Stoddard Farms more than just free fries, clever T-shirts
Drive to Stoddard Farms on any summer or autumn day and you’ll find a packed parking lot and throngs of people holding fresh, hot french fries.
This is Stoddard’s Farmers Market — located just outside Grace, Idaho — which has been a big hit and is well known in the region, thanks in part to the free fries served to customers. If you drive around a little bit more, you’ll see other farmers’ markets in the region have begun to offer free fries after Stoddard Farms debuted the practice. A second defining feature is their signature onions, along with handy recipes for preparing the bowling ball-sized bulbs.
For the past four years, the farm has also held its Stoddard Farms 5K and Farm Day, which always features a funny T-shirt that the runners receive. In 2017, the shirt featured a terrified spud looking at a bunch of french fries exclaiming, “Is that you Bro?!!!” The 2018 shirt had a picture of a center pivot and the words, “Everyday, I wet my plants.”
To family matriarch Jane Stoddard, the latter slogan is funny but maybe a little too “naughty” for her taste.
“I used to do ‘peace, love and potatoes’ with tie-dye — and now look what they’re doing,” she said, with a laugh.
French fries, sweet onions and clever T-shirts may not seem like they have much to do with a thriving seed operation, but they are representative of the spirit of inventiveness that runs through the whole farm.
For example, the market, which originally started on a flatbed truck 35 years ago, was created to solve two problems. First, it was to keep safe the people who came to glean Stoddard’s fields. They tended to come after some fields were harvested but while the Stoddards still had machinery harvesting nearby acres. The other use was to find a market for potatoes that didn’t fit the size profile.
Another attribute that runs through both their market and farm is a commitment to quality.
“I think one of the keys to our growth is that people appreciate the quality,” co-owner Jason Stoddard said. “People come to our farmer’s market and they look across the street and see the trucks coming directly from the field. They open their bag or box of potatoes and see the fresh dirt and know those potatoes are straight out of the ground from their local farmer.”
Jason, son of Curtis and Jane, now runs the farm along with his father and brothers, Jeremy, Jordan and Justin.
That flatbed truck has since become a permanent retail location and storehouse, which sells potatoes in 50-lb bags, 50-lb boxes and 15-lb boxes as well as “baby red” potatoes in small mesh bags. Potatoes have since been complemented by the onions, which come in two varieties: White jumbo and red jumbo.
Of course, creativity only leads to success when coupled with hard work, and the Stoddards have shown plenty of both. The family now raises around 1,000 acres of seed potatoes, mainly Russet Burbank, Umatilla, Rangers and Clearwaters.
Curtis’ father Frank married Donna Lloyd in 1952 after attending LDS Business College in Salt Lake City. Curtis was born while Frank and Donna were farming some rented farm ground just outside of Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Donna, who was born and raised in Grace, still had family in the area. In late 1955, her father let them know about a piece of land that had come up for rent just southwest of town. The couple moved to Grace and began renting the Petersen farm in 1956. Frank and Donna later made their first land purchase, buying 160 acres.
Path back home
They instilled hard work and creativity in Curtis, who, along with Jane, did so with their children. Jason Stoddard’s path to working on the farm ran through Iowa and Nevada. Specifically, after getting his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University and being a little indecisive about returning to the farm, Jason attended law school at the University of Iowa.
“I’d just be studying down in the library knowing my dad and brothers were outside working, and so I started thinking, ‘you know what, I want to go back to the farm,’” he said.
He practiced law for a year in Las Vegas, putting in some long nights at the office before that recurring thought became too much. He returned to Grace in 2011.
That journey, from the farm to an out of state law practice and back, was something that Donna and Frank planned for, in a way.
Jane said Curtis had enough forward thinking to invest in the farm in case the next generation wanted to continue the tradition. He and Jane also gave them freedom to follow their passions. They left the farm to do so, but all have returned home. That paid off this year, with yields so high they had to dust off an old A-frame storage to accommodate the harvest.
“He also taught the boys as they were growing up, ‘you all go, get a degree, do whatever you want, be a doctor or lawyer, just get something and if you want to come back you’ll bring something back that will help us,’” Jane said of the boys’ upbringing. “Having no idea that in the end all four of them brought a degree back.”