The Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, the Idaho Potato Commission and Clear Springs Trout teamed up to host the 2012 Best of Idaho chefs and food writers tour Oct. 3-5, which gave chefs, culinary instructors and food editors the opportunity to visit farms and packinghouses across the state of Idaho and learn how onions, potatoes and trout are raised, harvested and packed.
As tour participants travelled by bus between stops, representatives of the hosting organizations, including Sherise Jones of the Idaho-EasternOregon Onion Committee, Alan Kahn of Clear Springs Trout and Don Odiorne of the Idaho Potato Commission took turns telling the passengers about their respective industries, talking about Idaho history, commenting on points of interest along the way, and answering a constant barrage of questions from a group of tour participants who all seemed to want to know everything about everything.
The participants agreed that the hosts’ commentaries were all very informative as well as entertaining.
The tour started in Parma in southwestern Idaho with a visit to the onion packing facility of Fort Boise Produce to see onions sorted, graded and packed on a high-tech, high-volume packingline. The group then visited the John Wong Family Farm to see onions being harvested and to hear John Wong, a third-generation onion farmer who is also president of Champion Produce, tell about all of the things that go into growing top-quality onions.
Visits to the test kitchen at J.C. Watson Packing Co. and to the Nunhem’s Seed Facility gave the group an opportunity to learn about the culinary and other characteristics of different varieties and strains of onions, how onion seeds are produced and how the varieties are developed.
A grilling competition gave the chefs and other tour participants a chance to join with their hosts in small groups for a cooking contest with Idaho-Eastern Oregon onions and an assortment of other produce, most of it locally grown, as ingredients. At the end of the competition, all were pronounced winners.
The onion committee’s Sherise Jones said that industry comprises about 36 shippers and 300 growers ranging from large to small.
The second day of the tour featured a visit to the largest trout farm in the United States in Buhl, ID, in the south-central part of the state. Although trout were the day’s focus, produce was not neglected, as the menu for a trout dinner included dishes featuring such Idaho-grown products as local organic greens, pears from Symms Ranch and, of course, Idaho russet and red-skin potatoes.
On the third day of the tour, participants witnessed potatoes being harvested at Tiede Farms in American Falls in eastern Idaho. Owner Jim Tiede said that the century-old, four-generation family business farms over 3,500 acres, including 800 acres of potatoes and rotation crops.
At the Wada Farms Potatoes packing facility in Pingree, ID, President Brian Wada, his brother, Chris Wada, and other company personnel guided tour participants through a potato packing facility that is among the largest and most modern in the state.
The company runs an assortment of potato varieties in addition to the famous Idaho russet Burbank and packs them in various styles, including some recently introduced innovative consumer packs for retail.