Larry Peter is primarily a dairy farmer. But today he's more well-known around the San Francisco Bay Area for his potatoes and as an effervescent promoter of potatoes as health food.
Potatoes Save the Cows
With the skyrocketing price of grain to feed his cows and state-regulated prices for milk, the cost of maintaining a dairy herd were causing economic havoc to the Peter family. So Larry put some creative thought into ways he could earn enough money to keep his dairy going. Literally turning to his roots -- an Irish ancestry with potato farming in the his family's bloodline -- he started planting potatoes in 1986. His success at growing and selling "designer" potatoes enables Larry to comfortably maintain his dairy cows today. But it's a lot of work. He's constantly on the run, dry-farming 40 acres of potatoes and tending 800 dairy cows on his 320-acre farm in Two Rock Valley near Petaluma.
A Shopping List of Potatoes
Larry's into potatoes in a big way these days. He's growing over 15 varieties and selling 100% of what he grows at 6 farmers' markets around the Bay Area. He or one of his family members is at San Francisco's Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market each week of the year. Among the potatoes you'll find them selling are:
Rose Finn Apple
Prices range from $1.50 - $2.50 per lb.
This year he also went into onions in a big way. He put in 100,000 plants and now has red and yellow onions also available at his Saturday Market stand.
Because Larry uses the dry-farming technique, the soil must first be prepared so it can sustain the plants throughout the growing season just from ground moisture . To do this, Larry starts preparing the soil in March, after the soil has dried out enough from the winter rains to begin working it. He first cultivates down to a depth of 15", then turns over the soil each week for the next 3 weeks. That brings ground water to the surface, which keeps the plants alive just after planting and also encourages them send their roots down to seek out water as the surface layer begins to dry out. Once the potatoes are planted, they aren't watered for the next 65-75 days that it takes them to reach maturity.
By staggering the planting throughout the spring and also by selecting varieties with differing maturities, he has a steady harvest of new potatoes from mid-May to mid-November. By storing potatoes in his hay barn after the harvest season is over, he can continue selling potatoes during the non-producing period, mid-November to mid-May. While it's convenient for his customers to be able to buy Larry's potatoes year-round, he admits that the potatoes do begin to turn a little sweet and to lose some of their food value after 6 months of storage. By that time, his customers are anxiously awaiting the new crop.
A Pumpkin Patch in Two Rock
This year Larry planted 20 acres of pumpkins and is bringing a few to the Market starting the end of September. But he's also issued an open invitation to everyone to visit Two Rock Valley to pick their own pumpkins for Halloween. The farm will be open from Friday to Sunday, starting the first weekend in October. No appointment is needed. " Just show up in your farm clothes", says Larry. To round out a day on the farm, you can also take a tour of the dairy and pick a few end-of-the-season potatoes to take home.
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