Even though Joel Ackerknecht has a long history in farming, he’s relatively new to sweetpotatoes. He’d worked with almonds, pistachios, cotton, and alfalfa when DM Camp & Sons tapped him to oversee the startup of their sweetpotato operation.
Edwin Camp, the third generation to run the 83-year old company, had been following the sweetpotato industry for several years. “He knew what it’d take—sandy soil, good storage, good farming techniques,” says Joel, “but I knew nothing of the business.”
That was five years ago. Today Joel is the DM Camp & Son’s VP of Operations, running all the day-to-day goings-on of the company’s farms—which, in addition to sweetpotatoes, include almonds, wine grapes, citrus, carrots, onions, and barley. Plus about 25 full-time employees.
“This is my twenty-second farming season,” he says. “What I love most about my job is that every day is different. Every year is different.”
And sweetpotato farming? “It’s a unique crop, for both California and the U.S. There are only maybe 500 growers nationwide—yet we produce millions of pounds of healthy food for people around the world,” Joel says, with more than a little awe.
When he’s not at work, Joel and his wife Sally like to snowboard in the winter and do triathalons in the summer, among other sports. They also have small children, Kyle and Mia.
It seems this sweetpotato thing is working out for Joel—and we’re glad. We like having him in the California Sweetpotato family!