What do you get when you combine an abandoned rural high school, two Colorado farm families and potatoes? White Rock Specialties.
The innovative potato packing facility in Mosca, Colorado, is an economic driver for valley potato growers and employment in this small, unincorporated community in the San Luis Valley.
For generations, the Rockey and New families have been farming in the valley. Each family business had their own potato packing facilities, however, time and an increase in demand for their products proved the old equipment too inefficient. Discussions started between the families and it was decided a couple years ago to merge their packing businesses and White Rock Specialties was formed.
When the decision was made to merge, they set their eyes on the town’s empty high school to house the business. But to purchase and renovate the school and buy upgraded state-of-the-art equipment, they needed capital. So, the Rockeys and News went to their local lender – First Southwest Bank. That’s where they learned about the Guaranteed Loan Program offered by USDA’s Rural Development.
“With the loan we received, we purchased all the equipment that’s in this facility,” says Sheldon Rockey, co-owner of White Rock Specialties.
“We feel like having the USDA guaranteed loan is a great relationship for us, because …we know that if down the line, that if we ever need anything, we probably can look in that direction and go from there.”
Today, they process about 1,500 sacks of potatoes weighing hundred pounds each through the state-of-the-art facility, which is USDA certified through the Colorado Department of Agriculture. They employ 15 to 20 people nine months out of the year, and the other three months, employees work on their farming operations. Potatoes go to wholesalers in cities like Los Angeles and New York City, and others up and down the East and West Coasts.
“We package several varieties of organic potatoes anywhere from the standard russet variety all the way to the specialties of fingerlings with purples and yellows and reds. We package any type of potato that’s grown organically in the valley,” Rockey says.
Efficiencies gained from the new equipment include increasing the quantity per hour of potatoes being packed to electronically tying all the equipment monitoring capabilities together through variable frequency drives. This allows any of the equipment to be run remotely from a computer, iPad or even an iPhone. Energy savings has been another byproduct of the upgraded equipment.
But, to be truly efficient, it all begins at the farm level. Rockey adds that Rockey Farms works closely with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to make conservation improvements on the land that uses water wisely. Through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, he is able to conserve water, which is much needed now because of the years of drought impacting the area.
“NRCS has done a lot of great things in our area, and we have a great working relationship,” says Rockey.
From farm to packing potatoes, the Rockeys and News will continue to be part of the backbone that adds commerce to the community, opportunity to valley potato growers, while all along protecting the areas natural resources for the next generation of family members.
Colorado is one of 21 states and Puerto Rico that are part of the USDA’s national StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative. Operations such as White Rock Specialties adds to the economic growth and viability of these rural communities.