For the second year, several acres of potatoes at Oregon State University’s Hermiston Agricultural Research & Extension Center were harvested Wednesday morning. The potatoes, planted from seeds provided by area growers, were part of a test plot funded by the Oregon Potato Commission that helped the growers determine whether any problems with their crop originated from the seed or something at their farm, HAREC director Phil Hamm said.
For the last 40 years, he said, the plot consisting of different varieties of potatoes were destroyed each year after the growing season. Last year, people and organizations came together to turn that waste into 160,000 pounds of food. This year the gross haul weighed in at 250,000 pounds, though the potatoes still needed to be cleaned.
“We are pleased to be able to provide potatoes that basically would have gone to waste to folks who can actually eat them,” Hamm said. “If you’re hungry, potatoes are potatoes. They all taste good. It doesn’t matter what color they are.”
Diana Quezada, a resource developer for the Community Action Program of East Central Oregon, helped bring everyone together. CAPECO, she said, serves as a regional food hub that supplies 17 partner agencies, such as food pantries, in Umatilla, Morrow, Wheeler and Gilliam counties. With a list of contacts who already helped the organization, Quezada organized the resources necessary to harvest, pack and transport the potatoes.
“It’s pretty significant for a single-day project, especially because they were just going to till it over,” she said.
The harvest benefits the 7,500 people served by CAPECO, she said, and the excess is donated to the Oregon Food Bank through the nonprofit organization Farmers Ending Hunger founded by Fred Ziari.
John Burt, executive director of the nonprofit, said last year’s donation from HAREC was the largest single donation the organization ever received at one time. Efforts such as this donation have helped the organization grow.
“We got 2.5 million pounds of donated stuff last year, and we’re going to do 3.5 to 4 million this year,” he said. “It’s growing, getting bigger — potatoes, onions, carrots, vegetable crops in the valley, fruit, fresh stuff, 22 head of cattle every month — a real mix of things. The fact that we exist gives a focal point for these growers to say, ‘I’ll donate through that.’ ”
However, getting the potatoes out of the ground, cleaned, packed and transported requires a lot of work. Stahl Farms stepped up to harvest the potatoes Wednesday morning, and Medelez & BJK Transport provided trucks to haul them for processing. John Walchli Farms and Paul Kern, from Botsford and Goodfellow, processed and packed them. Steve Walker Farms then provided transportation to another facility for holding until the food bank could pick them up.
Herb Stahl, from Stahl Farms, said it was nice to be able to give back.
“Farmers Ending Hunger is a great organization,” he said. “For us to be a part of it with the rest of the neighbors and farmers around here is wonderful. It’s a great opportunity.”