For planet Earth, year 2000 represented not just a new year and century but also the dawn of a brand new millennium. And for three Idaho potato growers who were looking to do something different and new in farming, 2000 also proved to be their gateway to a brave new potato world.
Not that the three were newcomers to farming. In fact, each brought years’ worth of experience and know-how to their start-up company, Southwind Farms. Combined, the three men have more than 85 years of growing Idaho potatoes to their credit. But the product they introduced to Idaho’s famed spud portfolio was definitely outside the bookends, and it didn’t take long for them to know they were definitely on to something big with their little potatoes.
Southwind Farms specializes in fingerlings — beautiful to look at, versatile to prepare, delicious to eat and brimming with nutrition.
Robert Tominaga and his brother Jerry pooled their potato-growers’ expertise with the agronomy skills of Rod Lake to launch Southwind Farms, and this year, the 15th anniversary of the company’s founding, the trio can take enormous satisfaction in what began as four acres and has grown to 750 acres – with plans for further expansion.
Southwind’s gorgeous fingerlings are grown on farmland that has been in the Tominaga family for four generations, and the love the three men have not only for what they grow but also where they grow it is evident in every step they take to get the crop from the ground to the consumer’s table.
The farm grows varieties that thrive in Idaho’s soil and growing conditions. Gourmet Russian Banana, Purple Peruvian, Ruby Crescent and French fingerlings and pure, natural, non-GMO and even handpicked, which Southwind proudly proclaims ensures “only the very best crops make their way to your table.”
“We are celebrating our 15th anniversary in 2015, but actually we’ve been farming a lot longer,” Robert says. “I did my first crop of fingerlings in 1999, but 2015 is my 36th crop of potatoes. So I consider myself to be a veteran.”
Jerry is also a lifelong potato man, and Rod moved to the Heywood region from another area of Idaho to be an agronomist with the Tominaga brothers when they were farming other varieties. Their hands-on approach to farming includes keeping current with conservation techniques and technology, and Southwind has regular third-party audits to ensure food safety.
“The reason we started with fingerlings is that 15 years ago they were so different and new to consumers,” Robert says. “I think perhaps one-half of 1 percent of people in our industry even knew that they are, even though fingerlings are actually some of the oldest varieties of potatoes in the world.”
Most varieties are native to Peru, like the appropriately named Purple Peruvian, but Robert says what are produced now in the United States are hybrids and offshoots of those South American potatoes.
Also some varieties come from Europe, he says.
What makes them so different from the big bakers we have seen all our lives? Well, for one thing, the flavor. “They have a nutty, earthy flavor. And their texture is different as well. After they’re cooked, they don’t fall apart. They’re classified as a ‘waxy’ potato, and they have less starch.”
In addition – and important to note – potatoes are gluten-free, and the brightly-hued fingerlings contain important antioxidants.
As for the non-GMO approach to farming, Robert says the reason is obvious.
“I know it’s a big concern to Millennials, but it’s also a concern to us. No one really knows what the effects could be down the road, and we’re just not willing to take that chance. We want to feed our kids and our grandkids what we grow.”
Could fingerlings also bridge a gap between generations? We think it’s quite possible.
“Millennials seem to be looking for food that’s different than what their parents eat,” Robert says. “They’re embracing comfort food, but they want it to be different. For me, comfort food is meatloaf with fried potatoes and onions (and homemade butter biscuits, recipe for which has been declared a “family secret!”). The next generation could be looking for something else.”
The farming pro also understands that Millennials are tuned into social media, and he suggests that we as a generation “get a lot of information and make sure it’s true. And with fingerlings, look for good quality.”
We’ll look for Southwind – check out this great company at www.southwindpotatoes.com. Also check out the recipe on their site, which we’re providing here as well, because potato salad is as comforting as it comes.
Idaho Fingerling Potato Salad
Created by Executive Sous Chef Josh Loeb at The Lodge in Pebble Beach, California for the Idaho Potato Commission.
1 Tbs mayonnaise
1 tsp French whole grain mustard
1 Tbs minced pickled cucumber
6 green beans, blanched and split down the seam into halves
1 Tbs English Peas, blanched
3 Idaho Ruby Crescent fingerlings, boiled in salted water, peeled, sliced into discs chilled
5 frisée leaves
2 Idaho French fingerlings, boiled in salted water until tender, reserved warm
2 Idaho Russian Banana fingerlings, boiled in salted water until tender, peeled, halved, sautéed in olive oil until golden brown, reserved warm
2 Idaho Russian Banana fingerlings, rubbed with olive oil and salt, baked until tender, reserved warm
1 tsp sour cream
1 chive, cut into ½-inch lengths
½ hard boiled egg, cut into two pieces
6 cherry tomatoes, oven dried
2 slices pickled radish, thin
1 Idaho French fingerling, sliced thin, fried crisp, lightly salted
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel to taste
Fresh ground black pepper
Paint the center of the plate with the mayonnaise and mustard in a wide stripe from corner to corner.
Pull a little off to a third corner so it will be visible once all of the components are in place.
Arrange the minced pickled cucumber in the fourth corner.
Toss the green beans, peas, chilled fingerlings, and frisée with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Toss the boiled fingerlings with olive oil and reserve warm.
Cut a slit in the baked fingerlings and push the ends to open a cavity in the center.
Garnish with sour cream and chives.
Arrange all of the various ingredients on the plate in a random fashion over top of the mayonnaise and mustard stripe.
Leave the potato chips for last to garnish the top so they stay crispy.
Drizzle the remaining olive oil around the edge of the plate.
Sprinkle some fleur de sel and fresh black pepper over the dish to taste.
Yield: 1 serving