Two Amish youngsters pick potatoes on a farm in Fort Fairfield in September 2010 Credit: Courtesy Paul Cyr

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack has named two Aroostook County farmers to the National Potato Promotion Board.

Jennifer Gogan of Littleton and Jeff Irving of Caribou will each serve a three-year term representing Maine, starting in March. It will be Gogan’s second term.

Potatoes are Maine’s biggest crop, producing more than $201 million in sales last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Aroostook County is the potato hub of Maine, and having Gogan and Irving on the board will give The County’s potato producers national exposure.

“We’re part of the potato industry in this country, and it’s great to have a voice on there,” said Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board. “I think with Jeff and Jennifer, we’ve got two really good people.”

Though western states like Idaho and Washington produce most of the country’s potatoes, Maine is the largest producer in the East, Flannery said. As one of the larger potato-producing states, it gets two seats on the national board.

The vegetable commodity board, based in Denver, Colorado, operates as Potatoes USA and promotes fresh market potatoes, fresh chipping potatoes, seed potatoes, frozen potato products and dehydrated potatoes for the nation’s 2,500 potato farming families.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture solicits nominations for the board as seats expire. This year, there were 65 open grower seats from 37 states, including Maine. The USDA appoints one potato producer board member for each state, with  higher producing states qualifying for additional representation.

Irving is a sixth-generation potato farmer and president of Irving Farms in Caribou. The Irving family has been growing potatoes in Aroostook County since the early 19th century, and they farm 900 acres. That’s about 40 million pounds of potatoes a year, Irving said.

He has served on the Maine Potato Board, and he’s excited to get more involved on a national level, he said.

Irving Farms produces tablestock — meaning for consumers — potatoes and potatoes for the food service industry.  

There has been an upswing for Maine’s russet potato, he said. Last year Massachusetts restaurant chain Ninety Nine contracted with Irving to provide Caribou Russets to its 103 locations.

“We find we are very competitive with the Idaho potato,” Irving said. “We are gaining back market share.”

Gogan, a fourth-generation potato farmer, is the assistant manager and part-owner of Miller Farms LLC, a seed potato farm in Littleton. Miller farm grows Lamoka, Snowden, Atlantic, dark red Norland, Caribou Russet, and Russet Burbank seed potatoes, mostly for Frito-Lay, according to Potatoes USA.

Additionally, Gogan works with local farmers to grow and deliver chip stock to chip plants as the assistant manager at Miller Farms’ sister company, Aroostook Produce Distributors.

Last year, she was named co-chair of the Potato USA Research Committee.

Gogan was not immediately available for comment.

Collins and King praised Gogan and Irving this week for their appointments to the board.

“Whether they’re fried, baked, scalloped, or mashed, there are few foods that offer the delicious taste and versatility of Maine potatoes,” the two senators said in a release. “We’re excited that Jeff Irving and Jennifer Gogan are joining the National Potato Promotion Board to help educate more people across the country and globe about the incredible Maine vegetable.”

Potatoes USA, started in 1971, is administered under the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. It is the nation’s potato research and promotion organization.

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Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...