Afghan woman plans to take home lessons in potato chip making from North Fork farm

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO Sora Stoda of Afghanistan at North Fork Potato Chips in Cutchogue

Since she was a little girl, Sora Stoda has had a vision of creating the first-ever potato chip factory in her homeland of Afghanistan.

Last week, the 21-year-old from Kabul was on the North Fork learning about potato chip-making from the owners of a small plant in Cutchogue.

“Afghanistan is an agricultural economy. They grow potatoes,” explained a nonprofit official from the South Fork who is helping Ms. Stoda realize her dream. “This is a way to put farmers and food processors to work.”

“The potato in Afghanistan,” agreed Ms. Stoda, “has the best taste in the whole world.”

She worked with Carol Sidor, a co-owner of North Fork Potato Chips, last Tuesday and Wednesday, before traveling to the South Fork to visit the Foster family farm’s small chip-making facility in Sagaponack. She was next headed to Pennsylvania to learn about running a larger-scale business from the Herr’s and Martin’s potato chip makers in Pennsylvania.

Her trip to the U.S. was sponsored by the Business Council for Peace, also known as BPeace, a nonprofit based in Water Mill that works to encourage business development in areas where there is armed conflict.

Ms. Stoda, who has a degree in economics, currently works in her family’s logistics business, which she said is working with the U.S. military to manage its inventory of cars, computers and equipment. She has rented land in an industrial park in Kabul and is seeking bank financing to fund construction of a small manufacturing plant that will initially employ 10 to 12 workers.

“At first, we’ll open just in Kabul, but I hope to expand in one to two years to have branches in Mazar, Herat and Kandahar,” she said in a phone interview. “Right now, all the potato chips we have are imported. We don’t have any manufacturing companies. The products are not the best quality. When we have potato chips, they’re in open packages, or made with burned potatoes or they’re expired products. Lots of people want to have local potato chips made by Afghanistan.”

BPeace CEO Toni Maloney said that Ms. Stoda was selected by a BPeace field worker in Afghanistan to join a group of 10 Afghans who are visiting the U.S. this fall to learn about business.

“The applicants have to fill out a 100-question application in English. If they’re true entrepreneurs, they will find someone to help them if they have trouble translating,” Ms. Maloney said.

She said that Ms. Stoda was chosen after a four-month process of interviews in Afghanistan.

“We believe that creating jobs creates peace,” Ms. Maloney said. “We only work in conflict-afflicted communities. The first thing we look at is how many jobs this can create.”

Carol Sidor of North Fork Potato Chips was contacted by BPeace this spring when the group was working to put Ms. Stoda in contact with potato chip producers here.

“She’s wanted to make potato chips in her country since she was a little girl, but she needs to see how its done,” Ms. Sidor said.

Ms. Stoda was looking for a thorough, soup-to-nuts education on how potato chips are made, Ms. Sidor added, from the bags used for packaging to marketing and distribution.

Ms. Sidor worried that it might be difficult for Ms. Stoda to find people in Afghanistan to repair the chip-making machines, something she said was a nearly weekly ordeal.

“She was a delightful young woman. She was so excited, and it made us excited, too,” said Ms. Sidor. “I probably have gained more from it than she has, in terms of learning about different cultures.”

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