If I can paraphrase Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue, there are many things you can do with a potato: You can bake it, broil it, boil it, barbecue it, shred it, saute it. You can make french fries, tater tots, hash browns, mashed potatoes, jojos, potato salad, potato soup, potato pie, baked potato, twice baked potato… you get the idea.
With all of the uses for a potato, the unfortunate thing right now is there aren’t many places to use them with COVID-19 restrictions in place. Ninety percent of frozen potato products in Eastern Washington are used in the restaurant industry, according to Representative Mary Dye from Pomeroy. With dine-in experiences closed due to coronavirus restrictions, there are now 3 billion pounds of potatoes sitting in storage and at least 1 billion pounds without a home.
Which brings us to Ritzville.
It’s not very often that you’ll find a traffic jam in downtown Ritzville, but on Wednesday morning, cars were lined up down First Avenue to grab a bag of russets. Tons and tons of taters all donated by local growers who didn’t want to see the fruits of their labor waste away in storage.
Hearing of a surplus from local farmers, Michele Kiesz decided to see what she could do.
“‘What do we do with these, Michele? We can’t toss them, there’s people that are hungry,’” Kiesz said she kept hearing from farmers. “So I got on the phone and got a hold of my representative Mary Dye and said ‘we got some work to do, we got some mouths to feed.’”
And get to work they did on organizing the great potato giveaway to residents who were more than happy to make sure the potatoes found a home. Some people drove all the way up from Kennewick to grab some potatoes and help out their neighbors.
“We have disabled neighbors,” a Kennewick woman named Sharon said.
“With all the COVID stuff going on, it’s just nice to try and help as many people as we can,” Sharon’s husband John added.
The generosity of the farmers who donated the potatoes was not lost on the people who picked them up.
“This is what it’s all about. People coming together and helping one another. God bless these farmers,” a man named Jason said.
The farmers are preparing to lose a lot of money, an estimated $73 million, according to Rep. Dye.
“Growers were on track to plant 170 thousand acres of potatoes that were destined for frozen potato processors in Washington and Oregon. Many have already planted the crop, or they had prepared the ground for planting and had taken delivery of seed potatoes. Many had invested nearly $2,300 per acre before planting their first potato. And then the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions hit,” Dye said in a release. “It is so late in the season that many will not be able to find alternative crops to grow that could recover their losses.”
Even in the face of devastating losses, the potato farmers of Washington are looking out for those in need, not just with Wednesday’s giveaway, but with tons and tones of potatoes being delivered to charities, food banks and churches in the coming weeks.
“It’s gonna take them years to get back what they’re giving away,” Dye said. “Farmers tend to be open handed and open-hearted to people in general. We’re doing this as a sacrifice of praise, but we also believe that there’s better days ahead.”
Yes, there are many things you can do with a potato, including, helping your neighbor.
By Cory Howard, KHQ News, 4/29/20