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History of N.C. potato farming


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Becky Harrell created this presentation on the history of potato farming in North Carolina. Her husband, Jimmy Harrell who is owner of George Wood Farms that is a large potato farm in Camden.

Becky Harrell created this presentation on the history of potato farming in North Carolina. Her husband, Jimmy Harrell who is owner of George Wood Farms that is a large potato farm in Camden.

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  • 1. History of Potato Farming EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA
  • 2.
    • Peru’s Inca Indians first cultivated potatoes around 200 BC. It took until early in the 16 th century for potatoes to surface in the European world when Sir Walter Raleigh began growing them in Ireland. Potatoes became a major food source there until 1845-46 when late blight, a fungus, destroyed the potato crop leading to the Irish Potato Famine. Many Irishmen moved to the United States, taking their love of potatoes with them.
  • 3.
    • The first potatoes arrived in North America in 1621 when Captain Nathaniel Butler, Governor of Bermuda, sent two large wooden chests of potatoes and other vegetables to Francis Wyatt, governor of Virginia at Jamestown.
  • 4.
    • Benjamin Franklin attended a dinner in France where 20 potato dishes were served. Franklin called them “the ultimate vegetable” starting America’s love affair with potatoes. When President Thomas Jefferson served French fried potatoes in the White House, the vegetable was destined for success.
  • 5. Potato farming progressed dramatically through the years. In the early days, family members and workers would cut potatoes, making sure they had an eye in each cut. They would fill bags with these seed potatoes and put them around their waist making it easier to take one out and plant it.
  • 6. This highly intensive labor method was replaced by a horse-drawn potato planter with two pie shaped bins which dropped seed potatoes in the row. What progress!
  • 7. Today, a computerized potato cutter automatically cuts seed potatoes in 0,2, 3, 4, or 6 pieces depending on the size of the potato.
  • 8. Cut seed potatoes drop into the hopper of an 8 row planter. Dean Walston and Jimmy Harrell of George Wood Farms .
  • 9.
    • This huge machine plants a ten-wheeler truck load of cut potatoes per hour averaging about 100 in ten hours.
    Kevin White, George Wood Farms
  • 10.
    • Harvesting was an even harder process than planting. Originally, spuds were plowed out of the ground with a horse or mule and plow, pulled from the vines, then picked up by hand, put into barrels or burlap sacks, and transported by boat to market.
  • 11. Clifton “Moe” Moore, of Griggs Lumber & Produce in Currituck County, cites his father-in-law, Grady Griggs, reminiscing that before the mechanical grader was used in the 1920‘s and 30‘s, potatoes were hand graded in the field. Farmers judged for themselves the size they knew buyers wanted. Laborers tossed potatoes from 11/2 “ to 2” into barrels made locally in Currituck and surrounding counties.
  • 12.
    • Local people gleaned the smaller spuds left in the field for their personal use. Farmers stenciled their farm name on the barrels which were hauled to various water ports such as Newbern’s Landing and Fisher’s Landing in Currituck and Elizabeth City in Pasquotank. From these local ports, the potatoes shipped out to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, etc. to be sold.” The price was determined by the market value at the time. However, after subtracting the seller’s commission and the freight from the price, little was left for the farmer himself. Mr. Moore related that sometimes, the farmer or his representative accompanied the shipment to be sure honesty played in the deal.
  • 13.
    • This method of hand harvesting continued into the early 60’s even though mules had been replaced by tractors to pull the digger along at a faster rate.
  • 14.
    • In the 1930’s, after the potatoes were plowed out with a mule, they were put in rows where laborers filled two 5/8 bushel baskets to make a full burlap bag. Each worker was assigned a row. Each row checker or bag checker wrote down how many bags the laborer had filled in order to calculate their pay.
  • 15.
    • Martha Ferebee Meiggs, from Camden, remembers as a child in the late 50’s and early 60’s, earning 7 to 10 cents for filling a 100 pound bag with potatoes she picked up from her family’s field.
    Ed Ferebee, Rudolph Chamblee, & Sam Peters
  • 16.
    • Smaller farmers would borrow a digger or pay another farmer to dig for them. Once in bags, workers loaded the potatoes on field trucks headed for the grader. Labor was needed not only to pick up the spuds but to pull dirt clods and vines from off the digger as well.
    Harry Ferebee
  • 17.
    • Once at the grader, laborers also had to sort the potatoes according to size and quality. Mr. James Ferebee, of Currituck, remembers that in the early 1940’s, both black and white migrants stayed in tents to work at harvesting the crop. Laborers earned $1.00 per day in 1940.
  • 18. Also during those years, spuds were loaded on trucks in the field and shipped out on rail. After the war in the late 40’s and early 50s trucks, not trains, carried most of the produce to markets. Belcross, NC 1940
  • 19. As with digging, grading became more efficient as well. Mr. James Ferebee’s father, Scott Ferebee, bought a Boggs grader that turned with a crank. It was set in a boxcar filling bags of graded potatoes which didn‘t have to be moved until the train pulled into its final destination. Belcross, NC 1940
  • 20.
    • A 1926 advertisement stated the Boggs Potato Grader could sort both #1 and #2 sizes of all shapes of potatoes with less than 3% variation. It would grade 75-100 bushels per hour depending on the size of the machine. Compact and portable, it came in six models to operate by hand, motor, or engine. The price, depending on size, started at $40.00. According to local farmers, the Boggs Grader was the Cadillac of graders and got the job done as advertised.
  • 21.
    • In the 1930’s and 40’s, one hundred pound burlap bags began to replace barrels as the predominate container to ship potatoes. By the mid 40’s and early 50’s, fifty pound bags also held the spuds.
  • 22.
    • As mechanization improved and times changed, some larger farmers and companies established packing sheds where they and other farmers would deliver potatoes from the field to be graded and bagged.
  • 23. Packing Houses
    • Jimmy A. Harrell, of George Wood Farms in Camden, recalls many packing houses in the Albemarle area. Among them were P. P. Gregory, Henry Dozier, James Ferebee & Sons, Roberts Brothers, Griggs Produce, Orville Woodhouse, Dozier Brothers, and Wright Brothers.
  • 24. More Packing Houses
    • F.P.Wood & Son, H.C. Ferebee, Tom Sawyer & Sons, O.R. Symons, Kenyon Bailey, James Brothers, G. E. Small & Sons, Clyde Small, Gaston Small & Sons, Melvin Bright, and finally Scott & Halstead, the largest of all the local packing houses.
    To the left is a list of some of the area packing houses.
  • 25.
    • Each packing shed loaded spuds in burlap bags printed with their label such as the Fort Raleigh brand from the H. C. Ferebee shed, Chief Manteo from O.R. Symons, Red House from F.P. Wood & Son, and S&H from the Scott & Halstead packing house.
    Ed, Harry, and Clay Ferebee
  • 26.
    • These packing sheds operated until 1-2 AM, grading and packing potatoes to ship out. People would go out in the field at 3-4 AM to beat the tops with a mechanized top beater so that the potatoes could be dug at sunrise. The next morning, farmers would dig from sunrise until 1-2 PM to get enough product to take to the grader.
  • 27.
    • As potato farming became in industry in North Carolina, the North Carolina Potato Association was formed in 1928. Being one of the earliest potato associations in the nation, it’s purpose is to promote NC potatoes in both US and Canadian markets.
    Representative Vernon James and NC Agricultural Commissioner Jim Graham.
  • 28.
    • An Albemarle Potato Festival started in 1940 in Elizabeth City with floats, bands, a dance, and the crowning of a Potato Queen. Today the festival attracts thousands of people but the queen has been replaced by a tiara topped “Miss Tater Tot.”
  • 29. As fewer potatoes were shipped for the table or fresh market most of the potato sheds and labor camps became ghosts of the past. Today there are approximately 6 farmers in NC who pack and ship potatoes in small bags. Labor camp, Belcross, NC Packing shed, Camden County, NC
  • 30.
    • Most of the packing is done by computerized machines that fill five and ten pound bags with very little labor involved. Some farmers also have computerized graders using far fewer workers.
  • 31. . Now growers no longer sell direct but go through a small number of produce brokers who buy orders of potatoes for the chain stores and other clients. Although supply and demand play a major role in the price of potatoes, today the farmer negotiates his price with a broker or perhaps a chip or dehy manufacturer and signs a contract for a certain number of loads of potatoes. Trucks to be loaded at George Wood Farms, Camden, NC
  • 32.
    • The largest buyer of North Carolina potatoes is the massive chip industry. As fate would have it, this popular snack was invented by mistake. In 1853, while dining at a fashionable resort in Saratoga Springs, New York, railroad magnate, Commodore Corneluis Vanderbuilt, ceremoniously sent his French fries back to the kitchen. He complained they were “too thick.”
  • 33.
    • For spite, Chef George Crum, sliced the potatoes paper thin, then fried them in hot oil, salted them, and sent them back out to the table. To everyone’s surprise, Mr. Vanderbuilt loved his “Saratoga Crunch Chips.” With 75% of NC potatoes processed as chips, it is obvious that Americans have munched on them ever since.
  • 34.
    • Today, the potato industry has changed from its original purpose as a producer of the fresh table market to a mostly fast food, frozen, and chip market. In 1910, people consumed 198 pounds of potatoes per capita. The figure dropped to 125 pounds per capita in 1976, because of a larger variety of foods from which to choose.
  • 35. However, in 1996, consumption rose to 140 pounds per person as consumer demand for frozen potatoes and potato chips increased. Spuds make their claim as a major commodity in the snack food industry. Another claim to fame is that in 1995, the potato became the first vegetable grown in space. At left: Marble-sized Quantum Tubers™ were used to grow the potatoes in the background. Credit: NASA.
  • 36.
    • Given a bad wrap by the low-carb advocates, the potato is actually a very healthy dietary choice. Spuds are a complex carbohydrate meaning they do not spike blood sugar levels like simple carbohydrates do.
  • 37. A potato provides 40% of our daily vitamin C requirements. It contains more potassium than a banana. It boasts having no fat or cholesterol. And if you leave the peel on, it provides even more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • 38. From production to consumption, the potato industry has changed drastically through the years. No matter how you eat them, they are still the staple of American and European diets.
  • 39. Credits Bibliography: Oral Sources and photographic sources: Mr. James Ferebee, 87 years old. Former President of James Ferebee and Son farm in Currituck County. Interviewed May 2009. Mr. Tommy Fleetwood, Executive Secretary of the NC Potato Association. Mr. Jimmy Harrell, 72 years old. President of George Wood Farms in Camden County. Interviewed April 2009 Ms. Martha Ferebee Meiggs, President of Ferebee Farms in Camden County. Interviewed May 2009. Mr. Clifton “Moe” Moore, 83 years old. Former President of Griggs Lumber and Produce in Currituck County. Interviewed April 2009. Mr. Matt Wood, Vice President of George Wood Farms in Camden County. Written Source: American Journal of Potato Research. Springer New York, vol. 3, number 12. December 1926. Pages 396-97 Internet Sources: Jack Delano photographer, July 1940