As industry grows and agriculture technology advances, family farms are continuing to expand and offer more locally grown products. We visited Wingard Farms, a multi-generational family farm in Elk River, for this month’s Member Spotlight. Wingard Farms Potatoes is nearly a century old and strives to “provide the safest and highest quality products to [their] customers.”
In the 1930’s, Grandpa John bought eighty acres in Brooklyn Park. Amazingly, agriculture technology started to mechanize with steel wheel tractors, diggers, and washer lines. The family sold potatoes, corn, and squash at the Minneapolis City Market. Unfortunately, chain stores started to drive customers away from the market, so the family accommodated the demand to increase production. “To get the customer base, you have to service the customer,” said John’s son, Tom Wingard. Today, they sell to Wal-Mart, Coborn’s, Super Ones, and several other grocery stores and restaurants. The family also welcomes walk-ins.
Left Bottom: The Wingard Family. L-R David, Hadley (pink sweatshirt), Brittany, Karen, Mark, Ryan (red shorts) Art, Jason (white sweatshirt), LuAnn, Tom and Grandpa John is sitting
John bought 300 acres of the present day farm in Elk River shortly after World War II for $50 per acre, then sold part of that to the neighbor. Today, the farm is 900 acres with some land leased and other pieces owned by the family. “The whole world has changed. Everything is digitized and easier to plant,” explained Grandpa John. “We have automatic stackers, computerized sorters for sizing potatoes, and efficient machines to help bag or box the potatoes.” Today, they harvest 11 acres and haul 15 semi loads per day during the 10-week long harvest season.
Planting their certified seeds is a two to three weeks process in April. The potato is a tuber that loves Minnesota’s colder soil. The area where Wingard Farms is located has sandy soil. This is good for potatoes because they do not like to be wet and sandy soil allows for high drainage. However, to ensure the potatoes receive the proper amount of water, irrigation systems are an important component. The operation takes full control over debris, pests, disease, and the potato beetle. During the harvest season, which starts in late July, potatoes come into the warehouse from the field by the wagon load, are washed, sorted, cooled, bagged or boxed, labeled, and organized to be shipped out to retailers.
“What is the best potato?” is a difficult question that lingers amongst the family. The simple answer is that it depends. Different varieties of russets do taste different, even if they may not look different. Russets are great baked, mashed, or further processed into French fries or hash browns. Reds are commonly grilled or roasted with butter and rosemary. Raw potatoes make a great school snack for kids because they are healthy (especially for young athletes), do not bruise, and do not need to be refrigerated.
Many generations are involved on the family farm. “It is nice to have somebody growing them [potatoes] so close to you,” said fourth generation family member, Ryan Wingard. “They are not coming from far away, so they taste fresher.” Grandpa John is proud of the next generation at Wingard Farms Potatoes.
Thanks to the Wingard family for hosting us at their Elk River farm. For more information on local potatoes, be sure to check the Minnesota Grown product page or find a farmer near you in the Minnesota Grown Directory.