Mountain of spuds discarded by Idaho farmers saved in 'potato rescue'
Due to COVID-19 farmers across the nation are seeing an extreme surplus of crops. Here's how extra potatoes in Idaho are being put to good use.
Amid lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, businesses and industries are suffering from COVID-19 -- and potato farmers are no exception.
Despite a growing demand in grocery stores, potato prices have plummeted in the last few weeks due to social distancing guidelines and a lack of demand in restaurants and the food industry. Just weeks prior, the industry was looking at the best prices in recent memory and even projections for a summer shortage, The Associated Press reported.
The cost for a 50-pound carton of restaurant-grade potatoes in the Twin Falls and Burley district hovered between $22 and $23 on March 13 but had dropped to somewhere between $10 and $12 by April 16.
Some farmers in Idaho have such extreme surpluses that they are dumping potato crops, and dairy farms have begun feeding the potatoes to their cattle.
Last week, photos like the one below, shared by Molly Page, a Hailey, Idaho, local, emerged on social media showing mountains of potatoes going to waste after being dumped by farmers. Page's photo showed a mountain of discarded potatoes at Silver Creek Seed Farm in Picabo, Idaho, according to the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper, and it quickly went viral.
Farmers across Idaho had to dump potatoes due to a lack of demand during the coronavirus pandemic. (Twitter/@idahomolly)
"I heard about the farmers dumping the potatoes through a local farmer or rancher who I know here," Page told AccuWeather in a Skype interview. "And it was heartbreaking to see, you know just seeing this huge pile of potatoes that, you know they didn't have a market for. So that compelled me and a group of people here to act."
Using the advantage of a small town and her history of community outreach, Page organized a 25-person "potato rescue team" to help gather the dumped potatoes and bring the spuds to those who need food in the Hailey and Ketchum, two towns in Blaine County, Idaho, about 160 miles east of Boise.
Mild weather made for perfect potato-boxing conditions as volunteers "rescued" extra potatoes from going to waste. (Twitter/@idahomolly)
"(I) felt it was time to get a group of people together and mobilize quickly to get these potatoes to people who need them," Page said.
Her volunteer group worked under sunny blue skies on Saturday as the temperature rose to 63 degrees. She documented the day's events on social media and said "it was an amazing community effort" that came together for the good of others. And the perfect potato-rescuing weather continued on Monday, with temperatures in the mid-60s again and people coming to pick up the "free potatoes" and "broken taters," as a photo she posted on social media showed. Prior to that image, she shared a series of photos showing volunteers loading up trucks with hundreds of potatoes to be hauled away.
"It really, you know, pulled on our heartstrings to know that these small family farms are being affected by the pandemic, and that they can't get their food out to their traditional markets," Page said. The end result was 10 vehicles fully loaded with the spuds: seven pick-up trucks, two SUVs and a dump truck. With permission from local government, she set up areas for residents to pick up potatoes.
It took 10 vehicles, including one dump truck, for volunteers to rescue the extra potatoes from being discarded. The potatoes were brought to an area they were allowed to set up to distribute the food. (Twitter/@idahomolly)
So far, the atypical warmer weather in Idaho has aided potato rescue efforts.
"We've been really fortunate this spring. We're having a mild spring. The weather has been in the 60s, which is perfect for going out and boxing up potatoes," Page said. The volunteers were lucky to carry out the rescue operation during a time with little precipitation, and Page said that the milder temperatures have helped while working outside.
Page added that another potato rescue is in the works planned for this weekend.
"Some unsettled weather is in store for central Idaho, including Hailey, from Wednesday night, with some rain expected at times," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bill Deger said. The thunderstorm threat will peak during Thursday afternoon, with the potential for hail and gusty winds.
The remains of a massive free potato pile after Molly Page and about 25 volunteers rescued potatoes from being discarded. After collecting the potatoes from farmers, the group left a pile for people to pick up what they might need. (Twitter/@idahomolly)
"Fortunately, conditions will improve beginning Friday and lasting into Saturday, before the chance for a thundershower returns on Sunday," Deger said. "Temperature-wise, near-record heat is expected around Boise and the Treasure Valley in southern Idaho on Wednesday, with highs near 90 degrees, while central and northern parts of the state will be cooler by comparison. Thursday's gusty storms will break the heat in southern parts of the state, before comfortable conditions settle in for the end of the week."
Volunteers toss potatoes into a dump truck to be delivered to Hailey and Ketchum, Idaho, and distributed (Twitter/@idahomolly)
Page is not the only one who has stepped up to send the spud surplus to places that need some food during the coronavirus pandemic.
Also over the weekend, 43,000 pounds of potatoes were delivered by truck to the Bronx from Idaho, in an effort to put the surplus food to good use in the poorest congregation district in the city, where food scarcity is more than common.
"Many of our families are from the Mott Haven area of the South Bronx so they are struggling with food insecurity," executive director of East Side House Settlement Daniel Diaz told ABC News.
Farms to Food Banks, the organization behind the massive delivery, will hand out the potatoes on Wednesday. Diaz said the amount of food would be able to feed anywhere between 2,000 and 2,500 families out of 5,000 families in the South Bronx that are hungry.
Farms to Food Banks was brought to fruition after Westchester County money manager John Botti saw a news report on farmers pouring excess milk down drains as vegetables sat in their fields and rotted.
A field of flowering Ranger russet potato plants is pictured near Wilder, Idaho, on Wednesday, June 12, 2013. In a lawsuit moved to Idaho federal court this week, a U.S. wholesale grocery cooperative has sued the United Potato Growers of America, alleging the group's members in 15 states are illegally fixing prices and driving up costs. (AP Photo/John Miller)
The organization now sends semi-trailers to farms across the U.S. to pick up excess supply then brings it back for food banks across New York City to enjoy.
A GoFundMe set up for Farms to Food Banks has already received $174,264 in pledges out of a $200,000 goal after being up for only seven days. Individual donations were as much as thousands of dollars.
"Food banks are overwhelmed, undersupplied and are forced to turn families away empty handed, leaving them on the brink of starvation," the GoFundMe said.
"There is more than enough food, but it is not in the right places."Report a Typo