation potato farmer. One particularly warm family of farmers had just lost their father. He had actively farmed well into his eighties and enjoyed working the fields up until he passed away. They said this was the first harvest without him and that it had been tough. Yet even as they spoke to us in the field, the machines were pulling up thousands of pounds of beautiful Burbank russet potatoes. The farmers spoke joyfully. Even with all they’d been through, there was a full harvest. Beautiful food. With all the heat and drought and fires and loss, they stood to gain a beautiful harvest. 

The potatoes may not have been as big as in years past, or as abundant, but this life doesn’t turn out as we plan. Even in trials there is still room for an incredible harvest. I was so in awe of what these families went through to provide for American families. 

These farmers brought us back to a giant potato storage shed where Grandma and Grandpa were frying fresh potatoes and making French fries. We enjoyed their harvest. Even during their loss, they celebrated the harvest win. They allowed joy to be found in simply living. Big cast iron pots full of bubbling oil and victory. I was overwhelmed by emotion. Just enjoying the fruits of their labor was a humbling experience.

Stopping to celebrate that this crop was headed to feed thousands of people was wild! Hard work brings joy, and often we forget to invite joy into our lives in simple ways. I’m driven and goal-oriented, always. My joy comes from accomplishing things, and often after a big success I’m right onto the next thing! But I want to celebrate everything, the big and the small. You might not think eating fresh French fries in a potato shed was like listening to a motivational speaker but, for me, it was!

I don’t know that I’ll ever look at a potato the same way again. I’ll look at a potato as a reminder of the harvest. I’ll go out of my way to thank a farmer for the food that is available to me, on a whim, at the local grocery store. I’ll remember that good stuff always comes after hard times. 

Thank you to the Idaho Potato Commission for inviting me on such an eye-opening, life changing adventure and teaching me about the harvest. Buy a bag of Idaho potatoes this week—someone worked very hard to get those potatoes to your plate.