San Luis Valley Tour Gives an Appreciation for Food

Published online: Sep 18, 2019 Articles Rebecca Copley
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Source: Monte Vista Journal

“We don’t appreciate our food like we should,” said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, as he led the annual Potato Fest tour in south-central Colorado’s potato-rich San Luis Valley. People from Denver, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming and even a few locals came to learn more about the crop that makes the Valley famous.

Participants in the tour got to visit the Colorado State University Research Center, where several research studies are being conducted on potatoes, including breeding and selection, pathology, crop management and field physiology, post-harvest physiology, and seed certification. As part of the research, they grow and try to develop different potato varieties in an attempt to make the best-looking and -tasting potato they can for the market.
They are also trying to find crops that will do well in the Valley—crops that will need less water, less fertilizer and that will produce a high yield. Several members of the research team answered questions and told guests a little about the science that goes into getting a potato onto their plates.

Samuel Essah is the head of the San Luis Valley Research Centter’s potato management and physiology program.  “When the baby potatoes are produced, I try to manage them and make them into good citizens,” Essah joked as he explained how they study the potatoes throughout their tuber lives. If the baby potatoes get “sick,” they have to try to figure out why.

During their time at the research center, tour participants were allowed to get their hands dirty and dig up some potatoes for themselves. Before they could enter the field, they had to dip their feet into shallow pans filled with sterilizing fluid. They do this to protect the field’s soil from contamination.

The next stop on the tour was Martinez Farms, where participants were able to visit a large greenhouse. The greenhouse, which is used to start seed potatoes, had various varieties sprouting inside. Martinez Farms grows and plants their own seed potatoes and also sells seed to other farms in the Valley. After a visit to the greenhouse, participants were able to see some of the heavy machinery that is used to plant and harvest the potatoes. The farm equipment used is very expensive and will typically last 15 to 20 years before needing to be replaced.

Participants were able to see a cellar and were told how potatoes are sorted before they are stored. They also got to see a piler, which is used to stack potatoes in the cellar. After being stored, the spuds go on to the different markets. They are loaded onto semi-trucks and taken to be packaged, before they head off to restaurants, schools, Walmart and other stores. It’s a huge process getting those potatotes that start as seed potatoes to local grocery stores’ shelves.

“Farmers have a huge amount of risk,” said Ehrlich toward the end of the tour. “I hope you got an appreciation for the dedication farmers have to provide you with the best food possible.”