Potatoes are without a doubt one of America’s favorite foods, and Virginia farmers work tirelessly to ensure there is always an ample supply. Potatoes generate about $19 million for Virginia’s economy each year and historically the state has been recognized as a major potato producer.
David Hickman’s family has been growing potatoes in Virginia since 1876. His great-grandfather bought the land he currently lives on, which was later farmed by his grandfather and his father. In 1974, David and his brother Phillip Hickman started Dublin Farms, where they specialize in growing round white, red-skinned and yellow flesh potatoes for the fresh market.
“There are 12 potato growers on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and six grow for the fresh market. The other six grow for the potato chip industry,” says Hickman, a fourth-generation farmer. “They are two totally different industries. Chip growers want a higher amount of solid in their potatoes because you get more chips per pound of potatoes. Fresh-market potatoes are geared toward boiling, baking and french fries.”
A lot of Virginia’s “chip potatoes” are sent to Pennsylvania to be processed by large chip companies such as Frito-Lay, while the fresh-market potatoes are mainly sent to the Northeast market. “We also send our potatoes in 2,000-pound bags to re-packers in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida who pack them for chain stores,” Hickman says.
A portion of Dublin Farms potatoes stays in Virginia. The Hickmans participate in a Buy Local program with Walmart, where their potatoes are sold in displays flanked with “Virginia Grown” banners. “Our first year that we were in Walmart, their potato sales increased 22%,” Hickman says. “People really like to buy local.”
Sweet, juicy peaches are another well-loved crop in Virginia. Virginia ranks 11th in the nation for peach production and peaches generate more than $9 million in cash receipts for the state’s economy each year.
Cynthia Chiles’ family began growing peaches in 1912, and their trio of orchards has become a favorite destination among families for fruit picking. The family operates Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet, Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville and Spring Valley Orchard in Afton.
See more: Virginia Farms Come in All Sizes
“We’re proud to be a century farm, now with five generations,” Chiles says. “My dad, Henry, is 84 and still very active in the day-to-day operations. Mom is 86 and mostly retired, but she’s the one who started our pick-your-own and agritourism operations.”
According to Chiles, the region, specifically Crozet, was considered the Peach Capital of the East in the 1920s because there were so many peaches grown in the area. Today, the Chiles family produces several thousand bushels of peaches each year, and visitors can either pick their own fruit or buy it freshly picked. The orchards are open seasonally from April through November.