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Seeds: Magic Valley Potatoes
By Kerry Hoffschneider
Sandy and Jeff Bragg like to talk about the “fairest potatoes in the land” in the Magic Valley of Idaho. The Braggs do not have to brag about their “magic potatoes” – the nutrient-rich potatoes speak for themselves. The whimsical name of their past location in Idaho has not always been a fairytale though. In fact, it has been a fight to retain what is truly hearty and good about potato farming. This couple is not giving up on their own potato knowledge and helping others through their business – SuperFood Consulting. “I helped found Everything Potatoes, Inc. as a platform to enhance the organic and regenerative potato sector,” said Jeff, who has been growing potatoes his entire life. “My passion is to see the best quality crop, including rotational crops, flourish with the right amount of ingredients. This is about soil health to gut health.”“Potatoes are the most widely-consumed vegetable, and they can affect soil and human health the most. The main industry doesn’t speak enough to the diversity of potato varieties and their intrinsic compounds that can actually heal,” he went on to explain. The grocery store is not the place where health begins, Jeff said adamantly, “It begins in the soil. We have taken advantage of the soil and water for cheap food – but at what cost? It’s endangering society because of the food we eat.”“The soil is Mother Earth’s skin,” Sandy said. “I like to say we are slipping seeds softly under her skin. For 40 years, I have traveled with Jeff all over and seen millions of acres of land and thousands of fields of potatoes.”“The soil has changed so much – and not for the better,” Jeff echoed his wife.“When we got married, the Magic Valley was such a vibrant county – every mile corner had a small industry on it. Everyone really did help each other out. It was just a beautiful thing. There were rows of different crops, 14 to 20 different types, it was important to everyone in the valley to have long rotations. Rotating crops was embedded in Jeff’s DNA,” Sandy reflected. Born in 1958, Jeff’s father Clyde and Grandpa Clyde placed a shovel in his hands early on. He stayed close to his father in the potato fields until allergies plagued him and he spent more time with his Grandma Emelia. Walking the ditch banks to pick wild asparagus, Jeff began learning nature’s role is far deeper and more important than the surface business of agriculture.Throughout life, the Braggs watched the slow death of the soils around them. Sandy stated, “A metaphor would be how the white man killed the buffalo. I feel like that is what has happened to the Magic Valley. It is like a Dust Bowl of sorts – a quiet and ghostly area with no buildings. In 42 years, I have literally seen the color of the soil change in southern Idaho – it has a gray tone to it. In the 1980s, whenever I put Jeff’s clothes in the washing machine and shut the door, I would have enough of a whiff of the chemicals that I would almost fall on the floor – that was when I was carrying my babies.” The Braggs understand that soil health can be a steep learning curve for all farms faced with the complexities of modern agricultural decisions. “When we were young, we were like a sponge and getting indoctrinated with the wrong message. The soil labs were, and many still are, all tied up with the fertility and chemical companies. They take you out to fancy dinners and say to try this or that chemical. You are young and you have children, and you want to make money,” Sandy admitted. The Braggs kept learning though and changing. “Then I met a Japanese farmer that taught sequential planting. We started eating different potatoes and recognized the flavor and texture they had compared to others,” Jeff said.With rotational crops, and crop diversity overall, woven into Jeff’s DNA, he began to hearken his roots. “Regenerative agriculture is what we are doing. I switched dad to no-till. Now we are using microbes in the soil. We are striving for diversity in our cropping systems. We are paying attention to what is best. We have to get back to the regenerative, rotational agriculture I learned prior to chemical agriculture. This is deeply important to me as it has everything to do with the health of the soil and the health of people.”
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