Washington Grown Magazine - October 2022

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How the best potatoes in the U.S. are grown

Dick’s famous french fries in Spokane

The history of Grant County and its water

magazine Puzzles and games related to this issue!


A Gamble: Potatoes in the Basin

The history of Grant County’s record-setting potatoes

Within his first 100 days in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted legislation that forever changed the Columbia Basin and set the stage for Grant County to become the top potato-producing county in the nation.

Roosevelt’s New Deal program in the 1930s tackled banking and economic reforms to end the Depression, and it also funded public works projects. One such project was construction of the Grand Coulee Dam. The dam would become part of the Columbia Basin Project, an irriga-


tion system providing water from the Columbia River to around 670,000 acres in east-central Washington.

When Columbia River irrigation water began flowing to Grant County and the Moses Lake area, so, too, came a flow of settlers. And while the influx of water and people marked a pivotal moment, the area already held a deep history of harvest and hardship.


Before European Settlement

Long before white settlement, mid-Columbia tribes gathered on the shores of Moses Lake to harvest camas roots, collect waterfowl eggs, reunite with family, and trade. This included the seminomadic Sinkiuse-Columbia people and their leader, Quetalican, later known as Chief Moses (1829-1899). Chief Moses, for whom Moses Lake and Moses Coulee are named, and the Sinkiuse-Columbia began encountering more settlers in the late 1800s as railroad development brought in waves of people. Settlers disrupted tribal expeditions and eventually drove them off their traditional grounds.

The Gamble

Despite harsh dryland conditions and dust storms, settlers put their hopes and money into livestock, orchards, carp seining and even a cheese factory. But these and other enterprises withered in the face of severe drought and the Great Depression. By 1930, Grant County’s population had dropped by more than 30 percent.

President Roosevelt wanted to revitalize stricken agricultural communities, such as those in Grant County. With funding from the New Deal, the Grand Coulee Dam was constructed between 1934-1942.


The government began selling farm parcels in anticipation of an irrigated era in Washington’s Columbia Basin. Preference was given to World War II veterans, and many took the opportunity to transition from military life to farm life. As irrigation water began pumping from Grand Coulee Dam in 1948, veterans and other settlers poured in, making Grant County the fastest growing county in Washington during the 1950s.

Potato growers and processors were among the operations that took hold in the following years. Not all would succeed, but those that made it to the 1960s saw a boost in demand with the expansion of fast food and American fervor for french fries. In fact, in 1965, McDonald’s CEO, Ray Kroc, visited potato farms and processors in east-central Washington. The next year, McDonald’s began using frozen potatoes—many of which were grown and processed in Grant County—for their famous french fries. Demand for fresh and processed potato products from Washington remains high today.

There’s much more to the story, but that’s a glimpse into the history of hardship, loss, innovation and change that put Grant County on the path to becoming the top potato-producing county in the nation.


The World’s Best Potato

All about Washington spuds

Enjoyed some tasty french fries recently? There’s a good chance they came from potatoes grown in Washington state, particularly the Columbia Basin. This is where the Cascade range shields farmers from a lot of weather frustrations and provides farmers with idyllic conditions for growing this prized vegetable. The availability of water, rich volcanic soil and long growing season create farmland that can grow more potatoes per acre than any other state in the country.

“This is the best potato-growing area in the world,” explained life-long potato farmer, Frank Martinez. “No one else has what we have.”

For as long as Martinez can recall, his life centered around agriculture. He grew up traveling the country as a migrant farm worker and rose to the rank of foreman by the age of 17. Martinez credits his early success as a farm worker on his ability to speak both Spanish and English fluently. But his decision to branch out on his own, first with a small, 35-acre plot of land near where he worked, to a much bigger farm, was all his grit, determination and love of potatoes.

“Greatest vegetable in the world,” Martinez said, and not without merit. Potatoes are a dense source of Vitamins C and B6. They also contain more potassium than bananas and are a rich source of fiber, all while being very low in fat.

Potatoes are also delicious! French fries aren’t the only way to enjoy this tasty vegetable. One of the delights of potatoes is the hundreds of ways they can be prepared. You can probably think of several dozen just off the top of your head: baked potatoes, hash browns, potatoes au gratin, country potatoes, potato casserole, mashed potatoes, potato salad, potato pancakes, potato chips, potato goulash, potato soup, potato bread, tater tots, potato wedges, cheesy potatoes, and so on.


To grow the potatoes on his farm, Martinez creates large mounds for each plant.

“We have to,” he explains, “because Washington potatoes grow so big.” At the same time, Martinez uses the bare minimum pesticides necessary to keep everything growing.

The main challenge Martinez faces when it comes to running his farm is sorting out imposed regulations. These can include extensive record keeping requirements and utilization of technology he is not familiar with, necessitating additional hiring to sort and maintain everything that is required to keep the farm within regulatory standards.

As an employer, Martinez stresses the importance of building relationships with and appreciating his workers. “We have to pay them well,” he said, noting that without them, none of it would be possible. Of course, Martinez knows from experience exactly what it takes to grow and maintain a potato farm. After all, he’s been doing it for more than 30 years.



Luckily for local restaurants such as Dick’s Hamburgers, Washington state’s potato production doesn’t seem to be dwindling any time soon. Martinez and his neighboring potato farmers measure their output by the ton, not by the barrel like many other potato farms do, simply because of the sheer volume they harvest every year. This is particularly lucky for us—the restaurant attendees. We get to consume each delicious french fry with a little more vigor, knowing that we are supporting a local farmer with each savory bite. Visit

Watch the show online or on your local station

KSPS (Spokane)

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Fridays at 6:00 pm nwpb.org/tv-schedules/

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Saturdays at 1:00 pm nwpb.org/tv-schedules

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Saturdays at 6:30 am and 3:00 pm kbtc.org/tv-schedule/

KIMA (Yakima)/KEPR (Pasco)/KLEW (Lewiston)

Saturdays at 5:00 pm

kimatv.com/station/schedule / keprtv.com/station/schedule klewtv.com/station/schedule

KIRO (Seattle) Check local listings kiro7.com

NCW Life Channel (Wenatchee)

Check local listings ncwlife.com


Thursdays at 12:30 pm and Fridays at 9:00 pm (Pacific) rfdtv.com/

*Times/schedules subject to change based upon network schedule. Check station programming to confirm air times.

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Dick’s Hamburgers

French Fries

30 minutes

When you can’t get to Dick’s Hamburgers, this home-kitchen version of their french fries is a great alternative. Check out Season 1 Episode 6 at wagrown.com to see their beloved fries being made. If you have a deep fryer, this is great time to use it.

Total Time: about 30 minutes

Servings: 4


2 large russet potatoes, scrubbed

Vegetable oil, for frying



1.Peel the potatoes, leaving a bit of skin on, if you like, for added flavor. Cut each potato lengthwise into about 1/4-inch slices, then cut the slices lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips. Transfer to a bowl of cold water.

2.Add a couple inches of oil to a Dutch oven or similar broad, deep pot (no more than half full). Heat the oil to 325 F over medium heat. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a metal cooling rack or paper towels.

3.While the oil is heating, drain the potatoes, scatter on a kitchen towel or paper towels, and pat dry.

Carefully add the potatoes to the heated oil in batches (if oil bubbles up near pan edge, cook half at a time, this and next step) and fry until partly tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Use a wire-mesh skimmer or large slotted metal spoon to transfer the potatoes to the lined baking sheet.

4.Heat the oil to 375 F over medium-high heat. When heated, carefully add the potatoes in batches and fry until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Use the skimmer or slotted spoon to gently stir the potatoes to help brown evenly. Lift out the potatoes and drain on the lined baking sheet, then season with salt.

Serve right away, while still warm.

Nothing goes better with an amazing basket of fries like a Washington-brewed IPA. Next time you’re looking for a new hoppy flavor, try Mel’s Magic IPA from Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg. Big on hops, full in flavor, Mel’s Magic is a brew deep in character. This unclear beer matches the myth that precedes it.



Visit our website and sign up to be entered into a drawing for a $25 gift certificate to the Dick’s Hamburgers in Spokane! *Limit one entry per household


Around 60,000 pounds of potatoes are harvested from each acre in Washington.




Bags full of burgers

Dick's has been keeping Spokane well fed since 1965

Washington state is lucky enough to be home to TWO legendary burger joints, both named Dick's! The Seattle chain of restaurants may be better known, but Spokane's Dick's Hamburgers has established a cult-like devotion after nearly 60 years in business in downtown Spokane.

For decades, they have provided a cheap and easy way for customers to feed their families, promoting the ability to buy their hamburgers "Buy the Bagfull." Originally named Kirk's, the burger window was Spokane's first fast food restaurant, and owner Linda Peterson has been with the company since 1967.

“They call us an institution, and I guess I'm part of the fixture now," Peterson laughed. "We're very

unique. Our people memorize everything. When they call in their burgers, the wrapper back there has to put it all together from memory."

Dick's was featured in the very first season of the Washington Grown TV show, and host Kristi Gorenson got a firsthand look at how the crew is able to feed so many hungry Spokanites using Washington potatoes for their fries.

“We have people that are on a 15 to 30-minute lunch break, so we'd like to have stuff ready for them if we can, keeping it still fresh," said Manager Jackie Nelson, while the cameras rolled. "This batch of 72 burgers will be gone in seconds. We start with the ketchup and then Walla Walla onions, and then follow that with a pickle or two. Then our perfect french fries and some tartar sauce. It's the bomb.”

Host Kristi Gorenson and the Washington Grown crew visited Dick's Hamburgers in Spokane way back in Season 1.

Cover Crops the "little black dress" of conservation

It’s hard to keep up with changing trends. The phone that was cutting-edge nine months ago is now obsolete. The jeans you bought last year are just that…sooo last year.

So we appreciate things in life deemed timeless. For some, it’s that “little black dress” in their closet; for others, it’s painting their walls a neutral color. For many Washington farmers, their timeless classic is the cover crop.


Cover crops refer to crops planted in areas that otherwise would be bare ground, such as in spaces between rows of cash crops or over entire fields between the time a cash crop is harvested and the next one is planted. Plants used as cover crops vary, but some examples of those grown in Washington include rye, vetch, clover, buckwheat and mustard seed.

Cover crops are important because they keep soil in place. When you picture images from the Dust Bowl, some of what you see darkening the air is valuable soil that’s blown off of farm fields. Farms are more vulnerable to soil loss when fields are bare. Wind, rain and snowmelt can easily whisk away bare soil. But when a farmer plants a cover crop, the plant canopy and roots keep soil in place.

Cover crops provide other benefits, too, including

decreasing pollution, improving rain infiltration, controlling weeds, and creating habitat for vital microorganisms.


Earlier this year, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation at USDA, Gloria Montaño Greene, referred to cover crops as “playing a starring role in climate mitigation” due to their ability to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide into soils. There’s growing support for the climate-related and other benefits they provide, but cover crops still mean extra time, labor and costs for farmers up front. Farmers sacrifice vital resources to plant them.

That’s why conservation districts, state and federal agencies, and others are trying to make cover crops easier and more affordable. For example, this summer, the Washington State Conservation Commission launched the Sustainable Farms and Fields program that includes funding and assistance for farmers who plant cover crops. Through Washington’s Soil Health Initiative, researchers and potato growers are exploring cover crop strategies that not only improve soil health but also maximize yields.

The future looks strong for cover crops—a conservation practice that just keeps getting better with time.


Serious staying power!

Cover crops have been used for thousands of years across the globe. In Roman times, they planted cover crops between rows of grapevines. President George Washington planted clover and grass cover crops to replenish his soil. And in the 1930s, farmers were encouraged to adopt conservation farming techniques—including planting cover crops—to help end the Dust Bowl. Today, farmers use crops such as vetch, seen here.

Cover crop use has wavered over time, but it’s never gone out of style. In fact, the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture found usage increased by 50% between 2012-2017.


Washington farmers use the best and most innovative strategies to solve problems. Some of the most efficient and effective tools to help find potato diseases are dogs. But not just any dog. We interviewed Andrea Parish who works with a special crew of dogs, including a Washington Grown pup named Zora, who can sniff out diseases such as ring rot and PVY in potato plants.

Can any dog be used to find these diseases?

There are 1% of dogs that can do this job. We really keep the standards high, so they can't have been put on any other odor. They have to want to work all the time, and I do a lot of training.

Can we train technology to do what these dogs are doing?

The dog nose has never ever been replaced. Every government in the world has tried to find something besides a bomb dog. It’s impossible.

with Andrea Parish Nose Knows Scouting

What is it that the dog is smelling? Is it the disease? Or something else?

We know from other things that dogs smell vapor odor or vapor pressure. She can't talk, but if she could, I'm sure if she would tell me what it is. There's a very unique distinct smell. When we started, we start with a single virus potato. We train that a few thousand times. Then we put a clean one in, and they always go to the PVY potato. It's very distinct to them and very easy. When she's excited and she's working, she works so fast.

What do you want the general public to know about what you do and farming?

I want the general public to know that getting food to your table is so more complicated and so more expensive than you could ever imagine. Using the dogs is going to help the farmer have another tool in their toolbox to help keep costs down, disease down, and keep them in business.


Marketing Director Brandy Tucker Editor Kara Rowe Assistant Editor Trista Crossley Art Designers Brianna Rukes Jon Schuler Writers Laura Meyer Cynthia Nims Megan Peterson Images Dick’s Hamburgers Shutterstock Washington State Historical Society Washington Grown Executive Producers Kara Rowe David Tanner
Voigt Producers Ian Loe
The Washington Grown project is made possible by the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant program, through a partnership with the state’s farmers.
Hosts Kristi
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