Since the beginning of the pandemic, Americans have experienced economic ramifications both on the local and national level. One specific agricultural challenge proved to not be one of shortage but of surplus. Due to supply-chain jams, farms in Idaho have been forced to dump millions of potatoes.
One farmer, Ryan Cranney, decided to give away about two million potatoes last month. In an interview with the Idaho Statesman, Cranney revealed that about 700 people decided to show up to grab free potatoes, including one woman who drove all the way from Colorado. The Oakley, Idaho farmer says he understands the confusion that consumers have with all of these potatoes being dumped when grocery stores struggle to remain stocked.
“People are frustrated because they go to the grocery store and they can’t find certain products,” said Cranney to the Idaho Statesman “But it really comes down to supply chain. The supply chain was developed to ship big boxes in big bulk… that’s the way that we have developed these markets to supply these big volumes. So now when the demand has shifted to the grocery store, [where we need] baggers that make the little bags of potatoes – we only have one of them in our whole shed. We are trying to shove all of our potatoes that we have through this small bagger to meet the demand of our grocer.”
Essentially, since the demand for potatoes has fallen because businesses are closing, the demand for potatoes has risen in grocery stores. Farmers aren’t equipped to package or ship to grocery outlets causing the potatoes to pile up.
A recent potato pickup took place in Rexburg as well. The Archibald Insurance Center hosted the pickup on May 1st, where thousands of potatoes were available to the public. The Archibald Insurance Center paid local farmers full price and then redistributed the food for free.
“We’ve heard a lot of horror stories about people losing their jobs or not working so we wanted to give back,” said Aaron Cottle, a managing partner for the insurance agency.
Other movements and organizations within Idaho decided to approach this problem with optimism and action. One organizer in Blaine county, Molly Page, saw the excess potatoes being dumped and decided to act. She put out a call on Facebook through some of the mutual aid groups, and quickly had volunteers ready to donate their time, effort and trucks to transport these potatoes to places in need.
“I think that the pandemic has really shown the fragility of our food system. Not only for the growers but for the consumers,” Page said. “I think [organizing] is a great way to bring people together to rally behind a cause people care about… Anybody can do it. I think to say ‘I don’t know how to organize that’ – no, you just call up some friends and make it happen.”
Page and other independent volunteers delivered potatoes for people and families to pick up in several towns and local food banks across Idaho. Because of the intimate nature of these small towns, Page emphasized that the farmers and mayors have been accessible and great to work with. The potato pickups and deliveries are set to continue, starting with the town of Dietrich, Idaho.
Page also recommends familiarizing oneself with the local coronavirus mutual aid groups, many of which are easily found on Facebook, and giving cash donations to food banks due to their potential buying power and limited storage in the current climate.