2014 is a year of double duty for Randy and Karlene Hardy, the dynamic duo from Oakley, Idaho.
This past January Randy Hardy became the National Potato Council (NPC) president, succeeding Randy Mullen of Pasco, Wash. And while he is busy tending to his responsibilities as NPC president, Karlene Hardy will be busy with the responsibilities that come with being a U.S. Potato Board (USPB) member on the International Marketing Committee.
This is not Randy Hardy’s first leadership role of a national organization. He served as USPB chairman in 2006-2007.
When they’re not attending NPC or USPB meetings, often together but alone on rare occasions, they can be found overseeing the farming operation, Hardy Farms, with their son, Ben, 37, located on the outskirts of Oakley, in south central Idaho.
Additionally, they are partners in Sun Valley Potatoes, a cooperative of 18 growers, based in Paul, Idaho, with Randy Hardy currently serving as chairman.
“We’re just under 3,000 acres, about 2,800, with a little over 600 acres in potatoes,” he said, describing the farm that has grown from 300 acres they inherited in 1972 upon the death of his father.
Along with 600 acres of fresh-market potatoes they grow between 1,000 and 1,200 acres of hard red winter wheat as well as some malt barley and alfalfa.
The Hardys have been married for over 41 years. Along with Ben they have four daughters and 27 grandchildren.
They had been married for only two months when Randy Hardy’s father, Ariel, died of a heart attack, leaving the newlyweds in charge of a 300-acre farm and a steep learning curve on how to grow potatoes.
Randy Hardy credits his uncle, W.B. Whitely, with helping him with the farm following his father’s death and inspiring him to become involved in the NPC and the USPB.
“My uncle was NPC president in 1955 and ’56,” he said. “He’s always been a mentor to me. I was only 19 when my father died of a heart attack.”
He said that he can’t pinpoint exactly when he became involved in the NPC and the USPB but he attributes part of his journey to his uncle’s previous participation along with his own desire to better the potato industry.
“I think W.B. had a little bit to do with it,” he said. “Simply because I knew he was involved in it (NPC). I never thought that I would be chairman but you know, you get involved in it and you to start to get a little passionate about the things you believe in.”
Randy Hardy wasn’t always the vocal leader he is today. According to Karlene Hardy, he was rather quiet during the first couple of years of going to USPB meetings in Denver. She challenged him to become more involved but he said he was too busy at home and with their young family. It wasn’t until someone else prodded him to become more vocal that he became more a force in the industry.
“Somebody contacted him and said you really need to get involved here,” she said. “I think that was his first incentive. I was there through the whole process. The more you’re willing to step up, the more you’re going to be asked to fill those positions. He has a natural ability to stand up and voice his opinion and voice other people’s opinions in a way that is understandable.
“We found out that we can make a difference. If you sit at home and gripe you get nowhere. It takes time and a commitment but we’ve started seeing the results of being willing to step forward and serve.”
Randy Hardy is a big proponent of getting more growers involved in the decision-making process as well as fighting the public misperceptions about potatoes.
As NPC president he recognizes that he is representing all growers in all sectors, fresh, process, seed and dehy.
“I’m extremely proud to be a grower from Idaho but when you’re serving on the Potato Board or the Potato Council you’ve got to think industry wide,” he said. “We’ve got to grow the industry together and that’s the purpose of the board and the council. You can’t have your personal agenda. We accomplish way more together than divided and running against each other.”
One of his stated goals as NPC president this year is to recruit greater participation from potato growers across the nation in both the NPC and the U.S. Potato Board (USPB). He believes there’s strength in numbers for the potato industry and wants to see the industry coalesce and recruit new voices to extend and empower the potato industry.
“We need to get more people, period,” he said. “We talked about this in the executive meeting. The other executive members are going to key in on involving local people more. We want to go back with our voice as growers to encourage them to become more involved because we are losing our voice and we have to get vocal about it.”
Many of the top issues facing growers this year are the same issues they were facing last year. Getting Mexico to open the entire country to U.S. table stock potatoes and white potatoes in the WIC program are major ones, along with a “bazillion smaller ones,” in his words.
Karlene Hardy is no stranger to the art of politics. Her father, Ernest Hale, served as District 25 State Representative of the Idaho Legislature for 20 years.
She is beginning her second three-year term on the USPB. The past two years she has worked on the International Marketing Committee and spent her first year on the Administration Committee.
She’s found in her international travels representing the USPB that people want to talk to the farmer, to the person who actually has their hands in the soil and is bringing a product to market.
She recalled a presentation on growing potatoes to importers and distributors she did in the Philippines. The interaction after the presentation was both interesting and humbling for her.
“I had six or eight people asking me questions about being a farmer,” she said. “How many acres we farmed. What other crops we grow. I didn’t realize I had something to contribute just by being a farmer. It was really amazing to me because I’m just a little farmer from Idaho.”
They may describe themselves as “just farmers” from Oakley, Idaho but together the Hardys are spreading the message of potatoes across the country and internationally.
— By Bill Schaefer, editor