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Good InfoA Manitoba Farmer Had Millions of Surplus Potatoes and Worked Overtime to...

A Manitoba Farmer Had Millions of Surplus Potatoes and Worked Overtime to Give Them All Away

EastWest Food Rescue group / Facebook

From Canada’s province of Manitoba comes the story of how dozens of volunteers succeeded when presented with a mammoth logistical challenge: giving away 12 million pounds of potatoes.

There are bumper crops, and then there’s whatever happened on Isaiah Hofer’s Manitoba farm last year.

Potatoes were coming out of the ground in such numbers that after fulfilling all his normal deliveries and quotas, Hofner still had 10 million pounds of potatoes left.

“[P]eople that have been in this industry for the last 40 years, they’ve never seen something like this,” said Hofer. “We had at least almost 100,000 bags of surplus potatoes. In potato language, a bag is 100 pounds [45 kilograms].”

He had a few options, including leaving them to rot as fertilizer, turning them into animal feed, or selling at a tiny profit or even a loss in such a flush market. In the end, Hofner followed his heart and resolved to give all of them away to the needy.

In his email inbox, he saw a letter from the industry group Keystone Potato Producers Association which happened to be spotlighting the work of a US food charity outfit Farmlink Project.

Farmlink arose from the government-enforced business closures and supply chain disruptions during the pandemic, and was responsible for connecting farms with surplus food with food banks cut off from usual deliveries.

Since 2020, they have rescued around 100 million pounds of food from going to waste on farms and distributing it to food banks across North America. Contacting some other farmers he knew, Hofner was soon able to offer Farmlink 12 million pounds (5.4 million kg) of potatoes for donation.

Teaming up, Hofner and Kate Nelson, chief marketing officer and a co-founder of Farmlink, began to strategize about how to get rid of the spare spuds, and Foodsharing Ottawa was their first target.

CBC news, reporting on the story, said that there has been a dramatic spike in food insecure households in Canada since last year, and Foodsharing Ottawa’s volunteer executive director Wendy Leung knew that just one of Hofner’s 40,000-pound potato donation parcels could make a huge difference.

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Suddenly though, Leung had to swap her typical logistical tools of cardboard boxes, hatchbacks, and shopping carts for a forklift, climate-controlled facility, semi trucks, and a large volunteer workforce if it meant getting hold of the potatoes.

Hofner and Nelson, who were looking at a CAD$30,000 cost for their donation, were able to rely on some contacts who provided packaging and transportation.

Their efforts paid off, and Hofner’s farm saw the departure of 115 trucks carrying the spuds to food banks and charities as far afield as San Diego, California. Many were sent to the populace province of Ottawa.

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“Together, I think we actually gave back to over 50 local organizations across the city with countless numbers of individuals and households,” Leung told CBC. “And all these potatoes were claimed actually within eight to nine days.”

In 2020, GNN reported on a similar volunteer effort to rescue 200 tons of potatoes and onions from rot during the pandemic, when EastWest Food Rescue was formed to coordinate the volunteer hauling of the produce from farms in Washington State out to the coastal cities for use in food banks.

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