Florida is typically hailed for its juicy citrus and tropical flavors, but a humble, versatile root vegetable is also proudly produced in the state – the potato. In fact, Hastings, located in the northeastern corner of Florida near St. Augustine, is known as the “Potato Capital of Florida.”
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida typically harvests about 265 cwt of potatoes per acre. One cwt is equal to 100 pounds of potatoes. And the most recent Census of Agriculture counted 22,000 acres of spring potatoes planted in 2018, with 20,800 of those acres being harvested.
Blue Sky Farms
Danny Johns is the owner of Blue Sky Farms, located in the Hastings area. A fourth-generation potato farmer, he grows a variety of potatoes that are used mainly for the fresh market, which means they’re potatoes that consumers eat, as opposed to potatoes that are used to make other products, like potato chips.
“Here at Blue Sky, we grow 23 different varieties of fresh-market potatoes on 500 acres, which are destined for restaurants and consumers’ tables,” Johns says. “These varieties include red, white and yellow, as well as specialties such as purples and multiple fingerlings.”
Johns says that the climate in the specific region of Florida where his farm is located helps with potato production, compared to more tropical climates in southern Florida.
“We have a unique microclimate here, bordered by the St. Johns River to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east,” he says. “That helps protect us from the cold with good water for irrigation supplied through artesian wells.”
Jones Potato Farm
Just south of Tampa, Alan and Leslie Jones operate Jones Potato Farm in Manatee County. In addition to their sizable potato operation, The family-run farm also grows beans and citrus and raises cattle.
“We started growing potatoes because Alan’s dad and uncle had grown potatoes and onions in the 1940s in Jacksonville,” Leslie says. “Alan grew up in the family business and gained knowledge of the farm and the potato operations.”
Jones Potato Farm grows most of their potatoes for potato chip companies, including Frito-Lay and Golden Flake.
“I’d say about 75% of our crop goes to the chip producers,” Leslie says. The other 25% are table varieties, similar to Blue Sky Farms’ crop, including Yukon golds, red potatoes, fingerlings and more. “We’ve found over the years that you have to work with really good seed farmers who provide quality seeds for quality potatoes,” Leslie says.
The Joneses also agree with Johns in that the climate has a lot to do with their success, but it’s important for people to understand the types of potatoes that can grow. “I really think it has to do with the soil, climate and temperature,” Leslie says. “It’s a sandy soil, and we’re able to grow potatoes that do well in that. We don’t grow a russet like they do in Idaho.”
See more: Fun Facts About Potatoes
Schooling on Spuds
Leslie adds that another rewarding part of their farm is being able to teach local groups about potato production in Florida. She says that she and Alan will go to area schools, nonprofits and other organizations to educate them.
“We’ve been able to provide seed potatoes to schools and do a whole gardening process with them,” she says. “We’ve also had kids come out to the farm. In the spring, potatoes are available for them to hand-pick. The more I can raise awareness of potatoes in Florida and have kids appreciate them, the better. You don’t want kids to think that potatoes are only about french fries.”