Making History

2019 IGSA Russet Aristocrat Kent Taylor

Published online: Aug 14, 2019 Articles
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“I don’t have the longest résumé,” says Kent Taylor. “But what I do have is a history.”

That history shows a lifetime spent almost entirely working with his family in Idaho’s famed potato industry. It’s hard to argue with the 2019 Russet Aristocrat’s summation of his career.

Taylor has been involved in the potato industry essentially since he was born. His family has farmed in eastern Idaho for several generations. His father, Howard Taylor, started with about three acres of gravity-irrigated land near Grant, bit by bit expanding to farm several thousands acres around Grant and Osgood. Howard was a pioneer in the industry, among the first Idaho potato growers to venture into the shipping side of the game in the late 1940s. This was the life Kent Taylor was born into, and one in which he has thrived for decades.

“I’ve seen a lot of change in this industry over the years,” says Taylor. “If there’s a theme to my time in the industry, it’s how much technology has changed everything.”

Taylor started working in the warehouse his freshman year of high school, sorting potatoes and loading 50- and 100-pound sacks. He found that he had a knack not only for the manual labor side of the business, but for pushing product. When he graduated high school and left to attend BYU, Taylor got a job going around to student apartments and collecting and delivering dry-cleaning. He pulled in some extra cash by loading up the trunk of his car with 5-pound bags of potatoes every time he came home, then selling them along his dry-cleaning route in Provo.

“Couldn’t get away from selling potatoes, even when I wasn’t here,” he says with a laugh.

Eventually, Taylor came back to eastern Idaho and got back into farming. He and his brothers formed Howard Taylor & Sons in 1975. As the company grew, Kent gravitated away from the farm and to the packing shed.

“I was always a little more full of B.S. than my brothers,” he says as a grin spreads across his face, “so sales was just naturally easier for me.”

And he kept right on selling, even as the company grew, and with it, his administrative duties.

“I was probably one of the last owners around to do actual sales,” he says. “But I just loved doing it.”

They bought a packing shed and a good-sized chunk of land on Broadway in Idaho Falls in 1979—in a spot you might be hard-pressed to believe housed a potato shipping company if you were to drive through today. As Idaho Falls grew over the years, it became apparent that Taylor & Sons would need to find a new home. In 2005, they purchased a facility a few miles south of Idaho Falls on Yellowstone Highway. The existing building was small, but Taylor outfitted it cutting-edge equipment—including one of the region’s first optical sorters—and drew up plans for a better, bigger facility to process all the potatoes now pouring into and out from the business.

“The size of farms has gotten so big, and technology has improved so much,” Taylor says. “It’s a whole different deal from when I started out. Our shipping season used to end in February. With storage and air conditioning, it’s a year-round operation now. It’s just been an amazing transfer of ideas as to what we’re doing and how we do it.”

Taylor has been retired for five years now. He insists that he couldn’t be happier in retirement—that, good as the warehouse and, indeed, the entire industry were to him, he doesn’t spend much time missing it. And it’s a sincere sentiment. But as he bounces through the facility—up and down stairs and across catwalks, pointing out each miracle of modern technology and chronicling how and when each piece of machinery found its way to Howard Taylor & Sons—it becomes clear that this place and what it represents continues to instill joy in him. He’s stopped every few steps by someone who is genuinely excited to catch up with him. Firm handshakes and hearty laughter are exchanged. In this place, Kent Taylor is home.

That is a résumé that speaks for itself.