LINGLE – Of all the events at the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center (SAREC), Research Scientist Brian Lee’s favorite is letting elementary schools come and pick potatoes.
“We invite schools to come out and we do a short program kind of about food security and potatoes specifically,” Lee Said. It’s one of the most rewarding things we do just because it’s cool to kind of get just down to basics of ag and food.”
Normally there are a lot of potatoes left over after the third-grade students from the local schools come through, so the new plan is to donate the remaining potatoes to the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies. With about an acre and a half of land to harvest, Lee needed some help.
“We reached out to Sensible Nutrition with the University of Wyoming, and they put us in contact with Wyoming [Cowboy] Challenge Academy,” Lee said.
Seventeen cadets arrived at the SAREC campus on Friday to help pick the potatoes. After a brief lesson from Lee on the purpose of what they were doing and what potatoes were good to pick, the cadets along with a few other volunteers entered the plot and started filling 10-pound and 20-pound bags.
Lee said normally they’re production is limited to the number of workers they have. While it was not an issue this year, the new limiter was the number of bags for all of the potatoes.
“And were looking at somewhere between 6000 and 8000 pounds of potatoes,” Lee said.
Before harvesting took place, Lee said a toping machine took the plant part off of the potatoes and make them easier to be dug up.
“We have a two-row potato digger that we then run through the field and leave the potatoes on top of the soil so the cadets and other volunteers will be just bagging potatoes,” Lee said.
After a few hours of picking, a flatbed truck with pallets was brought in through the rows to make it easier to load the bags of potatoes.
Most of the bags were used up in the first six rows with much of the plot still unpicked. Lee said he was happy the potatoes will be used to help people in the community who need it.
“It’s going to be beneficial to residents of the state so it’s a good program,” Lee said.
The project met SAREC’s mission to utilize as many of the potatoes which were harvested as possible.