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December 10, 2018
On the record

No resting on its laurels as Green Thumb Farms seeks new markets for its potatoes

Photo / Courtesy Of Green Thumb Farms
Photo / Courtesy Of Green Thumb Farms
Mike Hart, director of sales and marketing at Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg, has helped develop innovative products for both wholesale and retail markets. The Cold River Gold potato is featured in restaurants such as Portland's Duckfat, which uses them in its fries.

Mike Hart, director of sales and marketing at Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg, has helped develop innovative products for both wholesale and retail markets. The Cold River Gold potato is featured at several Maine restaurants, including Portland's Duckfat, which uses them in its fries.

Hart worked at Birds Eye Fresh for 13 years. Before that was a produce buyer and then a meat buyer at Shaw's Supermarkets. Mainebiz caught up with him recently.

Mainebiz: Green Thumb Farms' Cold River Gold potatoes are now being offered to retail customers. What prompted that?

Mike Hart: There's always been such enthusiasm from our chefs about our signature chef potato that we felt compelled to offer a smaller version to the home chef. The loyal following we've had from restaurants comes from our care and commitment to growing this specific, special variety — and that's what we're now sharing with home cooks. We really want to change consumer's expectations of what a potato should be. Because of our limited supply and production capacity, we're deliberately rolling out this new brand, starting with Hannaford and followed by Whole Foods. By the first of the year we'll have distribution in several more chains.

MB: What makes the Saco River Valley good potato country?

MH: Our climate and soil conditions are unlike any other region in Maine, perhaps New England. We have a tremendous water supply in the Mount Washington Valley for irrigation. Because our soil is sandy and free of rock, we're able to produce quality potatoes every year. We're on the temperature extremes: hot in summer and cold in winter. The early spring heat allows us to get in the ground earlier than most other farms, and the warmer fall allows us to harvest later.

MB: What's behind the unique potato bags?

MH: Our Cold River Gold bag is a look back at how the industry started. Nowadays, potatoes often come in poly bags, but before that, most potatoes were packed in paper, which allows the potato to breathe better and blocks light from altering the skin color and taste. The decision to go paper wouldn't have been possible without input from Hannaford Supermarkets and their team. From marketing to procurement, their collaborative efforts gave us the confidence to move forward.

MB: Do potatoes sell better this time of year?

MH: Cold weather definitely brings out the comfort food recipes. Our busiest weeks are leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, St Patrick's Day and Easter. When summer comes, we see a tremendous jump in our food service business due to restaurants gearing up for the tourism rush.

MB: Are potatoes nutritious?

MH: Potatoes are very nutritious! They're low-calorie and contain high levels of vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant and is excellent for heart health and digestion. Many people don't realize that potatoes provide a better source of potassium than bananas. They're also an excellent source of B6, which has been linked to maintaining neurological health. Potatoes contain a healthy level of natural carbohydrates, which help maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

MB: At Bolley's in Waterville, Green Thumb was caught in the middle of a flap over crinkle-cut vs. straight-cut fries — both made with your potatoes, which owner Jim Parson called the best in Maine. Is the company affected by consumer whims?

MH: Any time [a customer] is recognized for their preparation of our products, it's a proud moment. We've received calls from all over, including California, asking how they can get their hands on those award-winning potatoes. The straight vs. crinkle-cut [controversy] shows how passionate people are about potatoes! We were happy to see how loyal the Parsons family is to our brand. I think everyone is back to loving the food that Bolley's Famous Franks makes — including their fries!

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