Potatoes are among the most nutritious and satisfying of all the vegetables, and since they can be stored for long periods of time, they can be shipped and used to help to reduce hunger in faraway areas where food is in short supply. To help people in need, Wisconsin potato growers have successfully provided potatoes to local food pantries, and now are looking to respond to needs in other parts of the United States and even overseas. Examples of these efforts are:
Food for Hurricane Sandy Victims
When the victims of hurricane Sandy were still reeling from the storm’s devastating effects and food reserves were dwindling, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association quickly stepped forward to supply healthy and hearty Wisconsin potatoes to some of the hardest hit areas like Staten Island. Under the leadership of Sowinski Farms in Rhinelander, over a dozen Wisconsin potato farms throughout the state came together in less than a week to assemble 80,000 lbs of potatoes and the necessary semi-trucks to deliver them to the City Harvest food pantry in Long Island City for local distribution to needy residents. This generosity, which can only stem from the whole industry working together, is typical of the Wisconsin potato growers. As John Hein of Sowinski Farms noted, “Someday, our area may need the same kind of assistance, so it’s nice to be able to help.”
African Seed Potatoes
Larry Alsum, a founding member of Wisconsin’s Healthy Grown Potato program, has been active in promoting sustainable farming in Wisconsin and is now working in one of the poorest regions of Africa to extend these practical sustainability lessons to subsistence farming communities.
In January of 2012, Larry and Derrick Smith (also of Alsum Farms and Produce, a grower/packer of vegetables in Arena and Friesland, WI), traveled to the west coast of Africa and visited the countries of Ghana and Liberia. While there, they focused on sharing their years of experience in sustainable farming in a very practical way. Larry was convinced that helping the African farmers grow their own potato crops would be the most effective way to meet their future food security needs. Working with Antigo seed potato growers, the best varieties for West Africa were selected and forty tons of high quality seed potatoes were shipped to those areas.
Larry admits that there are risks “The farmers don’t have the tools or technologies we have here in the states—they have machetes and hoes, that’s it. So each person farms about two acres. They will each plant small patches of potatoes from this shipment, which should support about 125 families.”
Larry’s optimism has been rewarded; the potatoes arrived in great shape in both countries, and they were planted. On a follow up visit to Liberia, Larry reported that “the potatoes are sprouting, and the farmers are pleased to see that!”
It is rewarding testimony from a far-reaching program that will continue to feed the rural farmers of West Africa for years to come.