After 35 years as a high school and middle school teacher, Wallace Condon spends these days in pursuit of growing the tastiest potatoes known to man.
How Wallace Became a Potato Farmer
Wallace traces back his initiation into potato farming to a monthly "supper club" of 3 couples that the Condons participated in. For one supper gathering, Wallace brought some Ruby Crescent fingerlings from his small backyard vegetable patch. The response from his friends was so overwhelming, he decided to bring a few to the Lodi Farmers' Market where he found customers were unexpectedly receptive, particularly those who had grown up in Europe and never expected to see European-style potatoes available in the U.S.
That did it! Wallace decided that he would devote his retirement to growing small quantities of the best tasting potatoes he could find, using farming methods that would leave his land more fertile than when he began.
Unfortunately, neither the weather nor the soil south of Lodi is ideal for potatoes. Potatoes like a cool climate and loose soil. His soil is clay and the winters aren't cold and the summers are hot, so Wallace struggles to grow potatoes on his 3 acres of land. He is a member of California Certified Organic Farmers, Seed Savers Exchange, Land Institute and the Ecology Action. So he's also actively concerned about the impact his farming has on the land. Each season he grows potatoes only on 1.5 acres. On the other 1.5 acres, he grows Sudan grass, vetch and bell beans which he plows back into the soil to enrich it for the next season's potato planting. He makes compost to attract beneficial insects and plants "trap" crops to lure pests away from his potatoes.
To break dormancy and stimulate uniform sprouting in the spring, Wallace puts the potatoes into a cool room or cold storage for a few weeks prior to planting. He's also tried storing the potatoes with ripening apples that give off ethylene gas, which stimulates the potatoes into growing. According to Wallace, potatoes can be very stubborn and won't sprout and grow at the same time unless they've been handled exactly the way they like.
Wallace has already experimented with growing well over 130 different varieties of potatoes, looking for the best tasting potatoes he can find and every year tries 5-6 different varieties looking to add to his collection. This search had led him into 3 varieties from Peru used by breeders to increase "potato" flavor. He has discovered that each one has flaws which make them undesirable commercially, but that all have great taste. One is Inca Gold and the other two are the Mama Amarillo and the Royal Andes. All 3 of these are a "must" experience for true potato lover. Each one has more flavor than either the Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold that have now become standards in the Bay Area.
Potatoes are all planted in early March after the ground has dried out enough from the winter rains. The exact time of planting varies from spring to spring and some varieties mature sooner than others, so it's hard for Wallace to predict exactly when a particular variety will be ready for market. But he says that in general, customers can expect the following schedule:
Early Varieties : 65 days to maturity; available starting early June
Mid-Season: 80 days to maturity; available starting early to mid-July
Late: 90 days or more to maturity; available starting end July-early August
Another important potato fact: "New Potatoes" are immature tubers from green vines before the skin hardens.
Here's a preview of some of Wallace's best:
|Caribe||Bluish-purple skin; snow-white flesh||Makes the lightest, fluffiest mashed potatoes one can imagine|
|Carola||One of the best German potatoes. Smooth skin; yellow flesh. Potato lovers claim it's one of the best tasting.||Makes outstanding hash browns and scalloped potatoes. Also can be boiled, baked or mashed|
|Daisy Gold||As good as the Bintje. Yellow skin with a smooth surface. Yellow flesh. Stores well.||Boil, bake, mash, scalloped and BBQ. Also, makes out-of-this-world hash browns!|
|Bintje||Similar to the Carola and Daisy Gold.||Same uses as Carola and Daisy Gold.|
|Inca Gold||Egg-yolk yellow flesh; streaked purple and brown over yellow skin. Versatile texture, intense flavor with a fibrous stolon attachment.||Truly versatile. Great baked, mashed, boiled or roasted!|
|Royal Andes||Egg-yolk yellow flesh; solid dark purple skin; solid texture and intense flavor.||Intensity of the flavor is best brought out by baking, boiling or mashing.|
|Mama Amarilla||Deep yellow skin and flesh. Versatile texture, intense flavor. No dormancy -- continues growing!||Because it's versatile, it can be used baked, mashed, boiled or roasted.|
|Anna Cheeka's Ozette
||A firm and waxy Peruvian potato brought into the U.S. by Spanish explorers in the 1700's and traded to the Ozette Indians in Neah Bay, Washington||Delicious and romantic; great for potato salad.|
|Ruby Crescent||Rose-colored skin; yellow flesh||Great for roasting.|
|Russian Banana||Banana-shaped; firm texture||Great for potato salads. Wonderful flavor when baked, boiled or steamed.|
|Rose Finn Apple||Red skin; creamy yellow flesh||Wallace's best seller.|
|Butterfinger (Swedish Peanut)||Crescent, teardrop shape. Flesh is fluffy, yellow, nutty-tasting and firm.||Steam, boil, sauté, salads.|
|French Fingerling||Pink-purple skin. Flesh is firm, waxy texture and pink just under the skin.||Steam, boil, sauté, grill.|
From: "Ronniger's Seed Potatoes Spring/Fall 1996 Catalog" with additional comments from Wallace Condon.
Only Enough for the Ferry Plaza Market
Wallace grows about 8 - 9 tons of potatoes a year, which is considered a small quantity by potato-growing standards. So he and his wife, Nancy, come only to San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market on Saturdays from early June through October. Since he only grows a small quantity of potatoes each season, he was a little reluctant to let me write about him because he says that he already has more customers than potatoes. What an enviable position to be in, and he seems to be enjoying every minute!
June 1996; updated September 2000.
Saturday Market Home Page
To contact the vendor, please use information at the top of this page.