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Not Just Any Potato

A truckload full of Kitchen Kleen Potatoes!

It’s a Kitchen Kleen Potato!

Potatoes! On a bright fall day in late September while taking a long walk, we happened to be heading north on the sidewalk along the east side of Route SS – Main Street in Rice Lake, Wisconsin – when I heard the sound of a very large truck approaching from behind us. As I turned my head to the left, my mouth fell open as I saw that the truck was loaded to the brim with small- to medium-sized orbs of pale brown color. What the? …Truckload full of freshly harvested Russet potatoes

And then I recognized the cargo: potatoes!  Now, I’ve seen a lot of things being hauled by truck. Corn, beans, cattle, chickens, other cars and trucks, pieces of bridges… a LOT of different things. But potatoes? That was new to me.  And, of course, I was curious. Especially since I wanted to know where they were headed.

How Much Is a Lot of Potatoes?

I knew not, at the time, the destination of the truck. What I did notice was that there were many more identical trucks, each loaded with – and I am guessing here, at the amount – perhaps 25-30 tons of potatoes, that would follow at regular intervals. And there were just as many empty trucks that were headed back in the other direction. Starting in late September, I discovered, this same procession would repeat itself numerous times every day for several weeks… until the entire new crop of Russet potatoes had been harvested and delivered to the Kitchen Kleen warehouse facility on the banks of Rice Lake, just east of Main Street.  I peeked inside the warehouse, and believe me when I tell you… that is a LOT of potatoes!

Potatoes being unloaded from two trucks at once

Once there, the spuds are very gently unloaded (who wants bruised potatoes?), washed, dried and stored in the facility at optimal temperature and moisture levels throughout the winter months. All the while they are offered for sale to the public, starting in late October. By the way, I now count myself as one of the first in line to buy a ten-pound bag for myself and my wife – at least once every few weeks, until mid-summer, when the supply runs out.

Recipes for Potatoes

That is quite obviously not the entire story. But it’s a good start. Most of my curiosity about these special tubers is based upon the fact that I have long been a huge “fan” of potatoes – prepared in any of a multitude of ways. One of my most favorite is a recipe I got from my mom, who got it from Irene Krause of Bagley, MN, who got it from her mother, who got it from, well – you get the idea. Here is a link to the recipe – enjoy! In addition to cheese, and there is plenty of it in this recipe, I don’t believe I have ever met a “murphy” (Irish for potato) I didn’t like! By the way, did you know that the Irish have 90 words to describe potatoes??

Mom's special AuGratin PotatoesIn any case, back to Kitchen Kleen and the most excellent “tatties” from Rice Lake. The mild daytime temperatures and cool nights here in northwest Wisconsin – especially near Rice Lake – produce a high-quality Russet potato that really stores extremely well and has superb flavor. As the story goes, a gentleman by the name of Barron West knew this little “secret” about Russets and planted his very first crop of potatoes way back in 1929. It was on a very small plot that was a mere five acres. Today, it encompasses over 5000 acres, and Nuto Farms of Kitchen Kleen are still producing the most excellent “taters” you have ever tasted!

It’s a Family Affair

Today’s directors of operations include West family members Donn and his sons Brian and Dennis, who ensure the original traditions of Barron West are strictly followed: those for planting, growing, harvesting, storage and packaging. That is attention to detail that must be – and is – followed.

And so, my original sighting of that potato truck heading for the Rice Lake warehouse, has turned into a sort of love affair for me. I wait patiently for the fall harvest, almost drooling at the thought of when these juicy and yummy morsels will become available for sale to the public (This year it was on Monday, 24 October). I am simply amazed by the numbers involved in the harvesting process. Just prior to harvest, there are approximately a dozen such trucks lined up at the warehouse facility, early every morning.

Tons and Tons Of Russet Potatoes

Every truck is ultimately loaded with excellent-tasting, nutritious, perfectly planted and grown with meticulous care… potatoes. Based on a bit of research: “Wisconsin law allows for commercial motor vehicles (CMV), registered at a gross weight of 50,000 pounds or more, to operate by not more than 15 percent over weight limit…” That would mean that a potato truck carries perhaps 57,000 pounds of potatoes. If my estimate is even close to correct – at around 57,000 pounds of tubers per truck X 12 trucks X 6 trips per day (each) X 3 weeks of harvest, that could be about 30 thousand tons of Russets! That’s a whole lot of spuds…

Gently unloading Russets at Kitchen Kleen warehouseBy the time you read this, the current year’s crop of delicious Russets will be safely harvested (usually in mid- to late September), delivered to the warehouse, washed, stored, and ready to be shipped to hundreds of locations across the country. However… I know that there are plenty more that will be available for me and my breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Whether broiled, boiled and made into a variety of dishes, fried, baked, sautéed, au gratin-ed and, well, hundreds of other ways I am yet to imagine. I raise a toast to you, Barron West, and all the generations of Wests that have followed you and kept up the tradition of growing the best potatoes … ever!

And to think, I had driven past this facility quite often – for a number of years – and never knew what flavorsome treasure lay undiscovered (for me, any way!) in that warehouse. Aside from great taste and nutrition, Rice Lake’s Kitchen Kleen brings great joy to me… and my kitchen.  It’s hard for me to try to Imagine a world without potatoes — especially Kitchen Kleen Russet potatoes!

Note from the author: A request for an interview made to Kitchen Kleen Potatoes here in Rice Lake went unanswered. Unfortunately, there may be missing or incomplete information in the article. My apologies.

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We became full-time residents of the City of Rice Lake in 2021. It has been our goal and desire to contribute and give back to the City in a manner that will be as helpful as possible. It is also our goal to dedicate our efforts – and a steadily progressing and growing website – to the people and businesses of Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

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