The Northumberland Family That Have Been Growing 'Particularly Good Potatoes' For More Than 90 Years
After becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of potatoes imported into the UK, Mark Robson took steps to provide the North East with freshly peeled and chipped potatoes grown in Northumberland
As a family, the Robsons have been growing potatoes for more than 90 years, originally starting with Mark’s grandmother, with the trade being passed down through the generations. ‘Like most in the Second World War, my granny had a little allotment for carrots, parsnips and potatoes and it was that which started [my parents] growing potatoes,’ Mark says. Originally growing all their crops at Pressen Hill Farm near Kelso, Mark’s parents worked the land producing a variety of vegetables before settling on specialising in potatoes. ‘My dad started growing a very small area of potatoes and we have been growing in North Northumberland ever since,’ he says.
Growing up on the farm and learning the trade from his parents, it was only natural for Mark to continue into the potato farming industry. ’We walked into our local chip shop in Wooler and thought we would find out where the potatoes for their chips were coming from. The owner kindly showed us the bag and we traced the variety back to Egypt and were horrified,’ Mark explains. After doing more research, Mark became increasingly disheartened by the amount of potatoes the UK was importing, and deciding to do something about it, he set up his own business, Particularly Good Potatoes on Turvelaws Farm. ‘We thought that because we grew the same varieties, we should have our own chip factory here in Northumberland. Now we make fresh chips, fondants and parmentiers, as well as all kinds of different fresh potatoes which we supply across the North East.’
Read More: Northumberland Farmer and Businessman on the Benefits of Growing Hemp and Why There's a Market for the Crop
‘As soon as the potatoes are lifted we’re planting wheat in the fields, because potatoes leave a lot of good nutrients behind in the soil’
From the moment they chose their brand name, Mark and his team have been dedicated to providing quality produce with excellent service – and being located on Turvelaws farm helps – the farm is named after its nutrient-dense land. ‘Turve is the Old English word for turf, as in grass, and Turvelaws is part of the hills where turf is particularly good – that’s why we came up with the name,’ says Mark.
Over the years, Particularly Good Potatoes has developed as a business and they have even gained attention from celebrity chefs. ‘We’ve been really lucky to have [had a visit from] the Hairy Bikers, who liked our story because we have a zero-waste policy,’ Mark says. From the outset, the ethos of the business has been to provide quality whilst causing the least amount of harm to the planet as possible. In the washing, peeling and preparing of the potatoes and chips, a significant amount of waste is produced, but Mark and his team ensure the left behind starch is separated from the water, solidified and then spread on their fields as fertilisers, whilst the water is repurposed and used for fertigation. The potato peels and blemishes are also collected and given to neighbouring farms such as Doddington Dairy to use for stock feed.
Read More: Female farmers: A celebration of Women in Agriculture in New Exhibition
It’s not just the process which Particularly Good Potatoes ensure is environmentally friendly, their chip factory is also just 200 metres from one of the potato fields, meaning potatoes can be graded and onto the factory line within an hour. ‘The factory is on the farm so we aren’t moving to another agent or store. It’s literally from the field into the factory and then onto your fork,’ Mark says.
However, getting the potatoes ready to be packed and peeled in the factory is a year-round process, with harvesting starting around this time of year. ‘We start harvesting the early potatoes at the end of August and those ones go straight to the factory. Will, our son who manages the factory, figures out what we need and our harvesters will go out and get those potatoes lifted, put into boxes and brought over to the factory,’ Mark explains. Getting the harvest into the barns before the bad winter weather arrives is crucial to ensure the yield is ready for the following year. ‘As soon as the potatoes are lifted we’re planting wheat in the fields because potatoes leave a lot of good nutrients behind in the soil, and they clean the soil up without using chemicals.’
‘We’ve been really lucky to have a visit from the Hairy Bikers, who liked our story because we have a zero-waste policy’
Once in the factory, the potatoes are sorted, peeled, washed and cut to order. They’re then vacuum packed onsite and refrigerated, giving them a shelf-life of seven days from the day of production, and to ensure their freshness, the team deliver the potatoes the same day they are chipped. ‘It’s all about keeping a consistent product right through the 12-month period for our customers,’ Mark says.
When Mark founded Particularly Good Potatoes he was supplying to businesses in Wooler, and now the team send out potatoes all the way from Berwick down to Newcastle. ‘This year we have 11 varieties of potatoes, with three key varieties for chipping and one variety for crisping. Our main [crisping supply] goes to McCoy’s in Billingham, as well as sending varieties such as Saxon, Maris Piper, King Edward’s and Mozarts to supermarkets.’
Read More: Recipe: Tandoori Stuffed Potatoes You'll Love
Whilst growing and caring for potatoes remains at the heart of Mark’s business, the nurturing of the environment and ensuring the land is viable for the next generation of potato growers is key. ‘We are a small family business and that makes us unique,’ Mark says. ‘We are committed to continuing to produce from this fertile land and look after it for the next generation.’
Best potato for chips?
I think it’s the Ramos because they are really really tasty. There is a variety we are about to start lifting called Accord which are absolutely delicious at this point of the year. The sugars change in them by Christmas time and that’s why we only have a small area for the Accord. We grow them and use them first because they taste brilliant. We then move onto the Ramos which covers most of the Christmas period and then later on the year, in May and June, we have a variety called Markies and they are really stable for keeping the sugars in.
Best potato for mash?
The Ramos is great one again because they are very light and fluffy and their taste is not sweet, but light, and I find the Ramos have more of character and there is more to those potatoes. Markies are also delicious for mash.
Best potato for baking?
Saxon is brilliant for baking because the skin goes very crispy and it has a very consistent floury taste to it.