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Farming couple turns to unique varieties

NORTHUMBERLAND, England -- Lucy and Anthony Carroll started Carroll's Heritage Potatoes with two varieties in a garden in 2000. Today, their Tiptoe Farm, a stone's throw from Scotland, has grown to 60 acres of potatoes, including up to 16 acres o...

Anthony Carroll
Anthony Carroll of Carroll's Heritage Potatoes, Tiptoe Farm, Northumberland, England, tells how his family is succeeding by marketing heirloom potato varieties directly to chefs and customers, and by getting government support for environmental and cultural heritage protection. (Mikkel Pates. Agweek staff)

NORTHUMBERLAND, England -- Lucy and Anthony Carroll started Carroll's Heritage Potatoes with two varieties in a garden in 2000.

Today, their Tiptoe Farm, a stone's throw from Scotland, has grown to 60 acres of potatoes, including up to 16 acres of their single-largest variety. They sell 17 unique, gourmet quality heritage potatoes from the River Till Valley in Northumberland, northeast England. They supply direct to chefs, wholesalers and food outlets.

Tiptoe Farm, a 600-acre farm, has been in the same family since the 1930s. Carroll's Heritage Potatoes grew out of the farming business, and was separated out. The farm initially sold its potatoes primarily through a farmers' market in Edinburgh, Scotland, but now more are sold through chefs and direct sales.

Their heritage potatoes aren't grown organically by any means, but they're for a high-end market. They offer different shapes, tastes, colors and textures. The potatoes are all grown, stored, graded and packaged at Tiptoe, with names like Highland Burgundy (originally released in 1936); pink fir apple (1836) and Ratte (1872).

"Each potato has a wonderful history, giving you a taste of the past," according to promotional material from the farm. The farm was awarded Britain's "Most Beautiful Farm" in 2006, in recognition of its environmental work.

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Thirty percent of Carroll's land is in an "environmental scheme." The government pays a subsidy for the benefit, and Anthony says it's "not a gimmick."

"I want to throw out a concept, what is a crop?" Carroll says. As an example, he points to a cereal mix sown in the spring that he'll leave unharvested for the wildlife. Last fall, this land was in winter wheat, combined, and the stubble left. Now it's spring barley, spring triticale and spring linseed. "It's mixed up in a bag, drilled out and left." Then it becomes food for birds who like to live in the middle of the fields, rather than in field margins and hedges. Other plantings are designed to attract butterflies and bumblebees.

All of the hedges have 3- to 6-meter grass margins around them, which is wonderful for birds and animals, including hares. He hosts contract pheasant hunts, which are almost a ceremonial event in this northern England town.

He was even compensated for protecting the remains of a Roman fort, he says. English Nature is "keen that we don't damage it," even though that spot has been plowed for 90 years and he hints that the fort site itself might not be on its original location.

Related Topics: CROPSFAMILY
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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