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Tater Town a great place to grow up

I suppose there are worse places than Tater Town where a body could grow up.

While Chicago is known as the Windy City and New York as the Big Apple, Portales had its choice of nicknames when I was growing up. Some called us Goober Gulch and others preferred Tater Town. Either one fit us as we grew both peanuts and sweet potatoes but somehow we eventually became known more for our peanuts.

My dad grew both crops. He was able to obtain peanut allotments from the government so he grew as many acres as he was allowed. He grew a lot less acres of sweet potatoes but a few acres was a lot of work and lots of hired labor.

I wasn’t too old when we stopped farming and moved to town, but I have a good recollection of the steps my folks went through to raise a crop.

In the spring it started with what we called the potato bed. We would get seed potatoes back from the sweet potato association where dad was a member and dad would prepare a bed in sandy dirt and then they cut the seed potatoes up with kitchen knives and spread them out on the beds and lightly covered them with soil. Then the whole bed was covered with a big sheet of plastic.

The plastic was rolled back for watering and then recovered when it was colder. Soon we had a thick bed of plants or slips that would be transplanted to the field when the soil warmed enough for the taters to move out of their little sauna on the prairie.

Earlier years hand labor had been employed to walk the rows and punch the sets into the tops of the furrow, but we had a machine called a potato setter where four people sat on iron tractor seats and placed the set on a chain that rotated and put the potato plant into the ground at just the right depth. My mom famously threw four teenage boys off the setter when one gave an errant whistle, which to her meant stop immediately.

After watering all summer my dad began scratching around on those sweet potato plants in the fall to see just how they were doing. By early October they were ready to dig, which he did with a deep plow that he set to run just beneath the sleeping tubers.

More hand labor was then employed to finish uncovering the potatoes and putting them into wooden crates. He would turn over just what he thought the crew could handle during the day so that none were exposed to the danger of frost. Then he would drive the rows with the pickup with someone throwing crates at intervals for the workers. Later, after they were crated, a pickup or trailer loaded up the packed crates to take them to the curing sheds at the Association.

It was a wonderful time of year for a farm family and especially for a young boy. When the harvest was over dad contracted to drive truckloads of sweet potatoes and peanuts to produce companies in El Paso and Albuquerque and I occasionally got to ride with him. We had holiday goodies in old cookie tins to take with us on the trip and Christmas was coming. What I didn’t realize then was how much our Christmas depended on those sweet potatoes and peanuts and those loads to distant markets.

I’ll take my sweet potatoes baked if you please.

Karl Terry writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:

[email protected]