All across the sandy soils of our state, potato growers are headed to their fields to harvest the vegetables of their labor. What does it take to get a potato from field to fork? I made a visit to Alsum Farms & Produce, inc. to learn more.
Alsum Farms & Produce is a family-grown company, located near the lower Wisconsin River Valley. They recently celebrated 45 years in business, and have been a family company since the beginning. As an elite grower, packer, and shipper of fresh produce, they supply local, regional, and national communities with over 300 different fruits and vegetables for their table. The backbone of their business though? Wisconsin-grown potatoes! This year, the Alsum team will harvest more than 2,700 acres of russet, red, gold, and fingerling potatoes.
I started my tour with a trip to the field, to experience the potato harvest first-hand. To harvest potatoes, growers must first kill the above-ground vine. Killing the vine causes the potatoes’ skins to harden in preparation for harvest. If a potato were harvested while the vines were still green, the potato’s skin would rub off as the spud was dug from the ground. 17-28 days after the vines are killed, the potatoes are ready.
On the Alsum’s farm, a mechanical harvester is used to dig the potatoes up from the ground. A blade runs underground and pulls up all of the dirt and potatoes in its path. The spuds then travel across a series of conveyor belts which allow the dirt to fall through. Once the potatoes are separated out, they are gently placed into a truck driving next door. Gently is a key word, as potatoes bruise easily when they fall from a tall heights. Sides of the neighboring trucks drop down to allow the arm of the harvester as close to the bottom of the truck as possible. The farm’s goal is to only drop the spuds 5-6 inches. Once they are loaded in to the truck, they will leave the field and head to the farm for initial sorting.
Part two of my spud tour took me to the Alsum packing facility near Friesland. Here, the potatoes are washed, washed again, and washed once more. Once they are squeaky clean, they are sorted electronically by weight. The potatoes travel in a single file line on a conveyor belt that kicks them off one by one into the correct group for their size. Next, potatoes are packed into bags of various sizes. Here, temperatures are kept cool, between 45-54 degrees Fahrenheit, and lights are kept low to keep the potatoes fresh. Packaging ranges from 20 pound bags to individually wrapped potatoes. These potatoes will be packed and shipped within two days, again ensuring freshness.
The consumer is consistently top of mind throughout the growing, harvesting, and packing process at Alsum Farms & Produce. With integrity from field to fork, the Alsum family and staff are consistently looking for ways their process can deliver fresher produce, with higher traceability, using more sustainable practices. A true Wisconsin family company, they are proud to be a part of Wisconsin’s robust agriculture community.