As we are all gearing up for the holidays it is time to talk again about everyone’s favourite side dish – potatoes!
I had the pleasure of visiting R&L Farms in Kinkora (where co-owner Andrew Lawless and his wife Heidi were recently named Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2014) once more during the harvest. The rule of thumb is to complete the harvest by Halloween and I visited just a few days before then to witness the pinnacle of what it means to be a farmer – reaping the fruits of one’s labour. Planted in the spring, by the time the potatoes are harvested in the fall everyone involved is eager to finally see the results of those laborious months.
Harvest is the busiest and most demanding time in the industry – employment increases, farmers are at the whim of mother nature, and getting the crop in safely and efficiently is the goal.
I love to cook with fresh local ingredients, but I rarely get a chance to see the dedication and patience that goes into producing the food. So I show up at the farm wearing inappropriate fashion rain boots (this is becoming a theme with me) trudging through the mud to keep up with Andrew as he introduces me to the workers. The two men helping Andrew are retired, but they work as fast as their younger counterparts with the added bonus of years of experience. My guide for the day, Kendra Mills, who works for the PEI Potato growers tells me about a man who takes his vacation every year to be able to help dig on her father’s farm during harvest. The tradition of helping out on local farms has been going on for generations and is still alive and well in rural communities. The work is dirty and demanding, but supremely gratifying.
Harvest time on PEI is no small potatoes – between 4,500 and 5,000 acres are dug per day. Both harvesters and windrowers are used for the task. I was amazed by how times have changed, it was very evident that the use of technology has increased productivity and decreased the handling of potatoes, which they told me was to keep our Island spuds in the best shape possible.
R&L Farms grows predominantly russets that are destined for the french fry markets. Once dug, the potatoes are trucked to warehouses where they will be kept under close watch and stored for the winter. Under the right conditions, potatoes can be stored for up to 12 months. We took a drive out to visit two of the R&L Farms warehouses – one storing ten million pounds and three million pounds in the other. There was a satisfying smell of dirt and hard work as I walked into the enormous facilities filled with a mountain of potatoes. These storages are all over the Island housing the toil of PEI potato farmers until they move on to their final destinations.
As I look down at my muddied boots, I am humbled by the effort our farmers exert to get my beloved potatoes on my plate. As an homage to our fearless farmers, I’ve cooked up a recipe for my final post in the potato trilogy. Stay tuned!