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Wingard Farms in Elk River, Minn.

Published online: Mar 28, 2019 Articles, Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This article appears in the April 2019 issue of Potato Grower

“Ultimately, the great truths of family history don't live in any book. They live in the hearts and minds of the living descendants.”

? Laurence Overmire

Farming. If you live in Sherburne County, Minn., and your last name is Wingard, that’s most likely what you do for a living. Wingards have been farming in the areas’ sandy soils for over a century now, and that trend doesn’t figure to change anytime soon.

But, valuable as the family’s rich history in the area is to each of them, it’s not the only thing that has kept a steady stream of Wingards—four generations’ worth and counting—coming back.

“After all the hard work you put in, I love to see the end result: a product that is delicious and safe,” says David Wingard, who has been back on the farm full-time for eight years after several years at a corporate job for a food processing company out of college. “Starting with a seed potato and watching it grow all the way to harvest, then putting it in a package for someone to consume—that’s what keeps me going.”

Arthur Wingard began farming in 1918 on the outskirts of Minneapolis—back when the outskirts still felt like outskirts. But after World War II, the city’s expansion accelerated, and his sons, John and Arthur Jr., sold the land to developers. The Wingards moved their operations about 30 miles to the north, smack dab between Big Lake and Elk River. Today, the family still farms much of the same ground and packs fresh potatoes out of the same warehouse (albeit with thousands of square feet of improvements made) that came with the original purchase. Five of Arthur’s descendants—Art, Tom, David and Mark Wingard and Dan Ward—own and operate the farm and packing shed.

“Each owner kind of has his own niche here,” says David Wingard. “For example, I’m in charge of food safety. And each person has his pivots and his fields he’s in charge of.

“With our own wash plant here and all our fields within a three- or four-mile radius,” Wingard continues, “we can have product ready an hour after a customer puts in an order. We’re a big enough operation to keep our customers supplied, but small enough that we can make adjustments easily when we need to.”

Wingard Farms comprises about 900 acres, with potatoes grown on 350 to 400 acres each year, depending on how rotations shake out, with seed corn and soybeans as the primary rotation crops. Every Wingard potato is washed and packaged at the Wingard fresh-pack shed. About 80 percent are russet varieties—primarily Gold Rush—while 15 percent are reds and the balance yellows.

“We try to keep our customer base local,” says Wingard. “We have a few big local retail accounts, and some of our potatoes are shipped to the East Coast and up into Canada.”

The Wingard family takes great pride in what they do, and in being able to do it as a family. For 101 years now, that pride and joy—and a desire to keep it going—have informed what happens with the business. Weather, markets and a million other challenges may arise, but at Wingard Farms, those are mere footnotes to the story. They feel that their potatoes and their people make all the statement they need.

“We have been able to produce a pretty consistently great product,” Wingard says. “We have good, loyal customers who know they can keep coming back and getting a good product.”