Sweet Potato Harvest in Full Swing at Cross County Family Farm

October 3, 2003 - Posted at: 11:00pm

VANNDALE, AR -- The Matthews Farm went into high gear about a month ago. That's when generations of family farmers started picking and sorting sweet potatoes. A process the family goes through every year to get the orange spuds from the dirt to our dinner table.

"My husband's father way back a long time ago back when potatoes sold for about $.50 a bushel. He came here in a covered wagon," said Alice Story, who remarried after her husband died.

As matriarch of the Matthews family, Story remembers pulling piles of sweet potatoes out of the ground the old fashioned way. "I worked in it just like my husband did. I got out and I'd crawl on my knees too," added Story.

Now machines and moving belts do a big part of the work, but employees' quick hands are also relied upon to help clear the fertile fields.

David Matthews explained, "(You can clear) about 10 acres a day, takes about 2 days on this field. Here's 20 acres."

Pickers do some presorting of sizes in the field. The potatoes are placed in crates, and then taken up to farm sheds to be stored or washed. Once clean, the spuds are sorted again and packed into 40 pound boxes. The yams are stored around 60 degrees. That's just one of many tips Browne Matthews learned from his father and grandfather. "It's really nice. I've got my son here, you know, and I work with my nephew too," said Browne, Sr.

Browne Matthews, Jr. and his cousin, Terris, worked other jobs before coming home to the farm where they grew up. At six years of age, Junior's son is already showing an interest in the family farm.

"He'll have it here if he wants to do it, but it's hard work, and it's so stressful," said Browne, Jr.

His grandfather died in 1979, long before large potato washing machines, a 70 employee payroll and a year round operation on the now 400 acre farm.

Alice Story laughed, "If he was living today, he wouldn't know the place."

Change is a sign of growth, and for the Matthews Family: sweet success. They sell to grocery stores including Hays, Kroger and Wal-Mart as well as Wal-Mart distribution centers.