Surplus potatoes from the federal research farm will be donated to the Charlottetown Food Bank
Historically, most potatoes grown at Harrington Research Farm in central PEI were composted. Some would be processed into animal feed, the rest into potato starch.
But now they have a new purpose – feeding hungry islanders.
“Of course, being on Prince Edward Island, we grow a lot of potatoes, and they’re in our crop rotations all the time,” said Chris Kirby, acting assistant director of Charlottetown Research and Development for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Center, which runs the runs the farm.
“We never want to compete with a farmer, but we also want to feed the Canadian public.”
The farm grows produce for a variety of reasons, including improving best practices, testing for pest resistance, and using rotation crops to keep the soil healthy.
“We have to keep things going under the standard conditions that are used on Prince Edward Island,” Kirby said.
Plants undergoing experiments are still kept away from human consumption, but the tubers grown under typical farm conditions now end up in Charlottetown’s Upper Room Hospitality Ministry.
Waste of “perfectly good food”
In 2022 alone, more than 7,000 pounds of potatoes went to the table. And so far this year, £3,500 has been brought into the Tafel from the research farm’s cold stores, one pallet at a time.
“We see hundreds of families every month who come here and don’t have enough to eat,” said Mike MacDonald, executive director of The Upper Room. “So when food is wasted — absolutely fine food — it definitely bothers us.”
Across Canada, an estimated $50 billion worth of food is lost or wasted each year, even as many Canadians struggle with low incomes and high prices.
“This all happened after the pandemic was dealt with, and everyone is concerned about food security,” Kirby said.
“So if we can get a steady supply of potatoes to the Tafel somewhere around December, January through April, that’s a significant amount of time that they can get a product that they can then share with those in need.” So we’re very excited to be part of the solution for the public.”
The initiative also exists in other provinces, with the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research farm donating carrots and cabbages in Newfoundland, apples in Nova Scotia, and cherries and apples in British Columbia.
Other crops such as barley and wheat are also grown at Harrington Research Farm, but donating potatoes made the most sense. Kirby says the farm will keep the donations going as long as the food bank takes them.
“As long as they need it and we still have it, we’re going to give them more potatoes,” he said, adding, “I can’t imagine we’re going to stop growing potatoes on Prince Edward Island any time soon.”