June 27th, 2003


Friday Five (http://www.fridayfive.org): Summertime

Today's FridayFive is about the summertime and has inspired me to write about farming.

1. How are you planning to spend the summer? Working, mostly. I've got that whole regular, full-time job thing going. I'll probably go to the NASCAR race in Indianapolis again, though (making it 10 years in a row for me). A weekend away here and there, as well.

2. What was your first summer job? Potato Grader[1].

3. If you could go anywhere this summer, where would you go? Scottland.

4. What was your worst vacation ever? I don't remember where it was, but I think it might have been to a beach. What made it bad is that I was sick with a cold the whole time. My nose would not quit draining and I had a bit of a headache the whole time. I don't think I did much other than sit around.

5. What was your best vacation ever? My honeymoon. We went on a cruise for a week, then spent almost a week in Key West.

[1] Potato Grader -- what's that? My family is full of farmers. My uncles owned and operated a potato farm when I was a kid. I was young when I started helping out on the farm during the summer months, I don't remember how young. I think most of the potatos that we sold eventually became potato chips. Let me describe how a potato farm works. First, potatos grow in the ground. Before you can do anything with them, you have to get them out of the ground. Used to (before my time), you would go out in the fields and dig them up individually, but now we have machines. The first thing that you do is send a digger out in the field -- that's a machine that digs the potatos out of the ground. I can point to a digger, but it's harder for me to describe it, but I'll try. A digger is a large tractor-thing. You drive it through the fields and it has an arm that goes in the ground to dig up the potatos. Then there are a series of conveyer-belts (Well, technically, they're not belts -- they operate like a conveyer belt, but instead of a belt, it's more akin to chain link.) that what gets dug travels along on it's way to a field truck (more on field trucks later). It's pretty non-descriminating -- the digger will pull up all sorts of other things with the potatos, mostly dirt -- especially if the soil is moist, we call them "dirt clogs" (sometimes "dirt clods"). The digger will also pull up weeds, turtles, snakes, and golf balls. On the conveyers to the field truck, a lot of the non-potato material gets discarded -- dirt clogs break up and fall through the links in the chain and what not.

Once a field truck is full of (mostly) potatos, it leaves the field and returns to the grader (more on the grader later). What is a field truck? It looks kinda like a dump truck with sides that are sloped. The most important part of the field truck is the conveyer that runs along the bottom of the truck, front to back. This is how the potatos get out of the truck. The potatos are loaded into the the truck from the digger by simply falling into the open top, they leave via the conveyer. Once a field truck is full, someone drives it back to the grader, where the potatos complete their journey from the farm to the eighteen-wheeler that takes it to a potato chip factory.

Now we come to the potato grader, where I used to work as a potato grader. Yes, "potato grader" can either mean the system of conveyers designed to transport potatos from a field truck to an eighteen-wheeler, or a person works there. The eighteen-wheeler would back up to the grader, which terminated with a boom that could go the length of an eighteen-wheeler's cargo hold. At the beginning of the grader were the field trucks. Between the field trucks and the eighteen-wheeler were the workers. I think we had between 10 and 20 people working at a time. When you're ready to start loading, you turn on the conveyers that make up the grader and turn on the conveyer on the field truck(s) and potatos start their way along the conveyer. Workers (the potato graders) stand along the conveyers and grade the potatos. Pretty much, we graded them as pass/fail. Anything that you wouldn't want to find in a potato chip, we removed from the flow -- rotten potatos, sunburned potatos, weeds, frogs, turtles, snakes, dirt, golf balls, etc. Once the potatos made it all the way to the boom, the graders should have removed everything except good potatos from the flow and you end up filling an eighteen-wheeler with potatos. It usually took us about two hours to fill an eighteen-wheeler.

So that was my first summer job, and I did it every summer until I was a junior in high school. On days we'd work, we would work anywhere between four and ten hours, occasionally a little longer, but usually around eight. I did a quick Google search on potato grader to see if I could find any pictures or anything, and I found some pictures of some fancy graders, but nothing like what we worked on. The most interesting link I found was a glossary from The Potato: Then and Now.

The best potatos come from North Carolina. Lay's makes the best potato chips. Pringles chips are made from rotten potatos, but they're still yummy.

Big Daddy Largepants

From Food companies use humor as defense in ads:

The food-industry group will spend another $50,000 to run 30-second radio ads next week on several FM stations and WMAL-AM. The parodies start with "According to the latest study," and continue with absurd claims such as "If you eat a wheelbarrow full of cheese fries each week, the cheese fries are to blame when people call you Big Daddy Largepants."

I'm glad to see that the food industry appears to have a sense of humor about the possibility of being sued and regulated to death like the tobacco industry. This sort of regulation is completey inappropriate. People need to take responsibility for their own behavior. If you do something that results in unpleasantness, you should bear the unpleasantness. Don't try to shift it around to someone else!