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Potato pioneers

Digging up the facts about potatoes.


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With their taste and versatility, it's no wonder potatoes are a fan favorite. Did you know, on average, each of us eats 135 pounds of potatoes a year in a variety of forms? Whether baked, mashed, diced or scalloped—no matter how you slice it, from potato chips to French fries and almost anything in between—the potato has been a staple of our diet throughout history.

Potatoes today are the leading vegetable crop in the United States, with annual total production at about 41 billion pounds.¬†And they've been a staple at Ron Lehr's family farm since the 1930s. The third-generation farmer grows more than 2,500 acres of the vegetable just outside of Bakersfield. He grows a Cal White variety, which is good for boiling and baking, and harvests more than 800,000 pounds of the tasty tubers during harvest season—so he knows just what makes the perfect potato.

"Depending on the variety, as long as they're nice and firm and nothing is soft, then it's a good potato in my book," Ron said.
Kern County, where Ron's spuds grow, is actually California's largest potato-growing region. The tubers love the hot days and cool nights the area offers, which is also why Brian Kirschenmann's family started farming there a century ago.

Brian grows about 4,500 acres of potatoes at his family farm, but unlike Ron, he grows potatoes that are mostly "chippers," which are used for french fries and potato chips.

Brian's potatoes are harvested and brought to the processing facility, where they are washed and sorted. The potatoes are then trucked out and distributed to a variety of fast food chains and large food processors, including Lay's Potato Chips as well as smaller distributors like California Chips in Oxnard.

"The potatoes we get from Kirschenmann's Farms were literally in the ground less than 24 hours ago," said Ted Elrich, plant manager for California Chips. "If we get them in the afternoon, that means they were picked or dug that very same day."

They go through about 50,000 pounds of Kern County potatoes a day at California Chips—but each one is needed because it takes about 100 pounds of potatoes to make just 25 pounds of potato chips. And that's no small potatoes!

For more information about California Chips, visit www.californiachips.com.


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