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WATCH: New York Chips

Veronica Volk

It's hard to describe just how massive this pile of potatoes in the Marquart Farms storage facility is. The mountain of spuds towers over Adam Marquart, the operations manager.

"What we're looking at in this building is about 24 million potatoes. That represents about 200 acres of crop, and we harvested them in September. These potatoes are conditioned now, and actually ready to go make chips now."

Here, they not only grow millions of pounds of potatoes each year, they also store them in these high-tech facilities built to keep them at just the right temperature and level of humidity to stay fresh.

"These potatoes are six months old, and they look perfect. That's what the trick is."

To understand what role Marquart Farms plays in the potato industry, it helps to know a little bit about where your chips come from.

Down in Florida, potato farmers start harvesting their crop in April. Then, they ship the spuds to big processing companies like Wise and Frito-Lay, where they are chipped, bagged, and ready to be devoured by snack lovers nationwide.

As the year goes on, these processing companies get their supply from farmers further north, with later harvesting times. The buck stops in New York, and Canada, with the latest season - September.

"Basically, we're the stopgap until the southern part of the United States can start shipping potatoes again."

For years, that's how it worked. New York farmers spend more money storing potatoes through the winter, but the payoff is that they can sell and ship their crop through an extended season.

But the industry is changing. Marquart says some processing companies have started skipping New York altogether, and go directly to Canadian farms for their late-season potatoes.

By the end of winter, Marquart Farms has a lot of leftover crop.

"Basically, in order to stay viable ... we need to have a market for these potatoes."

Enter New York Chips.

Credit Veronica Volk / WXXI

"We're going to offer a brand of potato chips that we can promise we can supply year-round with New York crop."

New York Chips has been hundreds of thousands of dollars and almost a decade in the making. He says it has been a whirlwind of experimentation, from picking a seasoning recipe to branding.

"When they start asking me about 'eye spots' on the bag, and the different choreography that went into designing the bag, and then, sampling -- we had to fry the potato chips and mail them out to a lab to have the nutrition facts done on them."

Marquart says it was a long and unfamiliar process for them. The Marquart Farm has been in the family for three generations, starting with his grandparents in the 1940s. They were dairy farmers.

Years later, his father and uncle bought the farm and planted potato seeds. It was a hardy crop, with low upfront cost, and they realized they were good at it.

Now Marquart and his two brothers own the farm, which has expanded to include this storage facility and a trucking company.

The chipping endeavor is a gamble, Marquart says, but he's banking on the locally sourced food movement to create a demand for them.

If it works, he has plans to take it even further and build his own chipping facility. Right now New York Chips are actually chipped and cooked just outside Cleveland, Ohio.

Marquart has been applying for grants and tax breaks through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and the Wyoming County Industrial Development Agency to create their own chip factory. It would grow the business, create jobs, and maybe even turn this little piece of upstate New York into a national potato chip distribution center.

But for right now, Marquart is just hoping his gamble pays off.

"The product's in the bag, and I don't know whether or not it's going to sell, but I feel really good at least having it in my hands. And I will eat all of these potato chips, even if they don't sell, just because I feel good about them and I'm really proud of what we did."

New York Chips hit Wegmans shelves over the weekend.

Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.
Sasha-Ann Simons joined the team at WXXI News in 2015 as a Multimedia Reporter/Producer. She tells stories about the innovation economy and technology in upstate New York and also does general assignment reporting. Sasha-Ann is the host of Arts InFocus, WXXI-TV's weekly arts and culture program. She is also a fill-in host and regular contributor to Need To Know.