Saturday, September 26th, 2009 at 6:26 pm

The Great Potato Giveaway: Recap

The event I was most looking forward to this month was undoubtedly the Great Potato Giveaway, put on by the Greater Edmonton Alliance (GEA). In order to spread awareness about the potential development of fertile farmland in the city’s north east, the GEA partnered with the Edmonton Potato Growers and Norbest Farms, and advertised an event which would allow attendees 50 pounds of free potatoes per person. Not ever being one to pass up an opportunity for free food (or visiting a farm), Mack, Jane, Yi-Li, Annie and I piled into a car just after 8am this morning and headed to what we thought would be the city’s hottest destination that day.

Given the amount of media coverage the event received, the number of vehicles we encountered wasn’t surprising, but what was surprising was how unprepared the event organizers were in dealing with such a large bottleneck so early on in the day. Crawling up 195 Street, with hundreds of cars in front and behind us, there was no indication when we might actually reach the farm. We saw a number of cars turn back due to the wait, and a number of vehicle passengers deciding to hoof it (the joke on Twitter this morning was that it was the “Great Potato Give-a-Wait”).

About an hour out

Two hours later, by around 11, we finally reached Norbest Farms. Volunteers handed us each a reusable cloth bag for our potatoes as we drove in, as well as a flyer from the GEA detailing the upcoming public hearing on the Municipal Development Plan taking place on November 12, 2009. Getting out of the car, we could already see the masses of people lined up along the crop – families, older couples, and everyone in between.

Crowd at Great Potato Giveaway

Ready to harvest!

Everyone was told to wait as the tractor and potato harvester drove over the soil, overturning the crop underneath. It was quite the sight to see – as soon as the harvester drove past, there was a mad scramble of people doing their best to scrounge up as many potatoes as possible. Of course, we were right in there like everyone else.

Waiting for the tractor to pass

Here come the potatoes!

Gloves would have been great to have on hand, as the harvester didn’t turn the soil very deep, and we, like many others, resorted to overturning the soil by hand to uncover some of the smaller potatoes.

Attack of the potato harvesters!

Found one!

It was a beautiful day – sunny and warm, but not too hot. I was really happy to see the children there digging in the soil, triumphant when they found a “baby ‘tater”. Although one GEA volunteer passed by as we were harvesting and reminded participants about the reason for the event, I think many likely considered it a free potato grab and nothing more – the GEA definitely should have had more people out spreading their message to the attendees.

After three passes of the machine, we were satisfied that we harvested our share. We’re not sure each of us had 50 pounds, but there was probably a good 30 pounds packed in per bag.

Mack with our harvest

Trunk full of potatoes

We wandered down to the information tents before heading back, where Mack and I signed up to receive more updates from GEA. We asked the volunteers at the tents whether or not they had expected such a turnout, and they replied that while they had only anticipated a “good crowd”.

GEA tent

The ubiquitous Fat Franks cart (they’re everywhere!)

As we drove out of the farm, we passed hundreds of cars still waiting to get in, backed up all the way to Manning Drive. We found out later that the farm had run out of potatoes at around 12:30pm.

Thanks to Norbest Farms, the Edmonton Potato Growers and the Greater Edmonton Alliance, we all have potatoes that we will be sharing with family and friends. And of course, thanks for the opportunity to harvest a crop from some of the rich farmland surrounding our city.

You can see Mack’s photoset here.