l: wildes meadow, nsw
s: december - august
Interview with potato farmer: Norman Gair
From planting to the plate, what is the life span of a potato?
This depends on the variety and time of the year. Spunta is planted early i.e. September and takes 90 to 95 days to grow to maturity. King Edwards on the other hand are planted at the same time but take 120 days to grow. Some varieties e.g. Necta can't be planted early because they grow so fast they'll go hollow. After digging in summer and kept unwashed, most potatoes will last for about 2 weeks before they start to go soft through transpiration. In winter, unwashed potatoes can last from 4 to 5 weeks.
Where do potatoes like to grow and when are they in season?
In our area at Wildes Meadow (Robertson) planting begins mid-August and harvesting begins, depending on the weather, the first week of December. We finish planting mid-February and harvest the last crop in mid-August.
Something interesting about potatoes that we may be surprised to learn?
All potatoes originated in Bolivia and southern Peru and all of today’s varieties can be genetically traced back to these two south American Countries. Potatoes are the third most grown crop after rice and wheat/maize but need the least amount of water to grow. Another fact, Australia has a world class potato research station at Toolangi in Victoria where they have developed varieties such as Otway Red and Toolangi Delight.
Where did your interest in farming come from?
I grew up in Fitzroy Falls (just down the road) where the family ran a guest house and a vegetable farm supplying both the guest house and Sydney markets. Potatoes, cabbages, 1,200 sheep (ewes), 100 pigs (sows) and 12,000 chickens and 10 acres of strawberries figured prominently. No wonder I am feeling my age!
What is the best part about being a potato farmer?
I really enjoy working full time with my partner Robbie who is a great inspiration and enthusiastic potato grower. When the crop comes in and you see the culmination of all the hard work and planning it does wonders for the soul. We both enjoy, very much, the interaction with our customers at our various farmers’ markets that we attend.
The worst part?
THE WEATHER! A lot of time is spent on the Bureau of Meteorology web site trying to plan planting, digging and “sleep ins” (a rare occurrence). One of the biggest disappointment is when you put all the effort and money in to growing a crop and nature destroys it.
As a farmer, how do you feel about better understanding where our food is grown and the process it goes through to get to our plate?
As we are becoming an increasingly urban society, people are losing touch with the land and have lost sight of the value of home grown, fresh and seasonal produce. We find we are discussing more and more with our customers where our potatoes come from and the effect of weather conditions on the quality and quantity of our produce. Hopefully with an increasing use of gardens in primary schools, teaching children where their produce comes from will alleviate some of the misconceptions - one being that potatoes “grow on trees” as was told to us by a primary school teacher. We also face a dilemma in that single farm growers of all produce are getting less and less as big conglomerates take over our farming. These are generally run by a manager and unskilled workers with no chance of interacting with the consumer. Also, the age of our farmers is getting older because the young farmers do not have the capital required to get started in purchasing the land and the equipment to keep production at a high level (there aren’t many silly farmers who do what we do).
Whats your favourite variety of potato and favourite way to eat it?
Toolangi Delight, a purple skinned and white flesh potato is fantastic roasted. However, it is closely – and I mean closely – followed by Lustre. Robbie, on the other hand, prefers the Otway Red for both mash and roasting.
Highland Gourmet Potatoes is a small family owned farm run by Norman Gair and Robyn Jackson of Wildes Meadow, near Robertson in the NSW Southern Highlands. Over 40 different potato varieties are grown here from December through to August each year, and can be found at their road side stall or at a variety of markets around the Highlands and Sydney area. We took a visit to the farm where Norman kindly dug us up some potatoes and showed us around the paddocks and shed. Norm is a real genuine bloke. He has a good soul, loves what he does and also loves a good yarn. And his potatoes – well they’re always worth a trip up the mountain. They are truly something else.
coming soon: a recipe using Norm and Robbie's potatoes.