At Campbell, we believe that real food has roots. For over 150 years, we’ve built strong connections with local farmers, and today, we’re proud to introduce you to our partners at Gold Dust & Walker Farms in Malin, Oregon.
Since 1973, the Walker family has planted, harvested, stored, packed, and shipped premium potatoes.
“We wake up every day to grow potatoes – not just any potatoes, but high-quality chipping and frying potatoes,” says Weston Walker, Vice President and co-owner. Weston’s father co-founded the company. His sister, Tricia Hill, CFO, is a co-owner and 4th generation woman in Ag. Her grandmother Betty Halousek started her farming career in the mid-1940s. . All told, the farm has more than 100 employees year-round, plus another 50 during harvest – and a dog mascot named, you guessed it, Spud.
“Spud hangs out in my truck at the farm,” Weston says with a laugh. “I am so blessed. Six months of the year, I help market and brainstorm. The other six months, I’m a farmer. That’s my passion. I love driving a tractor! I’m so excited that my children can also grow up out here, get dirty, know what hard work is, and be part of something great. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of hours, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The 15,000-acre farm also produces wheat, barley, alfalfa, and, most recently, hemp, but its annual “meat and potatoes” is 200 million pounds of potatoes – some of which become our Kettle Brand potato chips.
In April, the team cuts seed potatoes into 2.5-ounce sections, stores them for two weeks, then plants through May. The six-week harvest starts around September 1.
“If you don’t harvest between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, you take a risk with color and rot,” Weston explains. “At first, (early in the harvest) we may dig all night, but by October, we may not start until 1 or 2 p.m.”
All Eyes on Sustainable Solutions
About 10% of Gold Dust’s potato production is organic. For seven years, the farm has sold organic forage to a large local organic dairy, and in return, received manure to promote ground health. A garlic grower leases land, maintaining soil quality through crop rotation. Untouched green leaves in some farmed fields give native birds a viable fall and winter habitat. And every grain harvest, Gold Dust & Walker Farms leave a little grain behind for migratory birds.
This year, a 90-acre wetland supports wildlife and water quality. Gold Dust & Walker Farms is studying the wetland to see the feasibility of using wetland rotations in addition to cover crop rotations. The farm is constantly trying to find ways to increase what they grow, while also helping the environment and community they call home.
At the same time, the best thing for the water isn’t always the best thing for the waterfowl. As Tricia explains, “We’ve been communicating with our local Fish & Wildlife to balance the two to make sure we’re finding those practices that improve water quality, long term for the lake, as well as increase habitat.”
“Birds were over this land long before we farmed it, and the fish were in our water long before we used it, so we need to be mindful of the environmental impact our footprint leaves,” Weston notes. “You’re either part of the problem, or part of the solution, and we try to be part of the solution.”
‘Where Together We Grow’
No man – or farm – is an island, and Gold Dust & Walker Farms’ problem-solving approach also involves fostering community connections.
“As a farm, we’ve sponsored scholarships for women to attend leadership programs” Tricia says. “We hosted a women-in-agriculture themed open house and tour featuring keynote speaker Alexis Taylor, Oregon Department of Agriculture Director. We’ve also sent female employees to seminars to become more confident so they can really shine.”
The farm’s leadership has grown beyond the Walker family to include folks such as Lexi Crawford, Manager and junior partner, who, while not officially family, represent the inclusive family spirit.
“Lexi helped create our new logo: ‘where together we grow’,” Weston says. “Part of our strategic approach is finding people who have that burn in the belly to take us to the next level, and recognizing that the future of this business is not necessarily out of the Walker bloodline.”
Last year, Lexi became the Oregon Potato Commission’s first female representative.
“Women play a huge role in agriculture, and being the first female potato commissioner for Oregon has been a great opportunity to remind others to get out there and hold their flag proudly as it is a rewarding career option for women to consider,” Lexi says. “Agriculture needs all kinds of perspectives and brainpower to stay viable and be successful for generations to come.”
Adapting during COVID-19
As a critical business, providing food to people across the country, the farm worked quickly to put safety precautions in place, while ensuring that they could continue to supply potatoes, hay or grain to their customers.
As Lexi emphasized, “COVID-19 has added extra challenges for our farm to overcome. We are working daily to protect our team’s health and continue to provide our amazing customers with potatoes.”
The next time you open a bag of Kettle Brand potato chips, the potatoes might just be from Gold Dust & Walker Farms – use our Tater Tracker to find out!