While Iowa’s known for corn and Idaho for potatoes, two brothers from northern Iowa have made a career out of growing and selling spuds.
John and Charlie Kittleson grow potatoes and onions on an 80-acre farm near Saint Ansgar. The peat in the soil isn’t good for corn or soybeans but it’s rich in nutrients for root crops.
Like their father and uncle many decades ago, John Kittleson says they’re raising the crops along the river where it’s sandy and rocky.
“Because way back then, it was all hand labor and the people that were harvesting could tell a rock from a potato, so it wasn’t a problem,” he says. “But as soon as you go mechanical, then you need fine sand without a bunch of rocks or peat so the dirt all falls through and only the potatoes come up, so that’s why it was really a plus when they moved into this peat land.”
Around the time of the Great Depression, the government drained a lake and gave away the land or sold it cheap. The Kittlesons’ father and uncle bought what other farmers didn’t want.
Wade Sponheim, a part-time worker on the farm, explains how the potatoes are prepared for shipping.
“Here in the warehouse, they’re stored on flat storage and then they’re floated down to a grading table and there’s always two people looking to throw out anything with a spot on it and then they get run through again,” Sponhein says. “They get looked at, really close, four times for quality.”
That quality is what brings back customers year after year, John Kittleson says, as long lines begin right after harvest in September.
“They’ll get potatoes for their relatives and their friends and they end up getting whatever they can haul in their pickup, usually about a ton,” he says. “Then during the winter, they’ve got to have something a little warmer so we get vans. We’ve got a guy coming tomorrow from northern Missouri. He comes about every three weeks and he gets all he can haul without blowing the tires out on the thing.”
Kittleson says supplies for that fellow from Missouri, and others, usually last until May. He says that’s when he and his brother may take a few days off before planting season begins.
Kittleson Brothers potatoes and onions can be found at their farm or in grocery stores throughout Iowa and Southern Minnesota.