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  • Norfolk Farms

Growing Potatoes and Watching for Rattlesnakes

The sign not far from Norfolk Potato Company says Rattlesnake Harbour, even though there is no water or rattlesnakes. There are, however, lots and lots of potatoes.

Gerdon Broekstra and his wife Diane started Norfolk Potato Company in Rattlesnake Harbour in 2016.

Gerdon Broekstra and his wife Diane started Norfolk Potato Company on the edge of the former Windham Township village in 2016.

“My wife and I got married and wanted to start a small farm so we bought the old Dennis Horseradish farm and started growing potatoes,” Gerdon said.

The farm is only 35 acres, but with rented land nearby, they have 100 acres in the ground.

Potatoes were the crop of choice for the young couple because Diane’s family has experience with the crop.

“They grew potatoes and we grew potatoes,” Gerdon said. “We started growing together, packing and sales. Then they wanted to downsize so they went back working for themselves and selling to only a few customers. We upscaled our operation.

The machine for barring 10-pound bags

Most of Norfolk Potato Company’s product goes to table stock – be that in restaurants or homes – not to processors. The main business is on the food service side. Potatoes for this market are the largest ones and packed in 50-pound bags. Smaller potatoes go in 10-pound bags, often for local food markets in a non-COVID world.

Different varieties of white, red and yellow potatoes are grown. “In Norfolk, our advantage is we can grow early so we can try and be the first to market with potatoes,” Gerdon said.

One of the goals is to have a good-looking potato as the end product.

“We try to grow as nice as possible whereas the potatoes for the chip industry don’t have to be a nice looking potato because they all get sliced,” he explained.

In the beginning, harvest was done with a harvester that required people to ride on it and grade on the machine. Since then, a switch to a more automated harvester means grading is no longer done in the field.

“All grading and packing is done at the barn,” Gerdon said. “We just figure we’re more efficient if we grade at the barn. We grade after they go through the washline.”

The washline is automated, but grading is now done by humans with eight people on the grading line. The potatoes go across rollers that turn each potato so all sides can be seen by the graders.

“They pick off the bad-looking ones so if they’re green or cut by the harvester,” he said, saying size is not a criteria. Potatoes smaller than those for the 10-pound bags are either B size or minis. These go in baskets or boxes and are sold to a wholesaler.

Any bad potatoes are removed and sold to a feedlot for cows.

The restaurant market is one developed by Norfolk Potato Company from Gerdon visiting local restaurants and promising consistency and local product. During the summer and into fall, he only digs potatoes for the orders he has so the potatoes aren’t stored too long. When his local potatoes are sold for the season, he still procures potatoes from other provinces to keep his customers supplied.

Besides potatoes, the other crop the Broekstras grow is rye for rotation.

“The rye is nice since we can plant it right after harvest,” Gerdon said. “It holds our sandy soil together here in Norfolk. It gets established before winter to limit blowing.”

One value-added product available for restaurants is ready-peeled potatoes and pre-cut fresh French fries and home fries. More information is available on the company website at

And not surprisingly, with all his time in the field, he has never seen a rattlesnake.


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