For the first time since its inception in 1937, the Idaho Potato Commission has a woman on its nine-member board. Her name, as any Idahoan who watched Gov. Butch Otter’s State of the State address now knows, is Peggy Grover.
“I want the best people representing their neighbors,” Otter said in the speech. “That’s why I appreciate Peggy Grover of Rexburg, who I recently appointed to the Idaho Potato Commission. She’s the first woman to serve on the commission in its long history. And she brings passion, professionalism and an invaluable perspective to the marketing of Idaho’s most famous commodity.”
Several states have a state government body set up to promote and regulate potatoes, including Washington state, Oregon and Maine. In Idaho, the commission is a state agency that collects a 12-cent tax per every 100 pounds of potatoes sold, which funds advertising and research to expand the Idaho potato market. Grover was one of three new appointees to the commission, all of them selected by Otter from a pool of nominees submitted by members of the potato industry.
Grover works in sales and accounting for BenchMark Potato, a shipping and packaging warehouse in Rexburg, Idaho. She was also the first female member of the Idaho Grower Shippers Association, an industry group in the state, where she served for six years. Governing interviewed Grover by phone Jan. 24. The following transcript has been edited for style and clarity.
Walk me through what the role of the commission is and what specifically you’ll do.
We’re there to promote and advertise our famous Idaho potato and then we’re there to protect the certification mark of our brand. That’s most of what the commissioners do and then we hire responsible people to promote them and to watch over them. And then we put money into research and educational funds for improving the quality of the yield and the varieties.
In other levels of government, with appointed and elected boards, there’s a mix of expertise. I think of a local city council and you might have someone who knows land-use really well and someone who understands budgeting. It looks to me like the potato commission also has a mix of expertise. What are you bringing to the table?
The board of commissioners, there’s nine of us. There’s two that represent the warehouses that ship the potatoes out of Idaho. There’s five actual farmers and then there are two that represent processing. So there’s always nine people on the board and it’s a three-year term. I represent the warehouses.
There’s about 33 warehouses in Idaho that ship fresh potatoes. We ship the fresh potatoes here [at BenchMark Potatoes]. We sort them out. We put them in the bags that you get in the grocery store or the boxes you get in the restaurants. That’s what the warehouses do and that’s who I represent.
I see a lot of the end customers. I go out and I go back east and meet our customers and I see their needs. So I see it from both angles. That’s why there are two of us that represent the warehouses.
Frank Muir [president and CEO of the commission] had said in a press release that he thought having a woman on the commission might actually be helpful for marketing to women ages 25-55 with children at home. Could you explain a little bit about that? Why would that be a target market for you guys?
I think my history -- I have raised five kids. I currently have 14 grandkids, so I kind of see the needs of a housewife. I kind of see the needs of a woman. I think women are mostly the ones who cook. I mean, there are some men who cook out there, but your grocery shoppers are mostly women. You will get a few men. I can see my past and the things I needed out of potatoes and food and what I bought. I think that just brings perspective to the commission. It is the first time they’ve had a woman on the commission. I’m sure I just bring a whole new outlook to it.
I tried to look up other potato commissions. There are a few other states that have them. Oregon doesn’t have any women on its commission. Maine has a potato board, but there’s only one woman. Why do you think it’s taken this long for Idaho to have a woman on its potato commission?
Well, I thought about that. I feel like there’s a lot of women who work in the potato industry, but it’s just a certain time in your life when you have time to volunteer your work -- because we are volunteering our time to go to these meetings and to represent Idaho potatoes. So, for me, my youngest just turned 19 last year. And so I have this little bit of time where I’m not too old, but my kids are grown and I don’t feel like I have to be home too much. I just felt like it was a good time for me. But there’s not too many who hit that time right there where they can dedicate a few years to something else.
I read a quote from you in Salem’s Capital Press newspaper saying that you thought there were more opportunities for women today in the potato industry. I was wondering what you meant by that. Do you think there are more jobs opening up or jobs at higher levels? Or both?
I do. I think it’s the time frame and I also think nowadays women are serving in this capacity more than they used to. That’s why I decided to try it. I realized that there happen to be more women in agriculture programs and I just thought -- I’ll put my name in and see what happens.
But it is the time frame for women. It really is. And then usually when they get old enough they probably don’t feel like they can run because no woman has been in that position. You know, it takes courage to be the first at anything. But I think after this, I think women will run more.
Have you gotten any feedback from other citizens since you were appointed?
I went to a potato expo this weekend and I had a lot of people tell me, it’s about time they got a woman. I just think most people are glad to have a woman on it for the first time.
What are your goals for the commission?
My goal is just to keep it going like it is. I think they’ve done a wonderful job, truthfully, in promoting Idaho potatoes and I’m hoping that I can have influence in that, too. They’ve done such a good job. I just hope they keep doing that.
The other goal is, there’s just such a misguided view of health benefits from potatoes. I’m hoping to clear that up. They won’t let the women and children on [the federal nutrition assistance program] WIC buy [white] potatoes because someone has got the feeling that [white] potatoes are not healthy for you.* Actually, they're just as healthy as any other vegetable or fruit. They have a lot of vitamin C, potassium. There’s no fat in them. There’s fiber in them. They’re just a very healthy food and somebody up high has decided it wasn’t healthy and so it is the only vegetable that you cannot buy with WIC. I’m hoping to help with that, to make whoever it is -- and it’s not the United States. It’s not the women. The women want the potatoes. I’ve had so many ask me why they can’t buy the potatoes with their WIC. They serve in so many different meals.
You said you grew up around the potato industry. Where exactly did you grow up?
I grew up in Idaho Falls. My dad wasn’t a farmer, but you always helped on the farms. Everybody got out of school for two weeks to help harvest potatoes here in Idaho. Not all the schools now, but when I was young, everybody got out and so I always worked on the potatoes, planting them. You always cut the potatoes when you’re young and when fall came you always harvest them. So I grew up doing that and I drove truck or I did something and then later on in life I got into this warehouse and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve really enjoyed the farmers. That’s something I like about my job -- I get to see the end customers, the farmers and the seed growers. So I see it from start to finish.
*Editor's note: The U.S. Deparment of Agriculture did decide in December 2007 to restrict the use of WIC vouchers for purchasing white potatoes. The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, had recommended in 2005 that white potatoes be excluded because dietary research showed that people were already consuming the maximum daily recommended serving of white potatoes -- without any financial incentive.