Recent news headlines and social media posts swirling around COVID-19 often focus on concerns about the pandemic’s effect on our food supply. Farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations are working hard to ensure the public that there is plenty of food and they are working on solutions regarding concerns about distribution channels. The American Farm Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are configuring new ways for farmers to get food to the public and to food banks using revisions in the food chain. Still, consumers worry about food shortages, and people who have lost their jobs are concerned about affording food.
One farm in western Montana stepping up to help on the local level is Lake Seed, Inc., an 85-year old farm located on Spring Creek Road in Ronan. Lake Seed is owned by four brothers: David, Pat, Tim and Dan. They raise seed for corn, alfalfa and small grains, with seed potatoes being their “bread and butter.”
Third-generation farmer Dan Lake explained how he got involved in helping out the community. “In light of all the Coronavirus challenges going on, we heard there was a shortage of potatoes in stores, so thought it would be good to donate our oversized potatoes to the general public. Our seed potato customers need a medium size, so we cull the larger ones,” Lake explained. “We put those culled potatoes in large boxes, then ran a Facebook ad saying ‘Free potatoes at Lake Seed. Bring a bag or box.”
In the first four days, the Lakes gave away 9,000 pounds of spuds.
“We’ve had to slow that down because right now we had to move our shipping line equipment to the area where we had those free potatoes, so it’s too congested at the moment, but once we move the equipment, we’ll revive the potato giveaway,” the Northwest County Farm Bureau member said.
The company grows approximately 150 million pounds of potatoes per year, which Lake explained is considered a medium-size operation. Their customers are primarily farmers from Washington State; the potatoes they buy from Lake Seed will be cut and planted, with those newly grown tubers heading to one of the big potato processors to be made into French fries and other tasty potato treats. In fact, the spuds Lake Seed grows are called “Processor Potatoes” which are rigorously tested for potato disease. It takes four years to develop a seed potato that’s ready to sell to their customers.
“The fact we had a lot of culled potatoes to give away is no big deal,” Lake said humbly. “It’s good to help people. Giving away these potatoes felt good and we knew it’s really appreciated. During this pandemic, some people don’t want to go into a grocery store, so the fact they could come here where it’s outdoors and very peaceful was certainly a positive.”
Every autumn, Lake Seed donates the culls to food banks and churches.
“You always feel better when you can give something back,” said Lake. “That’s all of being part of a community.”