I’ve had the pleasure of working with students from our partner elementary schools at Wilkes, Ordway and Blakely. In October and November, we have had over 20 classes come down to the farms to participate in the magic of harvesting potatoes. Our Blakely students have successfully finished digging up all the potatoes they planted at Heyday Farm last spring. Some of the potato yields from Heyday were huge and will make for yummy and nutritious meals in the school lunch program sometime this fall. Down at Morales Farm, our Wilkes and Ordway students have been doing a fantastic job of working through the many rows of potatoes that they planted last spring. Our students have come down to Morales in true Northwest form with smiles and bright spirits despite a few very wet, stormy days at the farm! They too will soon be able to taste all their hard work when their potatoes will make it into their school cafeterias as well. Hats off to all our students!
Now for those who have not had a chance to join us for a potato harvest, allow me to take a moment to paint you a picture…
It is a chilly autumn morning and despite the sun’s best efforts, a layer of fog hovers just above the rows of lush green crops that are planted by the Island’s master farmers who are working hard to keep the agriculture traditions of Bainbridge alive. The sounds of chickens (and cows at Heyday Farm) can be heard in the distance, reminding us that people aren’t the only creatures who are working these fields. Stretched out on either side of a potato bed are two rows of excited hands, bubbling with anticipation, ready to bring to light the treasure just below the surface. The potato bed itself is a raised mound of soil from which an assortment of weeds are allowed to grow unchallenged while dispersed underneath every foot or so is a dead, black, stringy plant – the remnants of a potato plant. It is explained to the students that over the summer their potato plant was a beautiful, flourishing plant but potatoes are only ready to harvest once the plant dies back and the energy instead goes towards growing the potato tubers.
Once each student has located their own potato plant and everybody has rolled up their sleeves, we are ready to quite literally dig in! Harvesting potatoes is very much like digging for treasure. Each plant produces an undetermined number of potatoes (between 1 and a dozen) that grow out sideways from the plant. Using their hands, students dig all around their plant and experience the magic of having their hands in healthy soil, a process that science has proven stimulates increased activity in our brains. Excitement is palpable as students connect intimately with nature and fill their buckets full of beautiful red, gold and purple potatoes. Unlike potatoes at the grocery store, selected for their consistency, our potatoes come in every size and shape, and each class there is at least one student who proudly displays a potato between their fingers no bigger than a marble!
After students have found all the potatoes produced by their plant, they check those potatoes in with the help of parent chaperones, recording how many potatoes their plant produced and how much all their potatoes weigh. These numbers are used to discuss the miracle of abundance;how one tiny potato seed can create food on average twelve times its own weight while at the same time produce many seeds capable of doing the same! The data is then handed off to the teacher for use in the classroom as raw material for focused math lessons that students connect to.
I would like to thank all the teachers, chaperones and farmers who have made these truly hands on, powerful programs possible. With their support, and the support of the larger Bainbridge community, students are being connected to the entire cycle of growing food by planting potato seeds in the spring and with their own hands, unearthing the bounty of the harvest in the autumn.