Last weekend, Rotarians across Muskoka did what they do best—helping not only their own communities, but one several provinces away. And all with humble potatoes.
Although PEI potato farmers had a bumper crop last year, potato wart, an infection caused by a fungus, found at two farms during routine testing prompted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to suspend shipment of PEI potatoes to the U.S. as of November 2021. The warts aren’t a threat to human health, but can affect crop yield.
That move left farmers with millions of pounds of potatoes and nowhere to send them.
In an effort to help both a farmer and local residents in need, Muskoka’s Rotary clubs, led by the Rotary Club of Bracebridge, purchased 16 skids of potatoes to distribute to local food banks with financial support from the Province of Ontario via the District of Muskoka.
The potatoes came from Rick Sanderson’s farm, near Cornwall, PEI. Although not exclusively potato farmers, the family has 450 acres of potato crop which goes to two main markets: Cavendish Farms to make fries, and New York City where they are repackaged into 3 lb. bags for sale to consumers. Early in the season, they offer new potatoes at a driveway farm stand with an ‘honest box’ for collection of payment.
Sanderson told Rotary representatives that PEI farmers had to open up their potato stores to consumers, encouraging them to take whatever they could for home use. Farmers were faced with a difficult decision otherwise: whatever they couldn’t sell to other markets would have to be destroyed by the end of February to qualify for compensation from the government.
Rotarian Paul Hammond, from the Rotary Club of Bracebridge, coordinated transport of 40,000 pounds of potatoes, which arrived in Bracebridge on February 19, 2022. They were offloaded at the Fanotech warehouse, where volunteers from the region’s clubs separated them for delivery across Muskoka.
The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation was among the recipients and took to Facebook to share their thanks.
“We’ve been blessed with big Spud Love!!…Thank you to our local Rotary Club of Huntsville, Huntsville Satellite Club and Rotary Club of Bracebridge Paul Hammond for arranging this bounty and all the amazing volunteers that helped load and unload for our community!!” they wrote.
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