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Northwest Potato Harvest Gets Hot and Dusty Start

Anna King
07/17/2007

Did you know the next French fry you shove in your mouth probably came from Eastern Washington and Oregon? {About 40 percent of all fries eaten in the U.S. are grown in Washington.} The annual potato harvest is underway. Correspondent Anna King got up early to follow a Washington potato farmer and his crew. She found out what it takes to get French fries to market.

TRANSCRIPT

IT'S EARLY MORNING, BUT TOM WORDEN AND HIS FAMILY HAVE ALREADY BEEN WORKING FOR HOURS.

WORDEN: "We do start at four and we will work until eight. It's not continuous work there's hour, two hour periods of time where we won't have a truck. And people they look like a pride of lions all stretched up all over here. They are taking naps. Yep. "

KING: "So it's a hurry up a wait. Hurry up and wait."

WORDEN: "Hurry up and wait yes."

IT MIGHT BE EARLY, BUT IT'S ALREADY HOT AND DUSTY. THE JOB REQUIRES A TOLERANCE OF BEING COVERED IN DIRT FROM HEAD TO TOE. THE LIGHT SANDY SOIL STICKS TO EVERYTHING. A 12 FOOT PLUME OF DUST SHOOTS UP FROM THE POTATO DIGGER AS IT WORKS ITS WAY THROUGH THE FIELD. ANYTHING IN ITS PATH GETS POWDER COATED — INCLUDING ME.

WORDEN: "I was going to say you are going to get dirty."

KING: "It's a dirty job being a reporter."

THIS FOUR THOUSAND ACRE FARM WILL CHURN OUT ABOUT 40 THOUSAND TONS OF POTATOES DESTINED TO BECOME FRIES FOR MCDONALDS AND OTHER FAST FOOD GIANTS.

WORDEN: "They could end up anywhere that McDonalds has a restaurant. China, Japan, Hong Kong, Maine... anywhere."

KING: "Is it kind of cool to think about?"

WORDEN: "Oh yeah. Oh yeah."

FARMING POTATOES CAN BE PROFITABLE, BUT IT'S A HARD AND STRESSFUL JOB. WORDEN'S CELL PHONE CONSTANTLY RINGS. HE HAS TO DIRECT HIS CREW. AND FIX ANY MACHINERY THAT BREAKS. THIS PARTICULAR MORNING, THE POTATO DIGGER STOPPED WORKING MIDWAY THOUGH THE FIELD. WORDEN LEAPED OUT OF HIS TRUCK.

WORDEN: "Welllllllll fiddle. Anna I am just going to go take a look here."

WORDEN RATCHETED A FEW GEARS ON THE MACHINE. HE HELPED HIS WORKERS SHOVEL AWAY ALL THE MUCK STUCK IN THE BELTS. IT'S RUNNING AGAIN. THAT'S GOOD BUT POTATOES AREN'T THE ONLY CROP THAT WORDEN HAS TO WORRY ABOUT.

WORDEN: "Following the wheat and the potatoes and the grass seed we double crop buckwheat."

I'M ANNA KING REPORTING.

© Copyright 2007, NWPR

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