Meet Willy Walter: a potato farmer and proud member of the Schoonover Farms Hutterite community
From cattle rancher to potato pioneer: the inspiring story of Willy Walter and Schoonover Farms
Meet Willy Walter, a potato farmer and a proud member of the Schoonover Farms Hutterite community in Odessa, Washington. For Willy, potatoes are more than just a crop; they’re a way of life. His family started their potato journey in 1980 when they left Montana as cattle ranchers and hay farmers. They settled in Washington, on the northern edge of the Columbian Basin, where his family worked for several neighboring farms, planting and harvesting potatoes and farming grains, peas, beans, corn, and hay while running a cattle operation on their farm.
In 2006, Schoonover Farms partnered with a nearby potato farmer to start potato production on their farmland. They began with just 120 acres; in 2013, Schoonover Farms entered into a sizeable agreement with a large processor, and production grew rapidly. Today, the community-run farm grows around 2,000 acres of potatoes. In addition to expanding relationships and contracts, embracing technology has enhanced their operations, including using GPS trackers in the fields and online telemetry to operate and monitor the irrigation system, pivots, pumps, etc. Developing the storage process is also crucial for meeting the demands of the industry and ensuring quality since the processors in the area rely on long-term storage crops from their area to sustain a 12-month processing cycle.
Willy’s passion for potatoes has only grown stronger over the years. He’s involved in several aspects of the farm, but his primary responsibility is irrigation. He checks the moisture levels, disease, insect pressure, and more. He works diligently on marketing strategies with the community, but as he will say, “It’s never a one-person show.” The members of his Hutterite community operate Schoonover Farms, from sowing to reaping and everything in between. Everyone wears various hats, is very supportive, and is always willing to put their heads together to make the best decisions.
Willy is also a strong advocate for the potato industry and loves attending industry meetings with other growers looking for ways to improve. Despite potatoes being a staple in many households, he realizes some consumers believe they are unhealthy and commends the many organizations working on cleaning up the misinformation to maintain a positive perception.
With spuds on his mind all day for work, he craves them every day too! His favorite way to eat potatoes is to scallop a russet potato, toss in sliced onions and smother it with homemade butter from the farm before cooking it up. He even prepares this dish in the field, bringing along a portable grill, placing the seasoned mix in an aluminum tray, covering it with foil, and cooking it until the butter melts, infusing the potatoes with mouthwatering flavors.