Local growers raise terrific taters

From young to old, the lowly potato makes its humble home in gardens across the community

Students from Seabird Island Community School grow spuds in tubs each Spring

It’s no surprise that in this fertile, farming valley, we have some pretty good gardeners around. Both Agassiz and Harrison have many a citizen walking around with dirt under their fingernails and home-grown food in their bellies.

The lowly potato makes its home in plots around the community. For the purposes of this year’s Fall Fair theme, The Observer took a wander through the Agassiz Community Gardens with gardener Don Zureski. Zureski, who actually lives in Chilliwack but has plots in Agassiz because of their ample size, is no stranger to gardening. He grew up on a farm, where it was a necessity to grow their own food. Now he does it for the enjoyment of gardening and the satisfaction of filling his pantry for the whole year.

He grows more than a dozen different crops in his two plots, including beets and broad beans, cabbage and cucumber. There is no better quality you can find than from a garden you work with your own hands, Zureski figures. A sample of fresh basil and crisp cucumber proves his words true. They hardly have to go to a grocery store, at least not for produce. One of the crops Zureski grows are potatoes.

“I think potatoes are probably one of the easiest things to grow,” says Zureski. So far, he estimates he has harvested 400 pounds of spuds, with more still in the ground. Yukon Gold, Caribe, Sentanta and Sieglund varieties this year. With a few rows left to harvest, Zureski is not sure how the Sentanta and Sieglund will turn out at the time of the interview.

In Saskatchewan, where Zureski hails from, it’s common practice to plant potatoes when a new house is completed. The homeowners will plant a lawn of potatoes for one season before putting in their grass. Zureski, who grew up on the prairies, says now that he thinks about it, it might seem odd. But it makes sense to everyone in his home province. After all, potatoes are typically easy to grow and don’t require a lot of maintenance.

Perhaps that’s why not everyone was keen to share the details with The Observer of their potato crop failures this season. For avid gardeners, it seems to be an embarrassment to not successfully grow spuds. We spoke to one who tried a new method and, given its failure, asked for anonymity. And while failure is a part of life and often makes for the most fascinating stories, in the interest of not tarnishing their green thumb reputation, we obliged. The moral here is, feel free to try different methods, but keep in mind it might take some trial and error to get it right.

If you google how to plant potatoes, you’ll come up with dozens of ways to grow them, from tire towers to hanging baskets to compost bins. Students at Seabird Island Community School grow potatoes in large tubs every year through a BC Agriculture Program called ‘Spuds in Tubs’. Teacher Colleen Marchant, who teaches grades 1/ 2, says the kids always love it. The ‘Spuds in Tubs’ program is “a great opportunity to have them grow something they actually eat,” shares Marchant.

“Most of the children are actually quite shocked that this is how potatoes are grown,” Marchant reports. “When you ask them where food comes from, they say the grocery store.”

The students from Marchant’s class and Jerry-lynn Vogart’s grade 2/ 3 class raise the spuds at the Agassiz Community Gardens, harvesting them in June. Then they have a fun cooking day with the kids and sometimes have enough to send a few spuds home as well.