Jun 22, 2023The eyes have it: Potatoes prevail in battle for Oregon state vegetable supremacy
The sparring in Oregon is over, and spuds have prevailed. The potato is the new state vegetable, topping onions in a years-long battle to claim the title.
The potato joins other state symbols including the flower (Oregon grape), fruit (pear), crustacean (Dungeness crab) and microbe (brewer’s yeast).
A pro-potato resolution, sponsored by Sen. Bill Hansell, unanimously passed the state Senate on March 22 before clearing the House on Wednesday. In March, Hansell touted spuds’ credentials, noting the origin of tater tots in Oregon in the 1950s, according to an article in the Salem Statesman Journal.
Oregon ranked fourth in the U.S. in potato production in 2020, growing 2.7 billion pounds of potatoes, or 7% of the nation’s total, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. In 2021, Oregon producers sold more than $175 million of the state’s leading vegetable crop, with 376 farms growing potatoes on around 45,000 acres.
However, onions are no small potatoes in the state’s agricultural economy. Oregon grew more than 1.5 billion pounds of onions, third-most in the nation, in 2020, on close to 20,000 acres on around 400 farms.
Those numbers may have been on Rep. Mark Owens’ mind when he introduced a bill in 2021 to make onions the state vegetable, telling Oregon Public Broadcasting that designating a veggie victor could provide marketing opportunities.
Oregon’s potato prowess has also made headlines further up the political food chain. Alexis Taylor, USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, is the former head of the Oregon Department of Agriculture and knows firsthand the importance of potatoes to the state. She led a trade mission to Japan earlier this month, with loosening exporting restrictions on U.S. potatoes to that country at the forefront of discussions.
Before Wednesday’s vote in the Oregon House of Representatives, Owens encouraged the state to celebrate all vegetables, according to the Stateman Journal article. But potatoes eventually won the day, with lawmakers breaking to snack on celebratory french fries.
“Supporting potatoes and french fries and the farmers who grow them is something we can all agree on,” Rep. Emily McIntire told the Statesman Journal.