By Emry Dinman / Columbia Basin Herald
Around 200,000 pounds of potatoes, weighing more than a 737 Max plane, are going to be given away at the Tacoma Dome on Thursday, and every single one of those spuds is coming from a Grant County farm.
According to Washington State Potato Commission Executive Director Chris Voigt, a farm in Grant County, whose owners have asked to remain anonymous, is donating the potatoes. They were originally destined to become french fries.
The overwhelming majority of Washington potatoes are typically sold to restaurants before making it to the final customer, mainly in the form of french fries, tots, wedges and the like. Due to a precipitous drop in restaurant potato consumption during the coronavirus pandemic, those potatoes no longer have a market. Rather than go to waste, at least 1 million pounds will go to Washington families in need.
Thursday’s event follows successful potato giveaways in Moses Lake and Ritzville earlier in May, when potatoes from the Warden Hutterian Brethren went home with hundreds of area families and food banks. Though as many as 20 similar events are planned across the region, Thursday’s will be the single largest on the “Road to a Million Pounds,” as the potato commission works with farmers to distribute some of their unsold crop.
Tacoma was chosen as the site of the largest event due to a higher level of food insecurity in that area, Voigt said, with a number of food banks requesting full pallets. Other events will be held in the Puget Sound and Spokane areas, among others, in the coming months, Voigt added.
Giving away all of these spuds for free isn’t cheap, Voigt noted — they need to be transported across the state, cleaned and packaged into 15-pound bags. To help cover those costs, the commission has set up a GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/f/help-washington-potato-growers-feed-those-in-need, which has already raised over $30,000.
Long term, Voigt said that the industry is holding out hope that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will come in and purchase the unsold spuds, distributing them to food banks and non-profits across the country. But that intervention might come by June at the earliest, Voigt said, and in the meantime, farmers across the region are looking for a way to feed their communities.