Universal York

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Potato roots run deep in York County

Unidentified potato pickers
Unidentified potato pickers.

The Potato Association of America says Americans eat more than 41 billion pounds of potatoes a year.

An article in the York Daily Record a few days ago indicated that new techniques and varieties of potatoes might help York County farmers again make the county the potato growing center it was in the mid-twentieth century. That got me thinking about how important potatoes were to my family on their Chanceford Township farm, where they lived from 1925 until 1947.

My father, Wiley Burk, faithfully wrote a few lines in his diaries every day. In addition to the weather, just about every entry recorded what he did on the farm that day. A quick search of the transcribed volumes yielded nearly 1,400 results for “potato.”

Over the years, my father, with help sometimes from family members or hired help: cut, measured, planted, worked, harrowed, scraped, weeded, hoed, sprayed, scraped, raised, picked, took out, hauled in, sorted, bagged, sprouted, covered, and moved potatoes. He mowed the patch, raked and burned weeds and hunted potato bugs. Sharing equipment with neighbors, he fetched potato pickers and potato sorters.

After keeping enough to feed the family for the winter and distributing small amounts to family and friends, he sold the rest to buyers for grocery stores and probably chip manufacturers. Potato activity started in April with cutting potatoes in preparation for planting and ran through November, until they were all harvested, sorted and bagged.

Potatoes also got the family through the Great Depression. You couldn’t make much selling your potatoes then, so my parents made and sold their own brand of chips, just like the Utz, Martin, Snyder, Musser and other families. As the depression wound down, so did the Burk’s Potato Chips brand, an economic decision that might be viewed ruefully with hindsight.

The first mention of potatoes in the diaries is April 22, 1925, three weeks after they moved to the farm: “Finish plowing cornstalks. Sowed seed tomatoes. Cut potatoes at home. Fair,” and on April 27: “Planted potatoes. Fair.”

The last reference is December 1, 1947, the week they moved from the farm. By that time, my father was working at the Safe Harbor hydroelectric plant, and my cousin, already a potato farmer, was doing the farming by shares. It reads: “Worked at Safe Harbor… . Dean Bacon finished sorting potatoes, Katahdins 675 bu., Cobblers…Fair, cold 14.”

My favorite entry reads, in part: “June 7. Baby born. [“June” written above line, may have been inserted later.]…Worked 1 acre of potatoes evening second time. Fair.” You can say I have been closely associated with potatoes since birth.

This link will take you to the many posts I have written about area potato chip manufacturers.