Editorial: Monday mix on potato kings; Scrabble champ; young bakers

  • Frank Szawlowski inspects newly harvested red potatoes at Szawlowski Potato Farms in Hatfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 8/19/2018 7:00:35 PM

We commend the Szawlowskis for their rich contributions to agriculture in the Valley. The family known as “Swaz” has the largest potato farming operation in the state.

Brothers Frank, Chet and Stanley are the third generation of their family to run Szawlowski Potato Farms, which has its headquarters in an office and warehouse at 107 Main St. in Hatfield. The family harvests potatoes on about 1,000 acres of land in Hatfield, Hadley and Sunderland. A fourth brother, John, also worked on the farm until he died at age 81 in 2016.

Overall, the Szawlowskis have about 5,000 acres under production in Hampshire and Franklin counties through grower partnerships. Their packing plant operates year-round, with potatoes shipped in from farms nationwide.

Potatoes have always been at the center of his life, says 80-year-old Frank Szawlowski. “It’s all I know. I never travel. … These potatoes mean everything to me.”

The brothers’ grandfather, John Rupert Szawlowski, began the potato farm in Northampton in 1910, four years after arriving from Poland at the age of 16. After the city took about 75 acres of the farm for an industrial park in 1972, the Szawlowskis moved their operation to Hatfield. There are about 20 members of the family, now in its fifth generation, working on the farm today.

Frank Szawlowski has spent a lifetime planting potato seeds, nurturing the plants and harvesting them during the summer. Now, he is in charge of marketing and managing the packaging plant, which since 1989 has packed potatoes for other growers. On average, about 500 tons of potatoes are shipped daily.

“You keep your nose to the grindstone, keep your eyes and ears open, and take care of your customers,” Szawlowski says. “You’ve got to be reliable, trustworthy and honest. The customers are important to us, and we are important to them because we got the volume and we are dependable.”

For more than a century, the Szawlowskis have been the potato kings of the Valley.

* * *

Congratulations to 14-year-old Evan Yurko, whose skill as a Scrabble player earned him the Division 4 national championship during a tournament in Buffalo, New York, this month. He took home a trophy and $1,500 after defeating 57 other competitors — from age 12 to their mid-60s — and winning 25 of 31 games in his division.

Yurko, a freshman of Northampton High School, got his training from the Scrabble Club at JFK Middle School, which he joined when he tired of losing to his mother, Andrea.

Now he is a member of the Northampton Scrabble Club, which plays Monday evenings in the community room at Burger King, 344 King St. There, Ben Greenwood, a teacher at JFK where he coached Yurko, is the only player who can still consistently defeat his protege. During a game last week, they talked strategy as Yurko played words like digerati (people with expertise in information technology) and luvvie (British reference to an actor or actress).

“I study the double V words,” says Yurko, who enjoys Scrabble because “two games never start or end the same way.”

There’s a good chance, though, that they will end with Yurko winning.

* * *

Children who went to school this summer at the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute got some sweet lessons.

One class of children ages 12 to 14 spent a week learning how to make desserts from pastry chef Maureen Benton. The young bakers produced lady fingers, gelatin parfaits, ice cream bombs, truffles, pudding, petit fours and chocolate mousse, as well as standards like cookies and cakes.

Among the students was Lydia Fiorini, 14, of Palmer, whose mother worked as a baker at Atkins Farms in Amherst. “I really like how it’s a combination of science and art,” Fiorini says. “The science is in the baking, and the art is in the decorating.”

The children worked in the baking lab at the new state-of-the art, $7.5 million home for the college’s culinary arts program in downtown Holyoke, partly paid for by MGM, which eventually hopes to hire graduates to work at its resort casino set to open Aug. 24 in Springfield.

This summer, it was children who tasted success as they improved their baking skills.

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