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Angela Santiago – CEO of The Little Potato Company: Taking the Potato Back to it’s Roots

Apr 2, 2020

Angela Santiago is the co-founder and CEO of the Little Potato Company, an innovative and fast growing company focused on colorful, tasty, mini-potatoes that taste delicious. We talk with Angela about the mechanics of the potato world, the obstacles climate change is creating for the industry, and what it takes to build an agriculture business from the ground up, 

This week in Agriculture Adapts

  • Breeding for diversity and flavor
  • Your french fries, chips, and table potatoes all come from different types of potatoes, specifically bred for their end use
  • Increasing weather uncertainty, more frequent extreme events, and a potato production moving north to escape the heat
  • How small changes in weather can bear significant impact on the way the crop turns out

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website: The Little Potato Company

facebook: The Little Potato Company

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TRANSCRIPT

Borna (ClimateAi) 0:03
This is Agriculture Adapts by ClimateAi. Every week we speak with industry leading executives and farmers, not academics to get a 360 view on how the agriculture sector is innovating to stay ahead of a changing climate. I’m your host Borna Poursheikhani. And I am your co host Himanshu Gupta. We are a team of climate scientists and agriculture entrepreneurs trying to make farming more resilient, profitable and equitable as we transition to a new age of agriculture. This podcast is our journey as we explore the hurdles and opportunities that lie ahead for the industry that feed the world.

Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of agriculture adapts with us today is Angela Santiago, the co founder and CEO of the little potato company and not so little business focused on growing amazing tasty, colorful and diverse little potatoes. So not the big brownish ones you see in supermarkets, but the ones next to them that are the smaller colorful ones they sell all across Canada and all 50 states and have breeding sites in North America, South America and Europe. Angela has won numerous business and entrepreneurship awards, and she currently lives with her family in Madison, Wisconsin. Angela, thank you for joining us.

Angela (Little Potato Company) 1:12
Oh, thank you for inviting me. Very exciting. I

Borna (ClimateAi) 1:14
would love to start off by just hearing your backstory and how you guys started this company. And just, I guess your connection to agriculture in general?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 1:21
Sure. Well, it was born basically out of my dad and myself. And neither one of us come from an agricultural background. My dad has always had a love of agriculture. He was an immigrant to Canada when he was about 21. And so I grew up actually, with both my parents being immigrants to Canada, and having met in college in the United States. I would have to say both of them were quite entrepreneurial. So I, my brothers and I definitely grew up with that feeling and looking like the norm. So I witnessed my dad start and stop many business ideas and this particular Idea caught me at the end of graduating from university in Alberta. And, of course, I was taking nothing to do with agriculture was in political science and history. And so another one of his ideas and he said, Well, why don’t you help me start this company. And so I said, Hey, I’ll start it with you. And then I’m going to go off and do something else. And I never left I fell in love with agriculture, I fell in love with being able to grow a product and a vegetable that is actually really good for you. So it’s, it’s really sort of a purpose driven company. I get out of bed because I feel good about what we’re doing every day and that we are actually feeding the world better. So that’s what got me to stay. And of course, potatoes, as we might think, is pretty boring. But if you look at the origins of potatoes, they are quite exciting. And we made them boring through time and we want to kind of bring excitement back to it.

Borna (ClimateAi) 2:58
And so how are you guys going about doing that? How are you guys making a more diverse selection and bringing in these new varieties like when you and your dad first started? Were you going out into the wild and picking finding potatoes in like the Andes mountains or something? Or what was the what was the process? Yeah,

Angela (Little Potato Company) 3:13
yeah, that’s not far from the truth. We first did actually, is that what we started off with Fridays that were just already existing. And then we very quickly figured out that we had to match genetics to the end product. So we needed varieties that were they grew small that had a high tuber count per plant so that it would be economically feasible for growers to actually grow small potatoes. And then the other thing we did is we went back to the origins of potatoes and went to South America, and that’s where the exciting stuff really happens. And we do now have a breeding program in Chile. That breeds small potatoes. And if you look at the origins of potatoes, they were colorful and diverse, and so we were We want to go back to how it was and of course bringing in what also is known to North Americans, which is your yellow and your red potato. But that’s sort of where we started with how we were going to make it different and more relevant to the consumer today.

Borna (ClimateAi) 4:15
A lot of these websites that I’ve been noticing so we’ve been doing a lot of work with potato processors recently, and a lot of the websites have a lot of talk about the health benefits can you tell us a little bit more about like the nutrition and the health benefits that come along with potatoes and maybe how your guyses is different from the normal potato Yeah,

Angela (Little Potato Company) 4:29
so the one big advantage that little or creamer potatoes have one is no peeling required. A lot of the nutrients are in the peel. And of course there’s lots of it’s a vegetable which we have to be reminded of ourselves. We kind of stick potatoes in a starch category but it is a vegetable it’s packed with fiber, potassium, vitamin C. So a lot of good stuff iron a lot of good stuff in these potatoes that that that make it out of the gate nutritious and good for you.

Borna (ClimateAi) 4:57
As we’ve been working with potatoes I’ve been like slowly incorporating that More and more into my diet because all these your guys’s website to you guys have a ton of really good recipes on them. And every time I see them like I should go try this next time. Next time I’m making some dinner.

Angela (Little Potato Company) 5:09
I know there’s some amazing recipes on our website and it goes to show the versatility of this potato, especially little potatoes, you can have it for every meal of the day. And there’s just so many ways to cook it.

Borna (ClimateAi) 5:22
Yeah, how many meals per week do you have that involve potatoes?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 5:25
Oh, I say I should say every day of the week, but my kids do like a little bit of variety as do eyes. So yeah, for sure several times a week. And definitely breakfast is a favorite time to have it.

Borna (ClimateAi) 5:41
I would be curious for you to give us kind of an overview of the potato market. I think before we dive in, it’ll be helpful for our listeners to hear how the potato market kind of works because there’s different types like people think there’s just potatoes but there’s, you have table potatoes, you have potatoes that are used for French fries. You have potatoes that are used for chips and they You have little plateaus. Can you give us a brief overview?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 6:02
So the potato category and industry in itself is absolutely huge. And we use potatoes for all types we I mean, whether it be french fries hashbrowns and then fresh potatoes for whether it’s baking or like you said mashed. And so varieties do lend themselves to being used for certain things. And in particular, when we started our breeding program, of course we were first looking at agronomic but we really started honing in on breeding for taste and texture. And that becomes a really important thing in particular for the creamer category is that it is a category that probably people look to it being a little bit more unique, a little bit more adventurous and definitely probably more appealing to the foodie or someone that wants to be a little bit more experimental with with their foods. I think the advantage of whether you’re on premium potatoes or not is that it’s still it’s a staple but It’s a staple and most people have it in their home. They’ve either had it or tried it. And I think it also relates to people’s comfort level. And it’s something that you grew up eating. So it’s so versatile that the whole category in itself, what’s I think probably really unique right now about creamer potatoes is that it’s the category in within potatoes that is growing the fastest right now. So it’s really speaking to I think, three particular trends right now with consumers. And the one we already spoke about is convenience, no peeling, it cooks quickly. It’s really versatile. It’s good for multiple meals. I think the second trend is all about the nutrition. We’re really, I think being much more aware, all generations are being much more aware of what we’re putting in our mouth and where our food is coming from. And I think the third large trend is we’re really interested in food and we’re interested in trying new things and the diversity and the global influence on Food and so those are three large trends that when you lie them all together really speak well to premier potatoes.

Borna (ClimateAi) 8:07
Yeah, definitely. And can you tell us a little bit more about your guys’s actual growing process? What are the things that you guys find most important when you’re growing when you’re breeding? Are you guys using GMO potatoes? Are you not using GMO potatoes? You guys do a no tell what’s on more of the agronomic side. How are things operating for you guys?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 8:26
First of all, all our breeding is completely done naturally. There is no GMO, that’s all done as per what a bumblebee would do. We just help it along. So that part is all natural and we do screen obviously out of the gate for taste texture and then agronomic traits. So there’s a few levels that we which we would would evaluate varieties. We are working quite extensively on trying to work with professionals now on tasting profile. So what I might think is really good I would love to see sophisticated palates be able to tell me that as well. And where we have our breeding programs is also really important. I mean, one in South America, one in Europe and then one in Canada. So we get a really diverse look at different varieties. Yeah. Why

Borna (ClimateAi) 9:14
did you guys make that non GMO choice?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 9:16
I think it’s a philosophical reason for us for a particular family. GMO is not necessary in order to do good breeding and potatoes. And so if we don’t have to, why do it? And I think it is something whether all consumers really understand GMO or not, it definitely is, I would say something that is important for people to know whether it is or not. So if it wasn’t needed to be done, then we don’t do it. And so we don’t, and does that make things

Borna (ClimateAi) 9:47
a little bit harder than they would be for someone else who is using genetically modified seeds in terms of managing pests and disease and that kind of stuff,

Unknown Speaker 9:57
though, typically in There’s only I think one variety that I can think of now that was recently put on the market that was GMO, the rest, every potato variety is not GMO at all. So it’s not a industry that has been prevalent in using GMO to create new varieties. I think maybe it will remain to be seen it that that will, will happen still, but it’s not been a necessary part. Now, as we get global pressure on disease and sustainability that might put pressure on how we breed potatoes.

Borna (ClimateAi) 10:33
Yeah, that was gonna kind of gonna be my follow up is like what about in the future as we see like climatic changes, will we be able to, in your opinion, breed fast enough to keep up with it? Or do you think at a certain point, GMO will become really useful for growing potatoes or necessary.

Angela (Little Potato Company) 10:49
So right now we feel that there’s other ways that we can actually speed up the breeding of potatoes as well as speed up this is standard ability of growing potatoes, and one is the agronomics of how much you get per acre. And so when we can increase quality through natural breeding, and we can increase yield by natural breeding, that all plays into sustainability by acre, so you can grow and have more potatoes on the same amount of acres as you did five years ago. And so that’s one way that we make sure that we can definitely make what we do more sustainable.

Borna (ClimateAi) 11:29
Yeah. And just to backtrack a little bit, can you explain to our listeners what the difference is keeping in mind that some of them are not super well versed in the agriculture space? One number, maybe just, you know, passionate about climate change? What is the difference between just breeding and between the term that we’re using which is genetically modified organism or GMO?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 11:47
Right, so what we would do in terms of breeding, which is natural, which a potato which a bumblebee would do is just cross pollinating two different potato varieties to create a different ones. So you might take a really nice yellow that has a great flesh color. And you breed that or cross pollinate that with a potato that has a high 2%. So that’s what would happen in nature. If those varieties were growing in the wild, and a bumblebee would cross pollinate. That’s what happens. So that’s what we do that’s quite natural, we just do it for it. GMO would be more, introducing new genetics or turning off certain genetics, playing with the genetics of a certain potato, that takes a lot more technology and a lot more influence and impact on what you would do for an outcome of a new variety. And so what we do is just, it’s natural. It’s like helping nature law.

Borna (ClimateAi) 12:42
And I want to go back real quick to the question of when you said it takes about anywhere from seven to 10 years to develop a new variety. Can you explain why that is? What is the work that goes into it? And then what is the end result like do you need to test it to make sure that it works well That safe or is it is breeding itself just a very incremental process.

Angela (Little Potato Company) 13:04
So reading itself is an incremental process, but then how we plant potatoes, so a lot of your other vegetable crops are planted with an actual seed. A potato crop is planted with a potato. So it sprouts in and grows in new. So that’s the big part of what takes the development of a new variety so long is you have to replant the potato that many years in a row in order to get enough to be able to grow acres of it in order to make it commercialized. And that typically you in the northern part of North America, obviously is you only get one crop a year anyway. So it’s taking seed a tuber clad put it in the ground taking what you grow from that putting it in the ground again. So yeah, it’s it’s we’re on the potatoes timeline.

Borna (ClimateAi) 13:55
And so that’s why the potatoes in my cabinet have those stems coming out of them. That like them try. I’m trying to go into new but

Angela (Little Potato Company) 14:03
yes, they want to be planted.

Borna (ClimateAi) 14:06
The ones I should have been two weeks ago. Yeah, that makes sense. And what do you guys do in terms of managing pests and disease? So I was talking to someone about cover crops they were using, and they were using radishes and they were saying a lot of times the radishes create homes for gophers. Does that become problematic for you guys with potatoes, I imagine potatoes are a similar issue being that they grow on the ground, and they kind of like leave those pockets, I guess, like how do you guys deal with that? And then do you have pests that are filling in those and those holes?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 14:39
So again, there’s just things that we do potatoes tend to like to be grown in northern climates. So what the advantage of that is you the winter or cold, a cold season can kill off a lot of the viruses or bacteria that would just live in the ground naturally. So that is an advantage of just growing in the northern. There’s also crop rotation, certainly crops that follow potatoes that make it better whether it’s adding nutrients in or taking away. And you doing that just through crop rotation, and as well as making sure that we do rotations of fields, so you’re not growing potatoes on the same field over and over again. Um, so those are just like old practices that been done for years that we continue to do. That really helps with disease pressure. And then yeah, you try to limit as much as you can pesticides and herbicides, of course, but we do grow organic, but not all of our acres are organic,

Borna (ClimateAi) 15:34
would love to kind of dive into the climate questions. So what are some of the changes that you guys have noticed, if any, in your different grilling regions so I think you said you guys have some operations and in Canada, some in Madison or maybe the surrounding area, and then a Chile as well. So over the past year has been around for 20 years now if I’m not mistaken.

Angela (Little Potato Company) 15:54
Yeah. 24 years? Yeah. 24

Borna (ClimateAi) 15:56
years. What are the changes that you guys have noticed? And how are you Adopting or adjusting the way you guys manage things to kind of fit that

Angela (Little Potato Company) 16:04
sure in every region is a little bit different. So in North America, we have about 14,000 acres all together. And depending on the region has different pressures and obviously different things that they have to overcome. I would say in general, what we’ve seen probably in the last decade is for sure more extremes or more one offs. So Wisconsin, like two years ago, had one of the wettest years it’s had 50 years. So you’re seeing a lot of that happening more of a one off and that is a little bit more extreme than what usually it’s happened. Also, depending on the region, you are getting more disease pressures, Europe where we don’t grow, but you’re definitely sees high disease pressures with certain things that it probably didn’t see a decade ago.

Borna (ClimateAi) 16:49
Got it and just for our listeners, like the disease pressure issue is basically the disease or whatever the past might be, sometimes follow the warm weather. That’s one of the issues and so as places get warmer, places where these diseases and pests can live expands. And then oftentimes, and I’d be curious to hear if this is a problem for you guys as well, in places where the winters specifically are heating up, the pests won’t get killed over the wintertime and will come back much stronger. Like it’s a big issue with the bark beetle right now, is there a similar thing that you guys are saying?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 17:17
I would say right now that we’re seeing. I would say though, that I mean, we reduced and actually eliminated our acres in the southern regions this year. And there is a definite move further north we believe you get better, bigger, better quality of potato and you do you worry less about some of the disease pressures, but I can imagine you’re gonna have to go further north every decade to to continue that but nothing in particular, but like I mentioned, we are starting to eliminate, you know, some of our southern production and for that and also from a cost perspective as well. And adding water, the water pressure to that as well. Sort of this We there’s a definite more pressure for use of water.

Borna (ClimateAi) 18:05
Yeah. And you mentioned these weather extremes. You mentioned the the heaviest rains that you guys have seen. And I think you said 50 years. What does that mean for the potato crop? And was that at the end of the season? And it wasn’t like preventing accessibility issues for harvesting, or what, what was the impact of that on your guys’s production?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 18:22
Well, that particular year here in Wisconsin absolutely had a massive impact on the crop yield. And it came towards the tail end of the crop just before harvesting, or during harvesting, and a lot of it we couldn’t get out of the ground. And then there’s of course, diseases and stuff like that, that come with that kind of weather like lenticels and rot and all that kind of stuff that would happen with warm, muggy, you know, lots of rainfall at that time of year. So yeah, it was an absolute huge impact on us that year from a production perspective, in particular for the growers in Wisconsin. It was it was quite devastating.

Borna (ClimateAi) 18:59
Yeah, and that’s That’s one of the big issues that we’ve been trying to tackle with some of the tools that we’ve been building for some of these potato companies has been like, Okay, can we do a better job of tracking how the tubers or the potatoes are forming underground. And then if you have a good idea of what’s going to be happening in the future, maybe you can move up your planting date, if you’re expecting rains in the late season, or, or maybe you can adjust how much fertilizer fertilizer you’re applying, so you don’t affect the crop negatively and just having a better sense of how the weather influences the crop and being able to act and adjust around that. And I guess, on that note, how are you guys today dealing with like the increased level of uncertainty with weather? That’s one of the big things that like, a lot of times we think of climate change is just natural disasters with these big devastating impacts. But one of the biggest problems that that we’re hearing from growers and from agriculture businesses is that just the level of increased uncertainty and the moving around of dates has been so hard to deal with. So historically, every day or every year we plant at this time and by this time, we have this type of tubers, or potatoes, like tubers, more potatoes. Yeah. So how are you guys dealing with like the shifting of that, like, now those dates are maybe misaligned, and maybe the climate is starting to change. So the way that peoples have been historically dealing with these issues are no longer applicable. How are you guys dealing with the increased uncertainty?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 20:19
Well, and that’s always a learning curve, you know, you think you would know everything there is possibly to know about how to grow a potato, because it’s been around for hundreds of years. And every year you’re you’re tasked with learning something different. And a lot of that has to do with the changes that are happening in the environment. Like you said, like, you know, having a record rainfall one year, okay, well, how do you deal with that? So there’s nothing you know, are we? Yeah, exactly. Not, that’s almost You’re right, if that’s almost becoming the new norm is that it’s unpredictable now. And it’s more so than it was obviously a decade ago. It’s not to the point where It’s a free for all, he can’t figure out anything. But you’re definitely seeing way more one offs and we did before and and that that is hard to manage. And so some of the ways that we want to look at addressing that is through genetics. And if there are varieties that lend themselves to be growing in colder climates or warmer climates or varieties that need less inputs, those are the kind of things that we start looking for is is are there potatoes or varieties that would lend themselves to being actually more bigger and and handle more unpredictability?

Borna (ClimateAi) 21:37
Yeah, and how is that process for you guys like you guys are trying to juggle a lot of different traits that you’re trying to optimize for like you have flavor you have color, I don’t know if those two things are linked, but your flavor you have color then you have like the resilience to individual weather events, not to all weather but maybe like this one does better in the cold. This one does better in the rain. How do you guys do that juggling act? Do you just have like a team of amazing breeders that are and is it? Is it possible to kind of optimize for all those? Or do you have to sacrifice?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 22:07
You do sometimes sacrifice or you you balance it out. But yeah, we have absolutely amazing group of breeders. And then we have a very great cross functional team at little potato company and the breeding our sister breeding company that look at all of these things and try to juggle it coming up with new potato varieties is a very long process. So from from New crossing to it being commercialized is you know, seven to eight, sometimes nine years. And so a problem that you’re trying to solve today is a couple years off from a solution. And so it takes a lot of crystal ball kind of thing. Plus, you know, knowing where you want to go. And that requires a lot of juggling. It’s the fun part. I’d have to save the business. I absolutely love looking at new varieties and trying to figure out how it could solve something a couple years from now, but yeah, you need patience. Be in this game?

Borna (ClimateAi) 23:01
Are you in the tasting rooms when the breeders are figuring out what to the?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 23:07
I don’t have a sophisticated palate, but I do love tasting it. Yes.

Borna (ClimateAi) 23:11
Are you guys pretty hands off with a lot of the growers that you contract with? Or are you providing them with resources? Are you telling them when to plant or what varieties to plant? What’s the relationship like there?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 23:23
So I think what also makes us really unique is we’re we’re very vertically integrated. So from having pre breeding programs to having protect proprietary varieties. We work very closely we’ve got an amazing field in agronomy team at little potato company that work really closely with our growers on, you know, helping recommending on land on inputs on how to grow it, how to harvest all that kind of stuff. So we’re very much involved with our growers and vice versa, on getting a great crop out of the ground.

Borna (ClimateAi) 23:57
Potatoes we’re learning as we’re Kind of entering the market here. Potatoes are a very nuanced crop as a lot of crops are. But potatoes are highly weather dependent in terms of like, if you have a Cold Spring, maybe you have less tubers set in the ground. And and that changes the way that you’re going to manage that crop moving forward. Because if you like add too much fertilizer, you can get hollow heart. I don’t know if that’s an issue for little potatoes. But that’s something that we’ve been seeing with these other potato growers. So how are you guys making those decisions given that there’s so many different levels of understanding with what has already happened and what needs to happen with weather in the future in order to optimize your production.

Angela (Little Potato Company) 24:36
So I think that’s the advantage of having a team that works really close side by side with our growers that are from that region. So there’s a bit more intimate knowledge of what is probably the challenges for that region. And then I mean, like anything, in the end, Mother Nature’s in charge, so it is sometimes you can be as productive as you want, but sometimes you get thrown a curveball. And you’ve got to deal with it. The advantage of having people that live and grow and breathe the region makes it a lot easier to maneuver through some of the challenges and things that pop up.

Borna (ClimateAi) 25:11
Yeah, that makes sense. And so climate change is adding this element of uncertainty in weather, but it’s also helping for you guys in a certain accent like is it is the climate being warmer and you’re growing regions making you guys see higher yields?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 25:25
I wouldn’t say that we see any advantages to climate change. I think in some areas that we grow that are further north like in you know, Saskatchewan, southern Alberta p i would definitely seeing less of an impact obviously, because it’s cold typically, and we do still get lots of snow and it gets really cold in the winter. So I don’t think we see any pluses to climate change. But like I said earlier is the negatives are is just we’re seeing more unpredictability.

Borna (ClimateAi) 25:56
Why are they typically grown in colder regions like in Idaho or Washington or North Dakota? what’s the what’s the reason for that?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 26:05
So potatoes like cold nights, warm days, typically those are the regions where you get, you can get really nice warm days for growing and then at night it cools down and potato loves it. They also prefer in general long days. So in the summer, your northern your northern regions have longer days of sunlight and potato so like that.

Borna (ClimateAi) 26:27
Yeah, the temperature differential components really interesting. And and that’s also one of the the big dangers of potatoes, right is like if the nighttime temperatures get too high, people are going to start seeing a lot of quality hits on their potatoes. Yes. Is that a concern for you guys? Are you fine? So you’re not really seeing? No,

Angela (Little Potato Company) 26:43
absolutely. And that’s one of the big reasons why we started moving out of growing in the south is because of that and you don’t really get cold nights. And you could see an impact on quality from that. At that time and for years. It was absolutely necessary, we needed the supply. And so we’re getting into a spot where we’re able to store the northern crops longer and be able to segue into, you know, more northern regions like Washington and parts of southern Ontario, and parts of Wisconsin where they have earlier crops, but still are part of the northern region.

Borna (ClimateAi) 27:22
Yeah, that was one of the first things that we discovered when we started talking to potato companies was that one of the we have a very unique way of doing forecasting and of doing long term forecasting. So looking anywhere from one month to one year out, using artificial intelligence, one of the big things that we do is that we can change metrics based off what people care about. So it’s not just temperature and precipitation. And for potatoes, one of the big ones was can you guys tell us the daytime nighttime temperature differential over this upcoming season? And so that was kind of the starting point. We were like, yeah, that’s definitely something we can do. And then there ended up being a lot of other ones that we ended up tackling as well. Yeah, that’s awesome. And then Do you guys do a ton of work also around sustainability? And you guys seem to have that as like a core tenet of what you guys are doing. Can you speak a little bit more about that?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 28:07
Yeah, absolutely. And sustainability happens on so many different levels. And we tend to just kind of describe it as being one thing, but it, like we said, it starts at, you know, the genetics getting potato varieties, that’ll give you more per acre. So you don’t have to grow more acres. If you get more out of an acre, which then reduces your water intake reduces any inputs into the soil. It goes to recycling systems at our plants, it goes into packaging, it goes into lean operations and reducing waste on our production floor to using technology so that you make people more efficient. So there’s so many ways that you define sustainability, which is what makes it fun, because and challenging at the same time, because everybody in your company doesn’t matter where they’re sitting, whether it’s, you know, breeding or in the field or sitting in front of a customer. There’s always In which we can touch and be more sustainable.

Borna (ClimateAi) 29:02
Yeah. And I think that’s a highly progressive approach and that like, that’s the way that the industry has kind of changed in the last 10 years, I would say is that sustainability used to be under one team like there’d be like one team of people or one person handling sustainability. And kind of a new age of progressive sustainability is like none of those sustainability is across the board. It needs to be on everyone’s mind and this is like companies like Patagonia do a really good job of this and it’s you guys doing this is a natural progression in our in our podcast is at some point regenerative agriculture usually comes up and that has kind of become like the next level beyond the term sustainability. And it’s not a well defined term today regenerative but the base practices are like cover crops, going low till maybe using compost or manure. What are your guys’s thoughts around regenerative agriculture? Do you guys do any of the practices and and do you think it’s a scalable practice?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 29:54
I think the more educated we become and everybody becomes on that Sometimes it isn’t experiment. And often, I mean, if you’re trying to also feed people, we don’t experiment on large pieces. But we definitely have growers that like to step out and do a little bit more of that on the side, which we totally encourage because it is all about, you know, dipping your toe in it. But yeah, there’s always we do a lot of research and development on the side on just how to do better at that without obviously putting, you know, acres upon acres at risk. But that’s always something that that we want to try and move the bar on, because it’s better all around. It’s better for the grower. It’s better for us if there’s those kind of things that are always happening to answer some of the questions that you you’ve been dying to know, but haven’t dared to try. So yeah, that’s it is part of what we do. Absolutely. And we make a concerted effort to do some of that research on the side to experiment and find out what else could work

Borna (ClimateAi) 30:59
yeah. That seems like a common theme across the board as people. Yeah, this this seems like an awesome an awesome way to go about farming. And it seems like a really good path forward. But at the same time, we have to maintain the business, we have to make sure we keep supplying food in any major change provides a risk, regardless of what the what the outcomes are purported to be. Right? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense that you guys have to be using cover crops because I would imagine like potatoes, when you take them out of the ground, they leave a lot of vacancy in the ground. And so in order to maintain soil health and soil structure, do you guys have to use cover crops or how do you guys go about dealing with that?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 31:34
Well, typically, there are crops that do really well before potato so potatoes do really well following them. And then there’s actually crops that do really well after potatoes. So typically, there are like it’s rotation and there are depending on the region, crops will always follow potatoes it with some respect, and that actually helps either regenerate the soil or prep it for the next one, though. That’s it. Typically what we would always follow is usually a four to five year rotation. So potatoes are grown every four to five years on on a field and then other crops have to fill in the gap.

Borna (ClimateAi) 32:12
Oh, wow, what what are those other crops that that are that were all before and after? are just some examples? Lots?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 32:18
Yeah, depends on the region. When we were south, it sometimes would be carrots. You know, in the northern region, it could be anything from canola to beans.

Borna (ClimateAi) 32:28
I also want to talk about you are pretty active in terms of a variety of things that are outside of what you would consider to be like, the core scope of the potato company, but one of the things that you’re a very active, like blogger or writer, can you tell us a little bit about that? Like, what are what is that a long time passionate?

Angela (Little Potato Company) 32:47
Oh, I wish I could say that. So I’ve got an amazing marketing team that does a great job of you know, getting the story out. We have amazing bloggers in Canada and the US. It’s just our fans. To get at, you know, taking our tools and and making some amazing recipes, you think everything was done with a professional photographer. So that part is has nothing to do with me. And I’d have to say in our family unit of five, I have two brothers and obviously a mom and a dad. I would say my mom and my two brothers are the writers and me and my dad while we do other stuff. So a lot of the creative writing, I have an idea but my my brothers seem to have definitely a talent to be able to take what I want to say and make it quite beautiful. So I owe a lot of that to other people in the organization, not myself.

Borna (ClimateAi) 33:42
Gotcha. Well, your brothers are great writers then. And you guys also do this televised kickoff once Yeah,

Angela (Little Potato Company) 33:52
yes. And can we do this? It started a few years ago and it started off like with a little chef so kids actually up to the age of 13, from eight to 13, you could submit videos and they would be part of, you know, top 10. And then the top two would go on to a national televised talk show and cook up their creation and when something quite big so we did that a couple years, years in a row we did versions of it, where the family would be involved and all that kind of stuff. So a lot of fun. Yeah. And that would that would be televised, and then announced live on television. So quite fun. And I love that kind of stuff is just encouraging young kids and families to cook and enjoy. Do I food together?

Borna (ClimateAi) 34:39
Yeah, I love that. It’s incentivizing people to a it’s showing them how to do it, but be it makes it seem fun. So people want to try as opposed to just eat not all the time. Yeah. And that’s a good approach. Yeah. You started this business from scratch with your father. And we have some listeners who are entrepreneurs of their own or aspiring entrepreneurs. Do you have any advice to give them what it’s like to start something from nothing.

Angela (Little Potato Company) 35:04
So number one, it’s absolutely a wonderful learning curve, but also a very frustrating one, of course, because you’re learning almost daily, I think there is something very unique about starting something from scratch, because in particular, when we started it, I think our ignorance of the potato industry helped us because we didn’t think we couldn’t do it. And I think if we came in with the baggage of having been from that industry, we would have, I think, out of the gate, thought we couldn’t do what we were going to do. So I think that totally worked in our advantages, being able to start something from scratch. The other thing about starting something from scratch is you get to see every part of your business. So when we started it, I’d have to plant it, I’d have to harvest it, I’d have to go wash it, I got to go put it in the bag, then I you know change and go deliver it and go do the sales. calls and then do payroll. So you got an incredible intimate knowledge of all the wheels in the business, and you have to do it firsthand. And that never leaves you. So I obviously don’t do any of that anymore. But I, you remember what it was like and what it does take to do that. And so I think that’s a big advantage of starting something from scratch and coming in, you know, when it’s already established is that you don’t have that first hand connection to how all those little wheels work together. And that you can’t read in a book and someone can’t teach you you learn it by doing.

Borna (ClimateAi) 36:40
Yeah, and it’s crazy how much value comes from not knowing about the sector, like not being held down by the parameters that other people are held down by that know more about it. It’s crazy how big of a factor that is. And that’s that’s kind of a few times and a few times in previous discussions. So yeah, the moral is don’t be afraid jump into it. If you don’t know anything. That’s better. It makes sense. Like if you’re if you’re stuck in the old thinking, it’s harder for you to reimagine a new solution. Yeah. And that’s kind of what you guys did.

Angela (Little Potato Company) 37:13
Yeah. And then the other thing that I think that I balanced it out really well with is that I also didn’t need to make the same business mistake. So I was never afraid to have an advisory board or a peer group around me where I could learn from. So I certainly didn’t go in completely blind and go, I’m not going to listen to anybody. But I certainly wasn’t constrained by preconceived notions of an industry and what I couldn’t do.

Borna (ClimateAi) 37:40
Definitely Yeah. How can people how can our listeners support you guys, you’ve been really generous with your time here and just want to before we sign off, get you an opportunity to tell them how they can support you if they’re if they want to help you guys out or if they want to follow you guys or buy little potatoes. Can they buy them San Francisco.

Angela (Little Potato Company) 38:00
Yes, you can buy lots of little potatoes in California. We’re in Safeway sprouts, Costco, Sam’s Club Walmart. So absolutely go enjoy some really good little potatoes. And I mean, check out our website, there is some amazing recipes there. And just start learning about all the different ways that you can enjoy potatoes, because they’re good for

Borna (ClimateAi) 38:23
you. Alright, Angela, thank you so much, everybody, thanks for listening. If you have any feedback, or you’d like to add your own two cents on the topic discussed today, or if you’ve just got your own ideas about someone that we should discuss in the future, please feel free to shoot me an email at podcast@climate.ai. At its core, this podcast is just a way for us to learn and we want to share our learnings as we go. So we’re always open to building on these conversations and hearing new perspectives. Thanks for your support and see you next time.

 

Guest:

Angela Santiago

CEO at The Little Potato Company

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