Montana State University

studentlivin'@msu: 'Mr. Potato' heads home for harvest

October 24, 2005 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Dave Cole watches potatoes go into storage during the family's 30th seed potato harvest. (MSU photo by Evelyn Boswell).    High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
Dave Cole has been surrounded by potatoes all his life, so a recent fall day was nothing out of the ordinary for the Montana State University junior.

With tons of potatoes piled behind him, Cole watched another truckload of potatoes pull into the driveway. Hundreds of Russet Burbanks rode conveyor belts around the farm yard, tumbling first through the rollers of the Clodhopper machine, then past the workers who sorted them by size. Finally free from rocks and dirt and separated from the odd-shaped and oversized, the chosen spuds joined their own kind for the winter.

"I really enjoy it. My dad and I get along good, so it works out nice," Cole said during the family's 30th seed potato harvest.

Between clearing a roller and answering his cell phone, Cole said his great-grandfather Simon came from the Netherlands where his last name was spelled Kool but pronounced Cole. "We didn't want to be Kool in America," joked Cole's father, Bill.

Now part of the Dutch community in Gallatin County, the family switched from dairy cows to seed potatoes nine years before Cole was born. Since he lives at home to help on the farm, Cole eats potatoes every day, sometimes three times a day and in various shapes and forms. He might have hash browns for breakfast, mashed potatoes or baked potatoes for supper and french fries in between. Of the three kinds of potatoes the family grows, Umatilla are his favorite.

"There's not a lot of rice consumption at our house," Cole laughed, saying his fiancee noticed the trend from the beginning of their relationship.

Potatoes are planted in mid-May and generally harvested in late September or mid-October. But rain delays kept Cole guessing as to when he might join his parents and more than a dozen workers in harvesting this year's potatoes. While waiting, Cole continued commuting to MSU where he attends classes Tuesdays and Thursdays and works in the MSU athletic department as a marketing intern.

Part of his job is finding people to perform during half-time shows and sing the national anthem before athletic events, Cole said as he drove to a potato field near the family farm. Among those he's booked was a sign language group from Heritage Christian School in Bozeman. Another group he'd like is the Gallatin Valley Men's Chorus in which his dad sings bass.

"It's a great job. I love it," Cole said of the internship. "It works out good, because it's what I want to get into."

Cole is majoring in business marketing and wants to pursue a career in sports marketing. Perhaps he'll be a college athletic director or sports event manager, said Cole who played football, basketball and golf in high school and still plays intramural sports at MSU. In 2003, the year he graduated from Manhattan Christian High School, his golf team won the state championship, and his basketball team was fourth in the state.

Farming was a great way to grow up, and he may return to it in the future, said Cole, the youngest of Bill and Barb's three children. He knows well how his family's potatoes originated as nuclear stock at MSU and eventually become french fries. He explained how the family stores 1,750 tons of seed potatoes at 38 degrees all winter before shipping them to Idaho and Washington. He described how potatoes under 12 ounces are used as seed potatoes, but larger potatoes go to local restaurants.

In the meantime, he plans to follow his sisters off the farm. His parents never tried to keep him home to do chores, but encouraged him to participate in high school sports, Cole said. In the same way, they've supported his dreams for a marketing career.

"Someday I might end up farming, but for now, I want to see where I can go with my business degree from MSU," Cole said.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or