SUMMER 2017 / VOL. 17 ISSUE 1
Wisconsinís Mr. Potato Man Revels in Extensive Gaelic Links
IAP - What is your Irish heritage? When did your ancestors come from Ireland?
TH - My heritage is Irish, English, Scottish and German. My motherís parents came from a small village in Northern Ireland called Kilrae, County Londonderry. My motherís maiden name was Audrey Bellingham. Her parents were William and Annie (McMullen) Bellingham. They came to Ellis Island in New York in the early 1900s.
IAP - Were they mostly farmers? What were their Wisconsin connections?
TH - My grandfather on my motherís side was a cabinet-maker. He lived in Rochester, N.Y., for most of his adult life. They had no Wisconsin connection. My father moved with my mother and nine older brothers and sisters from Long Island to Stevens Point, Wis., in 1959 just to get away from the big city. Iím the only one in my immediate family who was born in Wisconsin.
IAP - Whatís your farm background, if any?
TH - I have no farm background, although I grew up out in the country in Central Wisconsin and was surrounded by farm families. I majored in communications and German in college and took one semester abroad in Munich, then West Germany. I was hired as the managing editor of The Badger CommoníTater magazine at the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association in 1987 based on my communication skills. I had to learn about farming from the ground up!
IAP - Does it help to have a bit oí the Gael in you for this job? Do you always get jokes about your Irish heritage and potatoes?
TH - Please, no Mr. Potato Head-isms, I'm sure. I began work as the managing editor in November,f 1987. It did not have anything to do with my Irish heritage, although that does help in that I have a great affinity for all things potatoes. I do hear a lot of jokes about being an Irishman working in the potato industry. I named my second daughter "Tatum" as an homage to the mighty potato!
IAP - Has the WPVGA hosted Irish potato farmers on tour here in Wisconsin? Any farm-to-farm visits?
TH - To my knowledge, the WPVGA has not hosted any Irish potato farmers in our state. I have met folks affiliated with the Irish potato industry sinceIíve gone to the last five World Potato Congress events, including one in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2012 where I met several members of the firm "Irish Potato Marketing, Ltd."
Also, as part of our marketing and promotions program, we have had the Wisconsin Spudmobile (our mobile educational and promotional vehicle) on exhibit at Milwaukee Irish Fest in August. It was there last year (2016) and will be there again this year (2017).
IAP - What in the future for Wisconsin potato/veggie growers? Are you positive about how the state can compete in a world market.
TH - I believe the future is quite bright for Wisconsin potato and vegetable growers. We rank number three in the nation in potato production and weíre second only to California in the production of vegetables for processing (green beans, sweet corn, peas, carrots, cucumbers, onions, etc.). We have good soil, plentiful water and very progressive, intelligent, hardworking farmers.
IAP - What are your duties with the association? Why is if valuable to have a trade group like this? Are there many "Irish" heritage members or are most Wisconsin potato farmers Polish, German or other?
TH - I am the executive director of the WPVGA. We have four main areas of work: Governmental Affairs, Research, Marketing and Education. The growers see value in the WPVGA working in all of those areas. The growers voted to tax themselves seven cents per hundredweight of potatoes sold in Wisconsin, which generates a budget of about $1.75 million. (Note: They may increase this assessment to eight cents/cwt. effective July 1, 2017.) We have approximately 110 grower members, 210 Associate Division members (allied industry), and 115 Auxiliary members (mostly wives of growers and associates). We have a few Irish heritage members, but I would say the majority of the growers are of Polish descent.
IAP - Whatís your favorite potato dish? Your favorite variety? Did your mom make a lot of potato dishes when you were growing up?
TH - I really have a hard time identifying my favorite potato dish because I like so many of them! I love German potato salad; I love mashed potatoes and gravy; I love baby reds; and I love fried potatoes with a little garlic, salt and pepper. I would have to say that round whites are my favorite variety, specifically Superiors, because they have a very earthy and distinct flavor. My mother was an excellent cook, and made a lot of potato dishes for our large family (remember those ten kids??!!). She made a fantastic potato salad.
IAP - While having a Friday fish fry do you favor potato pancakes or the fries? Whatís your favorite Wisconsin fish fry place with the best potato dish?.
TH - This is another tough one because I do love Friday fish fries. I usually order potato salad with my fish fry, although I also like French fries. Potato pancakes are not typically offered where I go. I can give you my five best fish fries near Stevens Point, Wis.: Materos; The Final Score; Micheleís; The Point After; and Clancyís Stone Lion (although they donít fry their fishóthey only offered broiled and baked). I would say the best potato dish is offered by The Final Score because they have "Bee Hives" which are small balls of deep fried mashed potatoes.
IAP - What do you like about potatoes?
TH - I often count my blessings when it comes to working for the potato industry. Potatoes are easy to promote and just about everyone likes potatoes in one way, shape or form. To me, the best thing about them is their versatility. Just think about all the ways they can be prepared, and how universally loved they are. They are very nutritious (more potassium than a banana), have good fiber, have no fat, no cholesterol and no gluten. They are Americaís favorite vegetable.
IAP - How often have you visited Ireland?
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