Wisconsin grower-shippers are split on the fate of the Healthy Grown program, which gives consumers a potato option that falls between regular and organic.

For the first time ever, in 2009 all of the potatoes grown by Russet Potato Exchange, Bancroft, Wis., will have the option of being packed in Healthy Grown-branded bags, said Russell Wysocki, owner.

“We firmly believe in sustainability, and our customers are asking for it more and more,” he said.

Russet Potato Exchange has rewired its buildings to make them more energy-efficient, Wysocki said. The company is now in the process of doing the same for its sheds.

It is also using recycled methane for electricity, and looking into the possibility of also using wind power to generate electricity, Wysocki said.

Russet Potato Exchange has the capability of packing everything in Healthy Grown bags, but it won’t this year, he said.

Another option, new this year, will be to pack in bags that bear other labels but that come affixed with a smaller Healthy Grown label.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” Wysocki said.

Friesland, Wis.-based Alsum Produce Inc. also plans to boost its Healthy Grown sales this season, said Larry Alsum, president and general manager.

Healthy Grown-branded potatoes will be part of a larger effort, new this year, to tap into the locally grown movement, Alsum said.

“If we can’t do it right now, with all the emphasis on locally grown, we’re going to miss the boat,” he said.

Alsum has teamed up with Thrive, an economic development organization, to promote locally grown potatoes, onions, cabbage, sweet corn, squash and other fresh vegetables, as well as some fruits, in bags branded “Something Special from Wisconsin.”

Spuds will be a part of the program but will be packed in Healthy Grown-branded bags, Alsum said.

Not all Wisconsin grower-shippers of fresh potatoes are sold on the Healthy Grown program. Even Alsum uses the phrase “we’re not giving up” to describe his company’s participation in it.

Tom Lundgren, owner and president of Spud City Sales LLC, Stevens Point, Wis., wants to be. But reality hasn’t cooperated.

“We’re moving a small amount of Healthy Grown,” he said. “But even if it never really, really gets going like we’d like it to some day, Wisconsin will still be known for pushing it.”

With the emphasis on the environment and sustainability, Lundgren is surprised the program hasn’t done better than it has.

“We’ve turned it sideways and upside down trying to tell people about it, and it’s been a very hard sell,” he said. “You would think it would have gone gangbusters, but we’re still proud to say we’re a Wisconsin shipper shipping Healthy Grown.”

Katz Produce Sales LLC, Plover, Wis., also has had trouble getting its Healthy Grown program out of the starting gate, said Tim Verpoorten, salesman.

“We never seemed to get a good start with it,” he said. “We’re not doing much at all, if anything.”
“We have no customers calling for them,” said James Burns Jr., president of Burns & Sons Farms Inc., Almond, Wis. “This season, we packed in probably 100 different labels, and not one was Healthy Grown.”